History of the Greyhound Through the Ages



Basic Breed Characteristics

For thousands of years greyhounds have been bred to hunt by outrunning their prey. They were not intended to be solitary hunters, but to work with other dogs. Switching from hunting to racing has kept this aspect of their personality very much alive. The fastest breed of dog, greyhounds can reach a top speed of 45 miles per hour, and can average more than 30 miles per hour for distances up to one mile. Selective breeding has given the greyhound an athlete's body with the grace of a dancer. At the same time, the need to anticipate the evasive maneuvers of their prey has endowed the Greyhound with a high degree of intelligence.

The greyhound has a long neck and head, with a barely noticeable stop, or bridge to his nose. The ears are small and usually folded flat back against the neck. Their ears have a variety of poses, from straight up, to laid back flat against their neck ("rose bud" ears), to semi-pricked ears like a Collie's.

The back is long and muscular with an arch over the loin. The deep chest and narrow waist give the greyhound its distinctive silhouette. The legs are long and powerful. The feet are small and compact, with well knuckled toes. The tail is long and curved.

[Blue Greyhound] The coat of a greyhound is short and smooth. Greyhounds come in an endless variety of colors, including white, fawn (tan), red (rust), black, blue (gray), many shades of brindle, and with patches of these colors on white. At right is a "blue" greyhound, proving that greyhounds can in fact be gray. Their most common color is brindle, black tiger stripes on a lighter background. The most common brindle is fawn, and most have a black mask. Their coat length differs from dog to dog, and some will have a thicker, teddy bear coat while others have a short, slick coat with just some feathering on the buttocks. They have virtually no body fat. In general, greyhounds are very clean and do not require a lot of grooming.

Three separate breeding lines exist: racing, coursing and show greyhounds. Racing greyhounds are bred for speed, coursing greys for a combination of speed, endurance, and courage, and show greys for appearance. A show greyhound typically stands 26-30 inches at the shoulder and weighs 60-85 pounds. Bitches average around 10 to 15 pounds less. The average lifespan is twelve to sixteen years. Track greyhounds are usually 25-29 inches and 50-80 pounds. The AKC standard specifies 65-70 pounds for males, 60-65 for females as ideal. The modern coursing dog is 20 percent heavier than his ancestors 30 years ago. Modern track dogs are considerably more flat-sided than the greyhounds of pre-modern coursing days.

Orgin of the Greyhound

The modern greyhound is strikingly similar in appearance to an ancient breed of sighthounds that goes back to the Egyptians and Celts. Dogs very similar to greyhounds--domesticated hunters with long, slender bodies-- appear in temple drawings from 6,000 BC in the city of Catal-Huyuk in present-day Turkey. A 4,000 BC funerary vase found in the area of modern Iran was decorated with images of dogs looking much like greyhounds. Since ancient artists tended to depict only images of religious or social significance to their societies, these dogs must have been fairly important to the peoples of those days. We do not know for certain that these dogs are forerunners of the modern greyhound.

Where did the greyhound-type dog originate? The testimony of the ancients is confused on this point. Although the Greyhound appears in various Celtic, British, Irish, and Scottish pictures and literature dating from the 9th Century, its slender build, deep chest, and thin skin suggest a warm climate birth for the breed. The term "Greyhound" has been traced by some to the old English "Gre-hundr" grech or greg, meaning dog and hundr, meaning hunting. The Romans believed that greyhounds came from Gaul (western Europe), the land of the Celts. The Celts, on the other hand, believed that greyhounds came from Greece, and so called them "Greek hounds" (greyhound may in fact be a derivation of Greek hound). Still others prefer the simpler explanation -- the original color of the dogs was gray and the name simply means gray dog. This confusion suggests at least that greyhound-type dogs didn't originate in Gaul or Greece, but probably in the semi-arid lands of North Africa and the Middle East.

It may be that the ancestor of greyhounds and other sighthounds first came into being in the tents of Middle Eastern nomadic peoples. Some think that the sighthound is a cross between the domesticated dog of that era and the southern European wolf. In a movable camp setting, it was common for dogs to follow the camp, eating from its trash and protecting its unwalled perimeter. The presence of these dogs was tolerated because of the guard service they provided. But they were regarded as wild and disagreeable by people, a belief to which most references to dogs in the Bible testify. But at some point, a special kind of dog was discovered or bred--a dog that could hunt along with humans, even humans on horseback-- an extremely valuable service. These dogs had to be kept separate from the dogs on the camp's perimeter, so that interbreeding wouldn't ruin the special abilities of these proto-greyhounds. So these sighthounds were given a special place inside the camp, even inside the tents, where no other animal was allowed, so that their breeding might be controlled. The unique and highly prized abilities of sighthounds help explain why they have changed very little in 2,000 years.

Greyhound Timeline

The following sections give an idea of the relationship between human and greyhound over the millenia, with an emphasis on more recent times. This isn't meant to be an Ancient World History Lesson, the dates are estimated and cultures simplified, but this does give a relative representation of the emergence of the Greyhound as a breed. The first written records date back to the Egyptians c.2500 BC. Click on the Culture to learn more about the greyhound lineage.