Read an Excerpt
Adopting the Racing Greyhound
By Cynthia A. Branigan
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
Cynthia A. Branigan
All right reserved.
A Brief History
of the Breed
Most dog-care books devote a page, or at most two,
to the history of the breed they are discussing.
There's a very good reason for this: there isn't that
much history to tell. Greyhounds, however, have been with us
longer than any other purebred dog. To appreciate fully your dog
of today, it is useful to see him in a historical context. What follows
is a brief outline to whet your appetite. For a more detailed look at
the Greyhound's long and rich history, you might enjoy another
book I've written - The Reign of the Greyhound: A Popular History
of the Oldest Family of Dogs (Howell Book House, 1997).
THE GREYHOUND FAMILY
When contemplating the history of the Greyhound, it is useful to
think in terms of the Greyhound family. As much as anyone may
tell you that this or that breed is the oldest known to man, the truth
is no one knows for sure. What we do know, however, is that the
earliest purebred dogs were of the Greyhound type. The
Greyhound family has several characteristics in common. Among
them are long legs, a long narrow head, a deep chest and theability
to hunt by sight (hence the term sighthound, or gazehound)
rather than by scent as most dogs do. As this type of dog moved to
different parts of the world, some of his superficial characteristics,
such as the length of his coat and the shape of his ears, began to
change to accommodate the conditions of his new environment.
MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY
Members of the Greyhound family that are recognized by the
American Kennel Club are Afghan Hounds, Borzois,
Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Pharaoh
Hounds, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds and Whippets. Fringe
members include Basenjis and Rhodesian Ridgebacks (which
hunt by sight but do not share a physical resemblance) and
Italian Greyhounds (which share a physical resemblance but
don't hunt at all).
THE FIRST GREYHOUND TYPES
The first traces of the long, lean dogs of the Greyhound type were
seen in the ancient city of Catal-Huyuk, located in what is now
southwest Turkey. Temple drawings, dating to 6000 B.C., show a
hunter pursuing a stag with the help of two Greyhound types.
As people migrated to different parts of the globe, they took
their dogs with them. About 4000 B.C., in what is now Iran, a
funerary vase was created that was decorated with the image of
Greyhounds. Obviously these dogs were held in high regard for
their image to have been added to so personal an item.
It was in Egypt, however, that the Greyhound really came into his
own. Not only were the dogs kept as companions (in addition to
being hunting partners), but they were practically worshipped.
The Egyptian god Anubis was, as were many Egyptian deities,
half man and half beast. In this case the beast was, depending on
which sources you consult, either a jackal or a Greyhound. In
looking at a painting or statue of Anubis, the resemblance to the
present-day Pharaoh Hound is unmistakable.
The Egyptians valued their Greyhounds so much that the birth
of one was second in importance only to the birth of a human
boy. Indeed, when a pet Greyhound died, the entire family would
mourn by shaving their heads, fasting and wailing.
Greyhounds were mummified and buried along with their
owners, and the walls of the tombs were often decorated with figures
of favorite Greyhounds that had died before their owners.
Among the Pharaohs who kept Greyhounds were Tutankhamen,
Amenhotep II, Thutmose III and Queen Hatshepsut. Cleopatra,
too, was an aficionada.
While the ancient Israelites did not worship Greyhounds and,
in fact, seemed to regard dogs in general with disdain, they did
make an exception for the Greyhound. It is the only breed of dog
named in the Bible. Proverbs 30: 29-31 reads:
There be three things which go well, yea,
Which are comely in going:
A lion, which is strongest among beasts and
Turneth not away from any;
A he-goat also.
When explorers from Greece traveled to Egypt, they were suitably
impressed by the Greyhounds and managed to take some back
with them to their homeland. The dogs' popularity caught on to
such an extent that even the Greek hero Alexander the Great kept
one, which he named Peritas.
The first dog mentioned in literature, in 800 B.C., was, you
guessed it, a Greyhound. In the Odyssey, Homer told the tale of
the return of Odysseus, who had been away from home for 20
years. The only one who recognized him was his Greyhound,
Argus, who was only a pup when Odysseus left.
