The Chippiparai is a breed of sighthound native to Southern India. The breed is most common in the state of Tamil Nadu where it is thought to have originated, but it is also found in lesser numbers in the neighboring state of Kerala. The Chippiparai is well-known in its homeland for its minimal feeding requirements, great hardiness, gentle temperament, very fast speed, and keen hunting instincts. Like many Indian breeds, the Chippiparai is now very rare, and most experts are worried that it is in imminent danger of extinction. The breed is currently recognized by both major Indian Kennel Clubs, but most breed members remain unregistered and/or unpedigreed. The Chippiparai is also sometimes referred to as the Tamil Greyhound, Tamil Sighthound, or Tamil Coursing Dog.
In India, dog breeders have focused entirely on working ability until the last 50 years or so, especially in the case of working dogs. Pedigree and pure blood was a very small concern if considered at all. Additionally, dogs have not generally been a part of Indian literature, which typically lumps all dogs together. Research into the origins of native breeds such as the Chippiparai is only in its infancy. These factors combine to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible to say much about the origin of most Indian breeds such as the Chippiparai. In the Chippiparai’s case, all that can be said with certainty is that the breed has traditionally been found exclusively in the most southerly part of the Indian subcontinent, specifically the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and that it is a type of coursing dog. Anything else said about its origin is little more than pure speculation. It is safe to say that this breed is probably very closely related to India’s other native sighthound breeds, the Rampur Greyhound, Kanni, Mudhol Hound, Combai, and Rajapalayam, but the exact relationship between these breeds is unclear. One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Chippiparai is the breed’s age. The Chippiparai is almost certainly a very old breed, but it could have been developed anywhere from several hundred to several thousand years ago.
Of the many possibly origin theories for the Chippiparai, three are by far the most likely. Most sources claim that the Chippiparai is most similar to the Saluki and probably a descendant of that breed. The Saluki is perhaps the world’s oldest purebred dog, with archaeological evidence that suggests that the breed may have been first developed by the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Mesopotamians up to 7,000 years ago. It has long been theorized that the Saluki was the ancestor of all sighthounds, and that this breed spread across the ancient world with trade and conquest. The Saluki has long been extremely popular in Arabia and Persia, where it is considered to be separate from all other breeds. India has been in close contact with both Arabia and Persia for thousands of years, providing ample opportunity for the Saluki’s introduction. As the region where the Chippiparai developed is one of the regions of India that has traditionally had the least contact with the Middle East, the Saluki was probably not introduced directly from its homeland but rather indirectly from Northern India.
In recent years, genetic tests have shown that sighthounds are probably not all directly descended from the Saluki but were instead developed independently several times throughout history in different places, including the British Isles and the Maghreb. One such place was almost certainly those lands which today comprise Afghanistan and the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. This region is home to a variety of very ancient sighthound breeds such as the Taigan, Tazi, Afghan Hound, and Hortaya Borsaya. The Indian Subcontinent has probably had more contact and relationships with Central Asia than anywhere else, an often turbulent relationship which was recorded in even the earliest records of India. In the opinion of this author, the Chippiparai and other Indian sighthounds are considerably more similar to Central Asian sighthounds than the Saluki, and the longer history of contact makes it much more likely that the Indian breeds are probably descended from Central Asian dogs. It is also quite possible that the Chippiparai and other native Indian breeds were developed entirely from local dogs. India has one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with the mysterious Indus Valley Civilization reaching its peak at about the same time as Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is very possible, and in the opinion of this writer extremely likely, that the ruling elites of the Indus Valley Civilization (also known as Harappa) developed their own hunting dogs, much like those of its more Westerly contemporaries. These Harappan hunting dogs may very well have been sighthounds, and possibly the ancestors of all Indian sighthound breeds.
However the Chippiparai was developed, it became highly valued in Southern India. Until late in the colonial period, Indian society was rigidly divided and stratified by the caste system, a central part of the Hindu religion. The Chippiparai was almost exclusively kept by the ruling and wealthy castes, the only Indian citizens who could afford to keep a dog or legally hunt with them. The Chippiparai was most popular with the royalty of Madurai, Thanjavur, and Tirunelveli. The Chippiparai was used as a coursing dog. When ground dwelling game was sighted, this incredibly fast breed was set loose to chase it down. When the Chippiparai caught up with its quarry, it either killed the creature itself or held it long enough for its master to dispatch it. Chippiparais were used to hunt essentially all species found in Tamil Nadu that are of similar size or smaller than the breed, including deer, gazelle, hare, rabbit, squirrel, bustards, and pheasants.
Because the Chippiparai was so driven to chase prey, it needed to be contained at all times to prevent it from running off. These dogs were kept tied or chained at all times because wooden fences are very expensive in India and in any case quickly rot away in the tropical climate. Being tied up had a secondary effect on the Chippiparai. It prevented them from randomly breeding as was the case with most Indian dogs, keeping the breed pure for centuries.
