This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
This being so, in estimating the greyhound's claim to be the handsomest of the canine race, we must remember for what his various excellences, resulting in a whole which is so strikingly elegant, is designed. Speed is the first and greatest quality a dog of this breed can possess; to make a perfect dog there are other attributes he must not be deficient in, but wanting in pace he can never hope to excel. The most superficial knowledge of coursing or coursing literature will show this, and it is a quality which, although developed to its present high pitch, has always been recognised as most important. Chaucer says, Greihounds he hadde as swift as fowl of flight,
And again - following the example of the immortal scoundrel Wegg - to drop into poetry, Sir Walter Scott, in his introduction to "Marmion," thus eulogises the speed of the greyhound:
Remember'st thou my greyhounds true? O'er holt or hill there never flew, From leash or slip there never sprang, More fleet of foot, more sure of fang.
Well does he deserve the encomium of Markham, who declares he is, "of all dogs whatsoever the most princely, strong, nimble, swift, and valient."
In addition to speed, the dog must have strength to last out a severe course, nimbleness in turning, the capacity to catch and bear the hare in his stride, good killing powers, and vital force to give him dash, staunchness, and endurance. What a dog possessing these qualities should be like, I shall, by the assistance of the keenest and most experienced observers and writers on the subject, endeavour to show; and whilst gladly sitting at the feet of modern Gamaliels, not slighting the wisdom of the past, but offering gleanings from the works of old, that may prove both interesting and instructive to the tyro, although as a tale that hath been told to many; and in defence of such a course let me quote Geoffrey Chaucer:
For out of the old fieldis, as men saith,
Cometh all this new corn from year to year; And out of olde bookis in good faith,
Cometh all this new science that men lere.
It would be as much out of place here as it is unnecessary to enter on any lengthened dissertation on coursing - passionately fond of the sport, next to seeing it it would be a labour of love to write or speak of it, and it is almost with pain that I recall the words of Somerville, whose tastes preferred
The musical confusion Of hounds and echo in conjunction; and who, with unjust prejudice, penned an undeserved censure against followers of the leash when he wrote:
A different hound for every different chase Select with judgment; nor the poor timorous hare, O'er-matched, destroy; but leave that vile offence To the mean, murderous, coursing crew.
Without going deeply into the subject of coursing, it will, however, I think, be necessary to briefly glance at what a dog is required to do in a course, and that for two reasons: First, because I hold that all dogs should be judged in the show ring by their apparent suitability for their special work; and, secondly, because this book may fall into the hands of many who are real lovers of the dog and genuine sportsmen at heart, but who, from various circumstances, have never had an opportunity of seeing a course, or that so rarely as to be practically unacquainted with its merits.
The remarks of the inexperienced on a course are often amusing. The most common mistake made by the tyro is that the dog that kills the hare always wins, irrespective of other considerations - a most excusable error on the part of the novice, as in most or all other descriptions of racing the first at the post or object is the winner; but in coursing it is not which is first there, but which has done most towards accomplishing the death of the hare or put her to the greatest straits to escape. Be it here understood that the object of the courser and the object of the dogs differ materially. The dog's object is the death of the hare; the courser's object is to test the relative speed, working abilities, and endurance of the competitors, as shown in their endeavours to accomplish their object; and the possession of the hare is of little consequence, except to the pothunter or currant jelly devotee, who is quite out of the pale of genuine coursing society.
Although what I am going to say will be as stale and tiresome to - and as likely to create a smile in - many as listening to a child's first lesson in the alphabet, I consider it, for the reasons already given, necessary. Two dogs only are slipped at a hare, and this has always been the honourable practice in this country. Even in Turberville's Observations on Coursing we find the maxim - "If the greyhounds be but yonge or slow you may course with a lease at one hare, but that is seldom seen, and a brase of dogges is ynow for such a poore beaste."
The hare being found, or so-ho'd, and given law - a fair start of eighty or a hundred yards - the dogs are slipped, in the run up, as in after stretches following a turn, the relative speed of the dogs is seen; but the hare, being pressed, will jerk, turn, and wind in the most nimble manner, testing the dogs' smartness in working, suppleness, and agility in making quick turns, and "it is a gallant sport to see how the hare will turn and wind to save herself out of the dogge's mouth, so that sometimes, when yon think that your greyhound doth, as it were, gape to take her, she will turn and cast them a good way behinde her, and so save herself by turning, wrenching, and winding." It is by the practice of these clever wiles and shifts that the hare endeavours to reach her covert, and in closely following her scut and o'ermastering her in her own devices that a greyhound displays the mastery of this branch of his business, in which particular a slower dog will often excel an opponent that has the foot of him in the stretches; but, with this working power, a facility in making short turns, speed must be combined, or it stands to reason points could not be made except on a comparatively weak hare.