Greek mythological figures were frequently portrayed with
Greyhounds. Hecate, goddess of wealth, is often shown accompanied
by a Greyhound, as is Pollux, protector of the hunt. And, of
course, the famous story of Actaeon and Artemis tells of the goddess
taking revenge on Actaeon by turning him into a stag and
setting her 48 Greyhounds on him.
The ancient Romans appropriated many things of value from
Greek culture, and this included an appreciation of the
Greyhound. Their gods and goddesses, too, had Greyhounds, and
the most well-known story is of Diana, goddess of the hunt, who
gave her best friend, Procris, a Greyhound named Lelaps. Lelaps
accompanied a hunter into the woods and, when the dog spotted
a hare, went off in hot pursuit. The gods watched the scene and,
not wanting the hare to be killed, turned both it and Lelaps into
stone. This scene of Lelaps chasing the hare is often depicted in
The Romans loved to run their Greyhounds, but in even those
bloodthirsty days, there was at least one person who had a vestige
of humanity. In A.D. 124 Arrian wrote a treatise entitled "On
Hunting Hares." He urged his readers to concentrate more on the
sport and less on the gore, stating, "The true sportsman does not
take out his dogs to destroy the hares, but for the sake of the
course and the contest between the dogs and the hares, and is
glad if the hares escape."
MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE TIMES
During the Middle Ages, a time of famine and pestilence,
Greyhounds very nearly became extinct. They were saved, however,
by clergymen who protected them from starvation and bred
them for noblemen. It was during this period that ownership of
a Greyhound became the exclusive right of the nobility.
King Canute enacted a law in 1016 in England that prohibited
any "meane person" from owning a Greyhound and punished
any infraction severely. A hundred years earlier in Wales, King
Howel decreed the punishment for killing a Greyhound was the
same as for killing a person - death.
Since Greyhounds were the first breed of dog mentioned in literature,
it is only fitting that they also were the first breed of dog
written about in the English language. In the late fourteenth century,
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales,
"Greyhounds he hadde as swift as fowels in flight." Shakespeare,
too, mentioned them. In Henry V he wrote, "I see you stand like
Greyhounds in the slips, / [Straining] upon the start. The game's
During the Renaissance, the elegant lines of the Greyhound
were not overlooked by the most famous artists of the era.
Among those who saw fit to immortalize these dogs in art were
Veronese, Pisanello and Uccello. While Veronese's works tended
toward the sacred, Pisanello and Uccello seemed to appreciate the
Greyhound form for its own sake. Uccello's painting "Hunt in the
Forest," for example, shows dozens of Greyhounds in a dark
woods helping hunters capture their prey.
The sport of coursing, which has its origins in ancient Greece,
helped keep the Greyhound a popular animal. As coursing was
originally practiced, two Greyhounds would be "slipped"
(released) in a field to run after a hare that also would be released
but given a 100-yard advantage. The victor was not necessarily
the dog that caught the rabbit, and, in fact, quite often the rabbit
escaped. Instead, the dogs were judged by a complicated set of
rules that valued such things as the dog's agility and concentration.
In the mid-1700s, a set of rules was developed that helped
popularize the sport and caused it to spread throughout Great
Britain and across the Continent.
THE BULLDOG BREEDINGS
The mid-1700s were also important in Greyhound history for
another reason: it was then that an eccentric English nobleman
by the name of Lord Orford began his now-famous Greyhound-Bulldog
breedings. His idea was that by breeding a male Bulldog
with a female Greyhound, the result would be a dog that had a
uniformly smooth coat (which had eluded breeders up until that
time) and which would possess what Lord Orford called
"courage." Bear in mind, however, that the Bulldogs of those
times did not look like the Bulldogs of today. They had a much
longer muzzle and resembled Bull Terriers.
Lord Orford's crosses continued for seven generations, and the
resulting dogs were of such high quality that those who had previously
been skeptical were now clamoring to buy his dogs.
Copyright © 2003 by Cynthia A. Branigan.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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