Thursday, September 24, 2009

Know Your Dog: Hound Group

Terrier Group, Working Group, Sporting Group, Herding Group, Non-Sporting Group, Toy Group. Now, at last, we come to the Hound Group, which really consists of two sub-groups: Scent Hounds and Sight Hounds. Widely diverging in appearance, what both sub-groups have in common is that they pursue prey for hunters. Some, including all Sight Hounds, are Independent Contractors. Some, such as Bloodhounds, are usually Partners.

The most popular of Hounds, Beagles, are third in A.K. C. registrations. The immortal Snoopy has forever engraved Beagles on Americans' hearts. Of course, real Beagles are Scent Hounds, not Sopwith-Camel pilots or freelance journalists.

My personal experience with Scent Hounds is limited to interaction with Dachshunds, mostly mini-sized. I find them to be charming and tenacious little doggies, well suited to a person or family choosing a First Dog.

The Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen is a Scent Hound that easily scores a 10 on the Adorableness Scale. Its near relative, the Basset Hound, on the other hand, invariably evokes laughter as it waddles around the show ring, relying on the sympathy vote in the Adorableness Department. Bassets' admirers are very protective of them and tell me that they are Wonderful Dogs--just not a good choice as a jogging companion.

The A.K.C. introduction to the Hound Group cautions that some hounds emit a "baying" that irritates or unnerves some people. This certainly needs to be considered before anyone acquires some Scent Hound breeds.

And Now!

At last, we come to the Sight Hounds. Don't expect objectivity from me on this subject. Three of the Dogs of My Life have been Sight Hounds. One was a Sight Hound mix. If my bias showed with Terriers, it will be glaring when I talk about the group that I was accidentally introduced to by the Unforgettable Daphne. The group to which Wonderful Zephyr; Sweet, Sweet Bingley; and my Beautiful Portia belong.

Sight Hounds are the Aristocrats of Dogdom. They are living reminders of the ancien regime. Their size and special needs are suited to palaces and estates. Their personalities reflect the assumptions of the privileged owners with whom they shared their lives for centuries.

When it comes to the prize for The Most Elegant Breed, other dogs need not apply. Afghans, Borzois, Greyhounds and Salukis, in my opinion--and that's all that counts, since this is MY blog--are the only contenders. These dogs are living, breathing Works of Art. They incorporate the aerodynamics of a high-powered sports car, the grace of a Prima Ballerina, and the sleekness of an haute couture model.

And, let's be honest. Sight Hounds also reinforce the idea that Beauty and Brains do not necessarily enjoy a high correlation. Yes, yes. I have personally met Greyhound Therapy Dogs. And Portia--I'm still grieving her loss--was, perhaps, the canniest Dog of My Life. But, as a group, Sight Hounds are the Legacy college admissions. When your portrait is enshrined on the walls of Ancient Egyptian Palaces and Tombs, you have nothing to prove to anyone.

Scottish Deerhounds and Irish Wolfhounds make up in a sense of Entitlement what they lack in sleekness. I have often suspected that Wolfhounds took a page out of their masters' books when it came to droit de seigneur. Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, the Irish cottagers' dogs, have a suspiciously Wolfhound-like shaped skull. Master and hound visiting the same cottage, perhaps?

It will come as no surprise that I urge Serious Thinking and Great Caution if you are considering bringing one of these Members of Canine Aristocracy into your home. And, yes. Large as some Sight Hounds are, they will need to be In Your Home. Not in the garage. Not in the backyard. Not confined in the kitchen--or, Heaven Forbid--a bathroom.

Please, please, please. If you invite an Irish Wolfhound, a Scottish Deerhound, an Afghan or a Borzoi into your home, don't complain that they are big. These are Big Dogs.

If Counter Surfing is The Unforgivable Sin. If Dogs Do Not Belong On Sofas is An Unbreakable Rule. A Sight Hound is not for you.

If knowing where the dog is EVERY time the front door is opened and being sure that the dog is NOT going to run out is too much of a bother for you, a Sight Hound is NOT for you.

A Sight Hound must be on leash or in a securely fenced area EVERY time it is out of doors. These dogs can out-run just about any other animal--Cheetahs excepted--but they cannot outrun a car. A loose Sight Hound is, sadly, all too frequently, a dead Sight Hound.

Sight Hounds are NOT Working Dogs. Someone else will have to guard home and hearth. A Sight Hound might not lift its head from its cushion to so much as bark at a prowler. Or it might play Gracious Host and show the "guest" where the silver is kept.

Sight Hounds rarely will retrieve anything. "Finders, keepers" is their motto.

Instead of herding a flock, a Sight Hound will scatter a flock in all directions and might even hunt down and.... We won't go there.

Some Sight Hounds get along with little fluffy Toy Breeds. Some Sight Hounds.... We won't go there, either.

Sometimes, Sight Hounds will come when you call them. Having a leash in your hand increases the odds. But, they might have to run a few laps, or toss a few toys in the air to express their joy before actually standing still for you to attach the leash.

If you read all of my cautions, and you still think a Sight Hound is The Dog for You, I will have more to say in a future post about one Sight Hound in particular: my beloved Greyhounds.

But right now, I need to check the sofa pillows in the living room. Bingley rearranges them to his liking. He thinks good quality chintz is better for lounging upon than that nasty old synthetic throw I use to cover his favorite resting spot. Silk would be better than chintz. But Greyhounds have hit upon Hard Times, and Sweet Bingley is making do.

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