The power of the dog/The Greyhound
". . . . like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start."
Owned by Mr. R. N. Stollery
"Rupert of Debate"Owned by Mr. E. V. Raynes
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot."
King Henry V.
EVER since primitive man was put to the necessity of plenishing the larder, dogs have been sub-divided into those that hunt by scent and those that pursue the game by sight. The most notable representative of the latter family is the greyhound, an ancient and persistent type discoverable in most parts of the world. Eastern countries furnish us with noble examples, which probably differ little in shape from the dogs used in the days of the Pharoahs, and from which, the chances are, our own were derived at some remote period. Malory thought it no anachronism to introduce the greyhound into his beautiful story of King Arthur and his knights. Does not the wife of Aries the cowherd explain how King Pellinore "took from me, my greyhound, that I had at that time with me, and said he would keep the greyhound for my love." Malory was perfectly safe in his allusion, for centuries earlier carvings on monuments rescued from ancient Egypt, rude though they may be in their conception, have placed on record that dogs of this formation were common. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Egypt was the home of the race, whence they were distributed by means of caravans through the further East.
When we reach the Middle Ages we are on fairly solid ground, plenty of evidence being forthcoming as to the manner in which greyhounds were used. In France deer and wolves were hunted with them, but the fact that they were differently employed in this country leads Turbervile to write an original chapter upon the subject. "We here in England," he says, "do make great account of such pastime as is to be seen in coursing with Greyhoundes at Deare, Hare, Foxe, or such like, even of them selves, when there are neyther houndes hunting, nor other means to help them. So that I have thought it correspondent unto this myne enterprise, to set downe some briefe rules which I my self have seen observed in coursing with Greyhoundes. You shall understand then that we use three maner of courses with Greyhoundes here in England, that is at the Deare, at the Hare, and at the Foxe or other vermine." For coursing the deer, especially red deer, it was customary to divide the hounds into three ranks, viz., Teasers, Sidelays, and Backsets or Receytes. The duty of the Teasers, either a brace or a leash, was to start the quarry in a certain direction. Then, after some distance had been traversed, the Sidelays would be slipped, and being fresh, would probably take the deer. Failing these recourse was had to the Backsets, which were slipped in the face of the oncoming animal, "to the end they may more amase him." This does not sound very sporting, but our author assures us that a red deer was so powerful that it sometimes took four or live brace of greyhounds to pull him down. Coursing the hare was set down as the nobler pastime. As in the present day, so in Elizabethan England, it was not the kill that determined the merit of a greyhound, but "he that giveth most Cotes, or most turnings, winneth the wager." At modern coursing meetings, if two hounds are alike in colour, one has to wear a red, the other a white collar, in order that the judge may be able to distinguish. Turbervile remarks: "For the better decidyng of all these questions, if it be a solempne assembly, they use to appoynt Judges whiche are expert in coursing, and shall stande on the hilles sides whether they perceyue the Hare will bende, to marke whiche dogge doeth best, and to give judgement thereof accordingly: some use when their Greyhoundes be both of a colour to binde a handkerchef aboute one of theyre neckes for a difference. But if it were my Dogge he shoulde not weare the handkerchef, for I coulde never yet see any dogge win the course which ware the handkerchef. And it standeth to good reason that he whiche wareth the handkerchef should be combred therewith, both bycause it gathereth winde, and also bycause it doth parteley stoppe a dogges breath." Strange that the expedient of making both wear different coloured handkerchiefs was not devised until a later date.
Turbervile says that the slowest greyhound that ever ran would overtake a fox, but owing to Reynard's propensity for showing tight it was desirable only to use old and crafty hounds. When a veteran caught a fox you would see him "thrust his forelegges backwardes and fall upon him with his chest: and so save his legges from bytyng when he taketh the Fox."
The three centuries or more that have elapsed since these words were written have probably witnessed few changes in the conformation of the greyhound, the hare still adopts the same subterfuges when chased, but, of course, the rudimentary rules which then regulated the sport have been developed into an elaborate code. Such modifications as have been introduced into the structure of the dog in the course of the ages have been due to the changes in the nature of the quarry he was designed to hunt. The earliest dogs, though possessing similar outlines, were no doubt stronger and somewhat more coarsely built, and as the hare became the sole object of the chase the tendency would be to breed for greater refinement, and consequently more pace. It is almost impossible to imagine a more gracefully built animal than the greyhound of the present time.