The Afghan Hound is a member of the group of sighthounds known as Eastern Greyhounds. They are long-legged hounds, built for speed and endurance, who hunt small to medium-sized game by sight over rough terrain. They are keen hunters, noted for their independent spirit, who can work alone or as part of a pack.
The forebears of today’s Afghan Hounds were imported directly from Afghanistan, where they were discovered by the British military in the nineteenth century. The breed still exists in Afghanistan, although in very small numbers.
The breed is an ancient one, but because Afghanistan’s Islamic culture forbids the depiction of animals in art, there is no pictorial record of the breed. The only known early drawing is an etching done around 1813, of a native soldier with a dog which remarkably resembles young Afghans of today, indicating that the breed was very similar nearly 200 years ago.
The hounds of Afghanistan and their legendary hunting ability were mentioned in letters from the Afghan front in the early nineteenth century, and some may have arrived in the UK at that time. However they were first exhibited at dog shows in the mid 1880s, and continued to appear in “Foreign Dog” classes up to World War 1. Some litters were bred, but it is doubtful that any survived the war years.
One of the early imports (c.1895) was “Shahzada”, a cream dog, whose body was preserved by the British Museum of Natural History. A later import “Zardin” (1907) was more important to the breed in that his description by the Indian Kennel Club was the basis for the first (1925) and subsequent UK Breed Standards. He was a heavily coated dog, identical in type to many of today’s hounds.
In the 1920s the importation of Afghan Hounds gathered momentum. The first group to arrive in 1920 were mostly of the rangy, lightly coated type to become known at the “Desert” or “Bell Murray” (after their importer) type. In 1925 a Mrs Amps brought in another group, some of which were more compact and heavily coated, known as the “Ghazni” or “Mountain” type, of which a red dog “Sirdar of Ghazni” was undoubtedly the most impressive import to date, and became a very influential stud dog. A great controversy arose as to which type was correct, but inevitably interbreeding took place, and the foundation of today’s hounds is a combination of both types.
In the 20s and 30s the Afghan Hound went to Europe and America, and after a slow start, became very popular, as it was in the UK. In Australia it fared less well. In 1935 and 1936 Mrs. Olive Macdougall imported a male and two bitches from UK in whelp to top stud dogs (one an Afghanistan import) and it appears one of the resulting litters produced the first Champion in this country. The progeny of these three bred on, and some half-dozen litters were bred up to the early 40s. However, the breed was considered a novelty and did not become popular, and indeed was considered a threat to stock by the pastoral community. These bloodlines died out after World War 2.
In 1950 a Mrs. Ward brought a male and a bitch in whelp into Western Australia, and these hounds formed the basis of the breeding of Afghans in Australia. In 1954 Mrs Skilton (who had bred the two 1950 imports in UK) came to Tasmania bringing a male “Aghai of Hawkfield” who was a very successful show dog & sire. The same year Major Long brought to NSW his “Hookstone” dogs, of the more heavily coated type popular in UK., and in 1957 a croup of Carloway-bred dogs of the same type arrived in Victoria.
From then on imports arrived at a steady rate, and by the mid sixties the breed was well on the way to popularity in Australia. In the seventies over-popularity brought all the problems of over-breeding, and since then the breed has declined in numbers, but still retains its reputation as one of the most successful breeds in the show ring.