Bunny here at the keyboard with a little Greyhound history lesson for you today.
For a long time, the common belief is that Greyhounds got their origins in Egypt along with a group of other sighthounds. Now, however, there is some dispute about that. Some people say that DNA tests show that we weren’t the legendary dogs of the Pharoahs. They say we probably originated in Eurasia and soon migrated to the Celtic area with hunters. Humans tend to get interested and worked up about these things, so I thought I’d share a little about what I’ve learned.
Greek historians recorded everything in their area with great dedication and they don’t mention Greyhounds at all until they met a Northern tribe called the Keltoi in 200 B.C. That’s the first time they recorded any mention of us at all. You know if we’d been around, people would have been talking about us like crazy. In 300 B.C. Xenophon didn’t mention us at all in his book about dog breeds. However, two centuries later, the poet Grattius wrote about the Celtic dogs, who were called Vertragus by Arrian, a Greek historian.
…swifter than thought or a winged bird it runs, pressing hard on beasts it has found.
The Celtic culture was all over Europe from Austria to northern Spain, the British Isles and Ireland. Wherever they went, they took their dogs and soon the Vertragus were leaving behind various offshoots of themselves. Spain had Galgos, the British Isles and Wolfhounds and Tumblers, and the Celts didn’t give their sighthounds specific names. To make it even more confusing, they had large dogs they called Greyhounds and the dogs that became the breed we are today were called Coursing Dogs. Irish Wolfhounds were particularly valuable at that time because of their ability to hunt boars. People paid large sums of gold for them. Of course, I can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to pay a lot to have a sighthound, but I digress.
They say that we became the Greyhounds we are today after the Forest Laws of the 17th Century ended. Before that time, commoners couldn’t own a sighthound. It was against the law and they could be killed for it, or get a hand chopped off. After the Forest Laws were ended, there were very strict rules enacted about coursing and they demanded specific requirements of performance and traits. Most of the sighthound breeds disappeared. Even the modern Irish Wolfhound is a recreation of the original dog.
There are two studies that support this theory. One is from 1997 called “Multiple and Ancient Origins of the Domestic Dog.” It traced the DNA of Greyhounds from long ago to present day. It suggests that male Irish Setters, St. Bernards and Miniature Schnauzers were bred to female Greyhounds to create each of those breeds. Those dogs all originated in the Celtic region. The second study, “Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog,” studied clumps of DNA strings that appear in some breeds, but not in others. They don’t show us Greyhounds having much in common with the Asian breeds like Salukis, Afghan Hounds, Chows, Shar-Pei or Akitas. However, those breeds all have a lot of common DNA with each other. We Greyhounds have common DNA with the Celtic region breeds like Irish Wolfhounds. It also showed that we’re the starting point for a lot of breeds like Whippets, Borzoi, St. Bernards, Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs. All of those breeds are known to have started in the Celtic areas.
It has long been believed that the Irish saved Greyhounds from becoming extinct during the Middle Ages, but now it looks like we might have just gotten our start there, too. During the famine, Greyhounds were taken in by clergymen who bred them for the nobility. Whether we started in Egypt or Ireland, Ireland is a very important part of our history. The truth is, people might never know where we actually started from, but it’s fun to ponder it, especially on a day like Saint Patrick’s Day. All I have to say is, kiss me, I’m Irish!