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Breed Spotlight: The Afghan Hound

Updated: Jan 31

Few breeds have stories as fascinating and as illustrious as the Afghan Hound; from being considered gifts directly from Allah in the ancient Middle East (an honor shared by the closely related Saluki), to being one of the most winning breeds in Conformation Dog Shows. They are known as The King of Dogs, and for good reason. They've sat at the feet of some of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world. Even today, they carry themselves with a self-awareness that would almost suggest they know exactly how incredible they've always been. By the end of this article, I'm hoping you'll see just how amazing and multifaceted the breed is, and maybe even consider getting one if they'd be a good fit in your family!


Breed History

This breed is ancient. It is what is known as a basal breed, which means it predates modern dogs. These early Afghan Hounds were used as village watchdogs and as avid hunters. They could hunt everything from small hares to gazelle, and when hunting in groups with their humans they could even help take down large predators. They were so good at the task of hunting that a pair of Afghan Hounds could hunt enough to feed an entire village. This is part of why, along with the Saluki, they were given the honor of being considered gifts from Allah by the ancient Muslims who kept them. But a lot was in store for the descendants of these ancient and rugged hounds.


Major Graham Bell-Murray brought the West its first significant kennel of Afghan hounds. The breeding program he undertook, with the dogs he gathered together in Afghanistan in the early 1900s, endures to this day. Even more tangible is that if you own a brindle Afghan hound you know your dog has a direct genetic link to Major Bell-Murray's brindle bitch Pushum, the only known source of this color pattern in the breed. This line is also one of the main lines to import the natural "patterned" coats which we will cover later.


Major Graham Bell-Murray and three of his Afghan Hounds

Between 1912 and 1930 he and his wife, Mary Jackson Bell-Murray, imported many Afghan Hounds and kept a majority of them at their home, known as The Cove, in the United Kingdom. Of these imports and subsequent puppies bred by them were several notable individuals, such as Taj Mahip Of Kaf, Buckmal (son of the aforementioned Pushum), and Ranee. A common observation is how different the founding stock looked from today's version of the Afghan Hound, with far less luxurious coats. This is likely primarily due to our grooming products and standards today being able to achieve what back then would have been nearly impossible. The most important piece of the puzzle, however, has been present from the beginning - that unique Afghan Hound personality.


Temperament

According to the official AKC standard, a well-bred Afghan Hound should be, "aloof and dignified, yet gay," with faults being, "sharpness or shyness." But what exactly does this mean? For starters, lets tackle the word aloof. A lot of dog owners misuse this term, applying it to their shy or nervous dog when trying to explain to strangers in public why the dog isn't behaving friendly or isn't excited to be pet. This isn't aloof. Aloof is more like how a socially confident introverted human might act; levelheaded, not afraid in social settings, but also often somewhat disengaged and either simply observing surroundings or sitting lost in their thoughts. THAT is an Afghan Hound. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Some Afghan Hounds love to meet new people and want to be everyone's friend. Some don't seem to care whether or not they meet anyone new at all. But the real personality comes out at home. In the home Afghan Hounds are far from serious. They are absolute clowns. They will make you laugh. They'll even make you cry laugh. Many people compare them to Standard Poodles in personality, although I'd argue that they are generally a bit less gung-ho than Standards.



With their family they should be playful and affectionate, though not often clingy. Cuddles may happen on occasion (in my experience, this is more likely with males than females), but don't expect it. Affection is given frequently, but in their own ways. For example, I have an Afghan Hound who often gives affection from across the room by simply wagging her tail and licking the air in my direction. While some dog people find this odd and prefer something more enthusiastically affectionate (like a Golden Retriever) there are many dog people who prefer the less clingy love. If you're one of those people, then an Afghan Hound might be right for you!


Afghan Hounds also tend to spend quite a bit of time napping. They will be couch potatoes if you allow them to be. Copious amounts of sleeping is fine, but they need their exercise. I recommend at least an hour or two per day of playtime in a securely fenced area. This exercise time will not only help them physically and mentally, it will make dealing with them in the home much easier. A tired dog is a often a well-behaved dog!


