What are greyhounds?
The name Greyhound is believed to derive from the Saxon word “grei” which means beautiful. During the Middle Ages, greyhounds were saved from near extinction by priests who raised dogs for the nobility. In 1014 owning a greyhound became an exclusive right of the nobility, which was put into law by King Canute. The well-tended royal forests were the hunting ground for these dogs and their owners. Forestry laws introduced in 1016 prohibited hunting and poaching for all people except those associated with royal possessions. Throughout the Renaissance, greyhounds were a favorite of monarchs, honored by Queen Elizabeth, and the most common dogs used in heraldry. The racing and hunting rabbit has been around for at least 2000 years, but it wasn’t until the Tudor era that it became popular in England. Tracking has been a hobby turned into a sport and has continued into the present century.
The origin of the Irish Wolfhound, the national dog of Ireland, is believed to date back before the Christian era. The first reference to the breed dates back to 391 BC when several Irish dogs were brought to Rome and “all the Romans looked at them in amazement”. Irish royalty and nobles used the ancestors of the current dynasty to hunt elk, wolves and wild boar. In his autobiography of him, St. Patrick recounts how he took care of his master Wolfhounds so that he could escape slavery by hopping aboard a ship carrying Wolfhounds to wealthy buyers in France.
With the speed inherited from their Greyhound ancestors, coupled with the larger size and increased strength developed from living in colder climates, the Irish Wolfhound was able to outwit or chase their prey until the hunter arrived to decide their fate. The Wolfhounds defeated their game by first breaking his backbone with their jaws. The Irish Wolfhound is elegant, gentle and reliable, but when the opportunity arises it can be intimidating and swift, qualities that echo in the Irish king’s old motto, “gentle when hit, ferocious when provoked”. It was reserved for the nobles. The 13th century memorial at Beddglert Priory in Wales is a good example of how much a good hunting dog is prized and appreciated. It is believed that he was raised by the Welsh Prince Llewellen Fawr,
The English kings of the 14th and 16th centuries demanded that these dogs, referred to as “great greyhounds, rough greyhounds or wolves” and described as “like strong hairy greyhounds, but much larger”, be sent from Ireland to England. In 1658 Oliver Cromwell ordered a ban on the export of hounds from the British Isles, as their numbers were decreasing and they were needed in England to keep wolf populations in check. But with the disappearance of the wolf from the British Isles in the eighteenth century, the breed underwent a steep decline and nearly became extinct.
In 1862, Captain George Graham, a Scotsman, began recreating the Wolfhound by crossing some survivors of the breed with the Scottish Deerhound and other breeds, including the Great Dane and possibly the Borzoi. Later, in 1902, he was asked on behalf of the Irish Wolfhound Club, founded after he and a few other enthusiasts had managed to save the breed, to select an Irish Wolfhound that could be presented to the Irish Guard as a mascot. Today, the Irish Wolfhound is still the mascot of the Irish Guard and is seen in procession with the regiment every year on St. Patrick’s Day.
The gentle and dignified Scottish Greyhound still represents the strength, speed and power of his ancestors. Affectionate, loyal and always eager to please, Royal Dog of Scotland, Highland Greyhound, Raw Greyhound, and Scottish Deerhound are the names by which this aristocratic and ancient dog was known in the past. Like many ancient dynasties, it is not easy to determine the date. There is no doubt that the breed is similar to the Greyhound, whose ancestors are believed to have been brought to Britain by Phoenician traders in the 2nd century BC. If similar to other breeds that have been moved to colder and colder climates, they have developed thicker coats by necessity. A surviving manuscript from the 16th century observes: “Some are of a larger type, some of the less some are leathery and some are crooked, and therefore the largest is intended to hunt larger beasts.” , and Deerhounds evolved from them. Deerhounds were once thought to be identical to the “Irish Wolfdog” and over the centuries have been bred to a type more suited to hunting deer or Pictish descendants.
Since ancient times, greyhounds have been used to track deer. The Deerhound is calm, generous, alert and attentive. Although not aggressive, she has great tenacity, indomitable courage when needed and all desirable traits; But most valuable was the combination of speed and power needed to handle Scottish deer weighing up to 250lbs. Hounds were hunted singly or in pairs.
Because of their exceptional abilities, Deerhounds had few equivalents and were held in high regard. This meant that only Highland chiefs and aristocrats who owned large forests of deer kept these dogs, no one in a lower position was allowed to do so. Deer dogs were so coveted that a nobleman on death row could buy him a pair.