The Afghan Hound was discovered by the Western world in Afghanistan and surrounding regions during the 19th century. The first specimens of the breed were brought to England in the latter part of that century, and the earliest known pictorial representation of an unmistakable, full-coated Afghan Hound is a drawing reproduced in some copies of a volume of letters written in India in 1809 and published in London in 1813.
Of the breeds origin and its history prior to then, little is known for certain. A vast amount of research, however, has turned up no basis for the once popular belief that the Afghan Hound existed in Egypt thousands of years ago, or for the theory that the breed evolved on the steppes of Asia and represents the original sight hound.
The basic structure of the dog beneath the coat is that of a relatively sturdy coursing hound of a type which might have evolved or been created from other canine types almost anytime, anywhere. The extremely fine, longhaired coat, however, is of a sort found among animals native to high altitudes, and the desired coat pattern of contrasting short hair on the foreface, back and dorsal surface of the tail may also be related to climate.
A problem in any study of the breed is that, like so many other breeds recognized today, the Afghan Hound, as we know and describe it in the standard, represents a blending of dogs of more than one type. Some sources in Afghanistan divide the breed as found there into a half-dozen or more varieties based on locality, color, etc. Although intermediate variations undoubtedly exist, it has been more common to speak in terms of two extremes in type--the hounds of the southern and western desert regions, which tend to be relatively rangy in build, light in color and sparse in outer coat; and the hounds of the northern mountain regions, which tend to be more compact in structure, darker in color and more heavily coated. These and other variations represent logical adaptations to the wide diversity of climate and terrain in the area of Afghanistan.
Among other things, this diversity in the breed - plus the diversity in the Afghan people, their culture and their country - helps explain the apparent conflicts among accounts of how the breed was utilized in its native land. Some tell of Afghan Hounds serving as guard dogs and herd dogs, which are within the capabilities of the breed as we know it. The major role of these dogs, however, was undoubtedly that of hunting. The kings of Afghanistan maintained a kennel of hunting hounds for many generations.
The breed is primarily a coursing hound, pursuing its quarry by sight and followed by the huntsman on horseback. because these dogs tended to outdistance the horses, the Afghan Hounds hunted on their own, without direction by the huntsman, giving rise to the independence of thought and spirit still typical of the breed.
We are variously told of Afghan Hounds being hunted singly, in dog-and-bitch pairs, in packs, and in a combination with specially trained falcons. Undoubtedly the breed was hunted in all of these ways, but the method would vary according to locality and the nature of the quarry, so that not all Afghan Hounds did all things in all places.
The same principle would apply to the extremely wide variety of game on which they reportedly were used. The Afghan Hound could and quite certainly was employed to hunt whatever animals the locality provided and the huntsman wanted to hunt. In the truest coursing-hound sense, they ran down game such as mountain deer, plains antelopes and hares wherever they might be found. They could also be used to bring to bay such predators as wolves, jackals, wild dogs and snow leopards. They were also used, as a spaniel would be, to flush quail and partridge for the falcon or gun. And they are the equal to any terrier for dispatching marmots, greatly prized by the mountain people for their fur and flesh.
As coursing dogs Afghan Hounds excel, not so much in straightaway speed as in the ability to traverse rough terrain swiftly and sure-footedly. This requires agility in leaping and quickness in turning, plus the stamina to maintain such a strenuous chase for as long as it may take to close on the quarry.
The first recorded appearance of the Afghan Hound in the West was in the latter part of the 19th century, when British officers and others returning from the Indian-Afghanistan border wars, brought dogs from that area back to England, some of which were exhibited at dog shows as Afghan Hounds. These aroused some interest but no real enthusiasm until 1907, when Captain Barff brought from Persia via India his dog Zardin, well-coated dog with a dark mask and a great deal of style. This, English dog fanciers decided, was what an Afghan Hound should be! There was some breeding of Afghan Hounds in Great Britain at this time, and some specimens from there or Afghanistan may have reached America prior to World War I.
During that war, however, the breed literally disappeared in the Western world, and the start of the Afghan Hounds we have today dates to 1920, when Major and Mrs. G. Bell Murray and Miss Jean C. Manson brought to Scotland a group of Afghan Hounds they had acquired or bred during an eight year stay in Baluchistan - then an independent state south of Afghanistan, and today a part of Pakistan. Most of these dogs were of the desert type--racy, fine headed and light in coat. Breeding from these imports, Miss Manson, the Major and others further developed the Bell-Murray strain throughout the 1920s.
In 1925, Mrs. Mary Amps shipped to England the first of a group of Afghan Hounds from the kennel she had maintained in Kabul. These were mainly of the mountain type--sturdily built, relatively short-coupled and more or less full-coated. From these imports--the most successful of which as a show dog and sire was the English Champion Sirdar of Ghazni--Mrs. Amps and others developed what is called (from her kennel name) the Ghazni strain.
The real start of the breed in this country, however, dates to the first Ghazni imports in 1931, when Zeppo Marx and his wife brought from England a bitch, Asra of Ghazni, and a dog, Westmill Omar. Asra and Omar were later acquired by Q. A. Shaw McKeans Prides Hill kennels in Massachusetts. Mr. McKean soon added a young English champion, Badshah of Ainsdart, a bitch of pure Bell-Murray breeding. These three - Asra, Omar and Badshah - formed the cornerstone of the breed in America.
Most of the American breeders of the 1930s came into Afghan Hounds with a background of success in other breeds. As a rule their kennels were founded on Prides Hill stock bred to one or more of the dozens of imports then coming from Great Britain, and the several from India and Afghanistan. Afghanistan now forbids the exportation of these hounds.
Much of the Afghan Hounds popularity here has been generated by the breeds spectacular qualities as a show dog. The Afghan Hound also excels in lure racing and, although its tendency to think for itself makes for something less than perfect precision in executing set exercises and commands, the breed has also done well in obedience work.
Over and beyond their success in such fields, however, Afghan Hounds are prized and loved by their owners as companions and members of the family. With its highly individual personality and with its coat which requires regular care and grooming, it is not the breed for all would-be dog owners, but where the dog and owner combination is right, there is no animal which can equal the Afghan Hound as a pet.