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What Were Greyhounds Bred for? History of the Greyhound

Italian Greyhound

Greyhounds are one of the most ancient breeds of all, showing up in artworks and historical books across the ages. They have accompanied royalty, played characters in primeval mythology, and awed audiences with their lightning speed.

Even though you might know a lot about the present-day Greyhound, we want to give you a brief but informative history of your favorite canine breed.divider-paw

Greyhound Breed Information

greyhound standing on grass
Image Credit: nonmisvegliate, Pixabay
Height: 28 – 30 inches
Weight: 57 – 88 pounds
Lifespan: 10 – 14 years
Colors: Black, brindle, white
Temperament: Athletic, quiet, gentle, even-tempered, relaxed, intelligent

Origin of the Greyhound

The origin of the gracious Greyhound can be a little bit muddy. It seems there was some confusion as to where exactly the breed got started. Romans will typically point to the Greeks and the Greeks will point to the Romans. So, where did they start? It is hard to tell.

One thing is for sure, sighthounds were an incredible part of that era in history, and many ancient breeds are still loved today. Closely related breeds to the Greyhound include Afghan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, and Salukis.

These impressive sighthounds astonished handlers as they took to the hunt with veracious speed and agility. They became dependable and profitable to humans, so they really flourished.

Here’s a great resource on myth-busting Greyhound facts.

Polish Greyhound_Ewelina Lesik_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Ewelina Lesik. Shutterstock

Greyhounds in Ancient Greece & Rome

There is overwhelming evidence of sighthounds like Drake Greyhounds in Greek and Roman cultures. Artemis herself was said to have had sighthounds by her side. Also, The Odyssey by Homer mentions similar dogs as well.

Romans used Greyhounds for a task called coursing was designed to test the speed and agility of each individual dog against chosen prey, the hare.

Greyhounds in Ancient Egyptian Culture

All you have to do is look at any type of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic to see how prominent dogs and cats were in their culture. If you look hard enough, you will see what appeared to be sighthounds, just like the Greyhound on these drawings.

Egyptians used Greyhounds for hunting and companion animals in ancient times—but not just to anyone. These dogs are the prime definition of royals. If you weren’t of royalty, you couldn’t own one of these majestic creatures.

Greyhounds in Biblical Scripture

Italian-Greyhound-basks-in-the-summer-heat_Rebekah-Zemansky_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Rebekah Zemansky, Shutterstock

Most of the time, the Bible refers to dogs as being scoundrels. But what is pretty nifty about the Greyhound is that they are the only dog breed that is specifically mentioned in the Bible.

You can see the Bible verse, which is, There be three things which do well, yea, which is comely in going; A lion, which is strongest among beasts and turneth not away from any; A Greyhound; A he-goat also.” Proverbs 30:29-31

Greyhounds Were Near Extinction in The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, an extreme famine wiped out a large number of these dogs. Thanks to a few clergymen, these dogs were protected and resurrected as a breed once this stage of history was over.

King Canute of England is the one who practically made Greyhounds only fit for royals. He established what was called the Forest Laws in 1014 that reserved land for the nobles. Only the nobles were then allowed to own and hunt Greyhounds on this land.

If you saw a man touting Greyhounds, you knew he was an aristocrat of the grandest kind. They truly held a symbol of prestige and honor, much like a flashy car or expensive suit would show status today.

Greyhounds During the Renaissance Era

The Greyhound inspired many artworks by famous artists like Veronese, Uccello, Pisanello, and Desportes. Sleek and elegant, these dogs remain in priceless masterpieces in museums across the globe.

Hard times were ending, the economy was bustling, and everyone was in better spirits. Coursing races were prevalent at this time and even attended by Queen Elizabeth I and other royals. They remained royalty well through this era and on into the 19th century, as coursing became more popular.

So, what did that lead to? Eventual gambling and hiccups in the handling of these speedy canines. Some lines get crossed where leads gambling, meaning these animals were thought of as money bags, and ethics took a back seat.

Italian Greyhound
Image Credit: Linn Currie, Shutterstock

Induction Into Kennel Clubs & the Progression of Racing

The Greyhound Club of America was founded in 1907 but wasn’t officially inducted into the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1909. These dogs were greatly revered for their running speeds, and Greyhound racing was at an all-time high for several decades.

Greyhound racing became a gambler’s dream, as people placed bets on their favorite dogs to win. But unfortunately, this intense racing also led to several health issues that led to shorter lifespans, injury, and a myriad of other breed concerns.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that popularity began to plummet in the UK—and even later in the US. The US kept racing Greyhounds well into the 1980s as a primary breed sport.

Thankfully, some much-needed changes were made to the way Greyhounds race.

Modern Day Greyhounds

Modern-day Greyhounds are very different from their ancient ancestors. In ancient cultures, these types of sighthounds were used to track down prey, as we discussed before.

While developed for great speeds, they now use them for different reasons.

However, they save all of that anticipation for the racetrack these days. Not in the same way—this is no longer a gambling sport and has greatly improved ethics. Greyhounds are retired after just a few months or years of being on track and adopted out to families.

You can find rescues with only Greyhounds to rehome once their racing days are through. You will often see a Greyhound sitting next to a loving family member.

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Final Thoughts

It’s no wonder the Greyhound is so loved. This elegant breed has served humankind by helping us provide food for our families in our hunter/gather days. And today, they serve as unbeatable companions, lending us a friend their whole life through.

Greyhounds have one of the oldest tales to tell as far as domesticated dogs are concerned. Hopefully, you learned something new you didn’t know about this phenomenal breed.

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Featured Image Credit: Alexandra Morrison Photo, Shutterstock

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