Life in Southern India is extremely challenging for dogs. The tropical heat regularly exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and quickly incapacitates and even kills dogs that are not adapted to high temperatures. This heat also allows hundreds of species of disease and parasites to thrive, many of which are fatal to dogs. The region is also home to a number of exceedingly dangerous animals, such as cobras, other venomous snakes, crocodiles, sloth bears, sun bears, leopards, lions, elephants, crocodiles, wild boar, gaur, rhinoceroses, large monkeys, wolves, dholes, and the most feared of all, the tiger. Perhaps most importantly, Southern India has regularly experienced food shortages and famines throughout history. Many families have extreme difficulty feeding themselves, much less their dogs. The Chippiparai became extraordinarily well-adapted to life in its homeland. The breed is one of the most heat tolerant of all breeds, capable of working at a high level for hours in temperatures that would kill many breeds in minutes. The breed also developed natural resistance to a number of diseases and parasites, survival techniques when faced with potentially deadly wildlife, and an ability to survive on an incredibly low amount of food.
As was the case with most Indian breeds, the Chippiparai was largely ignored by European colonial rulers. Even though parts of Tamil Nadu were at one point occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British empires, none had interest in the breed. The general opinion was that Indian dogs were inferior to European breeds, and that most were little more than curs. Some of these attitudes seeped into Indian thinking, and most Indian breeds were largely ignored. Indian breeds also suffered due to lack of formal recognition because there was no unified Indian Kennel Club on a national level until 1956. As a result of lack of interest, Chippiparai numbers have continuously dropped for a number of years. The breed is now considered very rare and is largely limited to around 50 or so municipalities around Madurai, Thanjavur, and Tirunelveli, the breed’s historic strongholds. Almost the entire global population of Chippiparais currently lives in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, although a number of breed members also reside in the neighboring state of Kerala.
Because the Chippiparai is already very rare and its numbers continue to fall, many experts fear that the breed is in imminent danger of extinction. The breed is currently recognized by both major Indian dog registries, the Kennel Club of India (KCI) and the United Indian Kennel Club (UIKC). However, interest in the Chippiparai in dog shows has remained minimal, and the breed is rarely exhibited in Indian dog shows. In 1982, the KCI established a center to promote native breeds in Chennai. The centre has greatly increased interest in the closely related Rajapalayam, but has had little impact on the Chippiparai. The KCI has petitioned the Indian government for land to establish a breeding center for 14 native breeds but has so far not met with much success.
The Chippiparai’s continuing lack of popularity is a great mystery to those who have worked with the breed. Indian veterinarians who work with the breed generally speak glowingly of these dogs who talk about their excellent temperament, great beauty, good health, and adaptation to life in India. Many fanciers are currently working hard to promote the breed as a companion animal throughout India, extolling its many virtues. Ironically, this ancient breed may be saved by modern technology. Internet use is rapidly increasing across Tamil Nadu and all of India. The internet has allowed for much greater contact between Chippiparai fanciers, as well as those of native breeds in general. The last few years have seen several dog shows dedicated to native Indian breeds, among them the Chippiparai. The internet has also greatly increased public awareness of the Chippiparai breed and its plight. Fanciers hope that this increased public awareness will inspire the Indian people to save an ancient native breed by keeping and breeding more Chippiparais. Until this happens, however, the Chippiparai will remain in danger of disappearing forever.
The Chippiparai is very similar in appearance to other Indian sighthounds, and would probably be indistinguishable from them by a layman. Because many Chippiparais are not registered or bred to appearance standards, this breed exhibits great variation in size and appearance. The Chippiparai is a medium sized breed. Most of these dogs stand between 20 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder. This is one of the few breeds that is usually taller from ground to shoulder than it is long from chest to rump. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, and build, most Chippiparais weigh between 30 and 65 pounds. Like most sighthounds, especially those from India, the Chippiparai is a very slender dog. This breed is very skinny and most have clearly visible ribs. Many observers believe that the dog is emaciated, but that is the correct appearance for this breed. This breed has narrow limbs and a thin body, although it should never be delicate. The tail of the Chippiparai is long, narrow, and usually carried with a substantial curve.
The head and face of the Chippiparai are very long and narrow. The two are not clearly distinct, and blend in almost seamlessly. The muzzle is noticeably longer than the skull and almost as wide and deep. Despite its narrowness, the muzzle gives the impression of having substantial power. The muzzle does taper substantially towards the end but never looks snipey. The ears of the Chippiparai are quite variable. Most dogs have rose ears, but others have semi-prick or forward facing drop down ears. Regardless of shape and type, the ears of this breed are moderate in size. The eyes of this breed face forwards, giving the breed the best possible vision. These eyes are usually dark in color, but may be lighter depending on the dog’s coat color. The overall expression of most breed members is gentle, intense, and very keen.
