Brief History of the Greyhound

Centuries of breeding have resulted in the most remarkable breed of dog known to man ~ the Greyhound.  The Greyhound’s streamlined body is that of the ultimate canine athlete, which has not significantly deviated since ancient times.  Greyhound or Greyhound-like canines have appeared throughout the centuries in artistry, pottery, literature, and within the tombs of the ancient pyramids. The exact historical origin of the Greyhound is unknown.  Its origin has been thought to be Africa, Greece, Middle East, or Turkey.  We do know that the Greyhound’s historical lineage is greatly rooted in ancient history dating back thousands of years, making the Greyhound the oldest purebred canine.  Some say the Greyhounds date back over 4,000 years ago.

Throughout time Greyhounds have been bred for one thing ~ speed.  Greyhounds are a member of the sighthound family and primarily hunt by eyesight, as opposed to other canines, which use scent.  Greyhounds have the ability to see distances up to mile away.  Another characteristic of the sighthound is the instinct to chase.  Greyhounds are noted for reaching speeds up to 45 mph in three strides.  Collectively, throughout history these attributes made the Greyhound an excellent and well-adapted hunter. 

There is much speculation as to the origin of the name “Greyhound”.  Contrary to what some may think, the word Greyhound does not come from their color.  In fact, there is no real “gray” Greyhound.  The closest thing to “gray” is a “blue” or “steel” color, and actually it is not very common.  Some believe it stems from the word “gazehound”, which is another word for sighthound. Other possibilities include from the word “Graius” or “Grecian” meaning Greek, the Latin word “ gracillius” meaning slender or slim, the old British word “grech” or “greg”, meaning dog, or “hundr”, meaning hunter.  Whereas, others assert the name simply implies “great hound”.                 

Regardless of their exact lineage and name derivation, Greyhounds are one of the most unique breeds in the world, recognized for their elegant appearance, grace, gentleness, agility, and speed.  The sight and silhouette of a Greyhound running, full speed, muscles contracted, legs stretched is a rare beauty in respect to the rest of the canine world.  These remarkable creatures have been a symbol of pride and respect for many great civilizations.  The following are just some of the impressions the Greyhound has made throughout history.

The first evidence of long, lean canines resembling the Greyhound appeared in temple drawings in the city of Catal-Huyuk in Turkey.  The temple drawings dating back to 6000 BC depict a Greyhound-like canine assisting a hunter.

Around 4000 BC, now Iran, a funerary vase was made and beautified with the depictions of Greyhound-like canines. 

Greyhounds were the most valuable possession of the Egyptian Pharaohs, adored for their speed, grace, elegance, and loyalty.  Cleopatra and King Tutankhamen had Greyhounds.  Figures of the Pharaoh’s Greyhounds were often carved into the walls of their tombs or mummified along side their masters.  In ancient Egypt, the birth of a Greyhound was often second in importance to the birth of a son.  Entire families would mourn the passing of a Greyhound by shaving their heads, fasting, and weeping out loud. 

The first mention of any canine breed in literature dated back around 800 BC.  In Greek literature, a book called “The Odyssey” told a story of a man named Odysseus who left home for 20 years.  When he arrived home, the only one who recognized him was his Greyhound “Argus”, who was only a puppy when he left home.

The Greyhound is the only canine breed to be mentioned in The Bible, Proverbs 30: 29-31.

During the Middle Ages, Greyhounds nearly became extinct due to famine and disease.  Fortunately, priests and clergymen took special care to protect the Greyhounds, and later bred them for nobleman. 

Around the year 900, the King of Wales ordered that the punishment for the killing of a Greyhound was the same for the killing of a human ~ death.

In the year 1014, King Canute enacted the Forest Laws, stating only persons of nobility were permitted to own a Greyhound.

In Britain, Greyhounds were appreciated for their well-adapted ability to hunt and course.  Also, in Britain the ownership of a Greyhound was a symbol of pride and nobility. Hence, the popularity of the Greyhound grew very popular among the elite.

Greyhounds eventually made their way to the United States in the late 1800’s to help control the jack rabbit population.  In 1912, marked the birth of the mechanical lure.  It was not too long after the first track opened in 1919 in Emeryville, California.  In the years to come, Greyhound racing would flourish as a spectator sport. 

The modern day Greyhound still retains all the attributes that made it so treasured throughout the centuries.  Greyhounds are known for their gentleness, patience, and sensitivity.  They have personalities that tend to want to please their families and a tendency to bond deeply with their family.  Greyhounds are one of the most loyal companions.  They are extremely intelligent and have the ability to acclimate to their new home very quickly.  Greyhounds are very clean and do not have a “doggy” odor like most other canines.  Some can live in harmony with other pets such as birds, cats, small animals, and other exotic pets.   

Greyhounds make the most wonderful family companion and are good with well- mannered, considerate children.  Sharing your life with a Greyhound will change your life in every way.  They will provide you with a lifetime of enrichment.  Through proper care, love, understanding, patience, and encouragement a Greyhound will learn to trust, love you, and form a bond so strong it will last a lifetime. Despite their previous life as a racer, Greyhounds have become valued, beloved members of the family.