Afghan Hound Puppies

Regarding the temperament faults, sharpness and shyness, it is important to acknowledge that these can be bred into a dog, or they can be environmentally influenced. A dog from sharp (reactive or aggressive) parentage is more likely to express sharpness. The same can be said for shyness. However, stable parentage can still produce a puppy who ends up exhibiting behavioral faults. A great example of this is the "Covid puppy;" and otherwise well-bred puppies from stable parentage who exhibited shyness due to a lack of early socialization as a result of quarantining families. Another example may be a dog who came from a very good breeding and is genetically set up for being balanced but is "sharp" due to learning defensive techniques as a result of abuse.


Trainability

If you ask many people, or if you check the countless tier lists online, you'll find that they aren't just at the top of the list for their looks, they're also almost always placed atop another list; the world's dumbest dogs (even Reader's Digest called them stupid). This couldn't be further from the truth, however. In general, they're brilliant. They have proven to be remarkably adept at problem solving, and some individuals even do rally obedience competitions (and are absolutely adorable when they do it [WATCH])! They are so intelligent, in fact, that they often have ideas of their own. This independent personality is what can make them challenging to train and it is considered to be a breed characteristic. Therefore, training an Afghan Hound takes a bit more patience than breeds like Labradors, and unwavering consistency.


Carolina Monarch Golden Fire - Lure Coursing

However, there are extremely fun things you can do with your Aghan Hound that doesn't require any real training at all. For example, Fast CAT and Lure Coursing are two sports that Afghan Hounds tend to love that take advantage of the instincts that have been bred into them for thousands of year, triggering that prey drive. Getting to see them run at full speed while they chase a white plastic bag is breathtaking, and they love it!


Grooming

Probably the most common questions asked about Afghan Hounds are concerning this topic. Yes, they can be a serious time commitment if you want a full show-quality coat. But despite what the more rigid Afghan Hound fanciers seem to think, it's just hair and it can be cut. If you want that winning Afghan Hound personality in your home without the hours of grooming, just trim the hair shorter. Alternatively, you could consider getting an Afghan Hound with what is known as a "patterned" coat. The patterned coat is overall much shorter and highly patterned coats have minimal feathering on the legs and ears with dramatically short hair everywhere else. The dog pictured below is a Patterned Bitch and also a brindle, which means she's a descendant of the great Pushum!


Carolina Monarch Enchanted Dragon - a Patterned Bitch

If you do want a full coat that is ready to walk into the ring, you can find a detailed guide on grooming here. This guide can be used for patterned Afghans as well, but there will be some steps that may be unnecessary. Extra steps for a longer "show" coat will include things like banding.


Carolina Monarch Ashen Blue - full coat

Speaking of the coat, the way the coat naturally grows (long of the sides of the dog, the legs, the top of the head, and on the ears, but short on the back and face) is controlled by hormones that are released by the reproductive system. If you spay or neuter your Afghan Hound, the hair will grow in thick on the back and face.



Afghan Hounds also have the distinction of being frequently used in advertisements since the 1930s!




Other considerations for owning an Afghan Hound:

  • they can jump and climb, so a 6-foot-tall fence is important, preferably a privacy fence that can't be climbed

  • they are very intelligent and can figure out how to open cabinets, so I recommend child cabinet locks

  • they are not terribly active indoors, but they can still get bored. Have toys!

  • I recommend not taking them to dog parks, since they have relatively thin skin compared to many other breeds and may suffer minor injuries from rough play with strange dogs

  • food should be high protein and formulated for sporting dogs. I use Purina Pro Plan Sport 30/20

  • I'm speaking from experience - if you decide to get an Afghan Hound and want to get involved in sports or showing, prepare yourself for the breed's community - you'll meet some amazing people, and also some of the worst people. As long as you go into it with that knowledge, you should be just fine!

  • Afghan Hounds are not your typical breed. They are unique, all the way down to their blood work results. So be sure you read up on the medical side of things so you can properly advocate for your Afghan if your vet is inexperienced with the breed.

  • They are FAST and they aren't the best at recall. Never trust them off leash in an unfenced area. You may never see them again if you do.

  • They tend to be very healthy, like most ancient breeds, but are prone to bloat.

  • Currently ranked as the 117th most popular breed in the USA. This means overproduction and profit-seeking breeding is likely to be less of a concern when trying to find a breeder than it would be with a "top ten" dog breed



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