The coat of the Chippiparai is ideally suited to life in India. It is very short and very smooth, allowing the dog to survive intense heat. The coat also makes it very easy to locate and remove parasites such as fleas and ticks from the dog. The Chippiparai exhibits substantial variation in coat color. By far the most common colors are all shades of fawn, reddish brown, all shades of grey, and slightly black- tinged coats. A number of other colors are also seen such as black and dark brown. Any color may or may not have limited white markings. Some dogs are dual colored, with alternately colored markings on their legs, muzzles, eyes, and around the vent. The most common dual colors are black and tan and black and grey.
The Chippiparai has a temperament very similar to that found in other Indian sighthounds. This breed is generally similar to western sighthounds but tends to be more energetic and protective. Almost all who have worked with this breed have commented on its gentle temperament. This breed is known to be quite calm and peaceful. This breed has a tendency to form very strong bonds with its family. When raised by a single person, this breed has a very strong tendency to become a one-person dog. When raised in a family atmosphere, the Chippiparai will form equally strong bonds with all members of its household. Although this breed is very devoted and loyal, it is usually quite reserved with its affections. There do not seem to be many reports on the breed’s suitability to children. Based on similar breeds, the Chippiparai probably does very well with children provided that they do not roughhouse with it.
This is definitely a breed that prefers the company of its own family to that of strangers. Chippiparais are naturally suspicious of strangers, and commonly react to them nervously. However, this is certainly not an aggressive breed. Most breed members will be very tolerant of strangers when properly trained and socialized, although they will probably remain very aloof with them. Chippiparais are considerably more protective and territorial than is the case with most sighthounds and make very effective watchdogs. This breed also makes an effective guard dog that will challenge intruders, although this breed lacks the size and aggression to make it an ideal guardian.
Chippiparais have been bred almost exclusively as hunting dogs for centuries. These dogs have a very high level of aggression to non-canine animals. Most will chase down, attack, and attempt to kill any creature that catches their eye. Breed members left alone for any length of time will quickly rid a yard of all small creatures, bringing their carcasses back to their owners as “presents.” Most breed members can be trained and socialized to accept individual animals which they have been raised with, but some never are trustworthy around them. This breed is average when it comes to other dogs. Most breed members will do fine with other dogs with training and socialization and prefer to share their lives with at least one canine companion. Individuals may show aggression to strange dogs, especially males and unsocialized animals. This breed may also mistake very small dogs such as toy breeds for prey and attempt to kill them.
This breed is such a determined hunter that it will probably ignore any calls to return once it is on the chase no matter how well trained it is. This means that it is absolutely imperative to keep Chippiparais on leashes whenever they are outside of safely secured areas. This breed is considered intelligent and easier to train than many sighthounds. However, Chippiparais may prove challenging for novice owners due to the breed’s independent nature and stubbornness.
Chippiparais were bred to conduct intense physical activity over a period of several hours. This breed has substantial exercise requirements, and should receive at least 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise on a daily basis. This dog greatly enjoys walks and jogs, but truly craves an opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area. Breed members that are not provided proper outlets for their energy will probably develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, and nervousness. That being said, the Chippiparai does not have extreme needs, and the average dedicated family will be able to meet their needs without too much difficulty.
Owners must be very careful to ensure that any enclosure which keeps a Chippiparai is very secure. This breed is extremely athletic and can easily clear a fence that is 6 or 7 feet tall. These dogs are also highly motivated to escape because they want to chase any creature that they see.
Chippiparais are known for being very quiet dogs. Most breed members rarely bark, especially if properly exercised and trained. Fanciers in India comment that Chippiparais are considerably less likely to result in noise complaints than other dogs, even if they are kept outside. Although the breed’s exercise requirements mean that it is not an ideal apartment dog, Chippiparais are known to make excellent suburban companions.
The Chippiparai is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures which all breeds require such as nail clipping and an occasional bath are necessary. There do not seem to be any reports on the Chippiparai’s shedding. It is probably fair to assume that this breed does shed, but probably not heavily.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Chippiparai which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. However, veterinarians and fanciers of the breed are universal in their opinion that this is an incredibly healthy breed. No genetic problems have been identified as being of concern in this breed, and most specimens live their entire lives with no serious health problems. This does not mean that the Chippiparai is immune to genetically inherited diseases, but it does mean that the breed suffers from fewer of them and at lower rates than most purebred dogs. Not only is the Chippiparai largely free from inherited diseases, but it is generally not susceptible to contagious diseases and parasites. After centuries of living in India, the Chippiparai has developed natural resistances and immunities to most communicable diseases and parasites, and is both less likely to develop them and die from them than most breeds.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to occur at high rates in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although health studies have not been conducted for the Chippiparai, a number have been on similar and closely related breeds. Some of the problems of greatest concern hound in those breeds include: