This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
This elegant animal appears to have existed in Britain from a very early period, being mentioned in a very old Welsh proverb, and a law of King Canute having precluded the commonalty from keeping him. Numberless hypotheses have been brought forward relative to the origin of the greyhound, Buffon tracing him to the French nation, and some other writers fancying that they could with more probability consider him as the descendant of the bulldog or the mastiff. But as I believe that it is impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty the origin of the species Canis, so I am quite satisfied with the conclusion that no long-standing variety can be traced to its source. We must, therefore, be content to take each as we find' it, and rest content with investigating its present condition; perhaps in some cases extending our researches back for fifty or a hundred years, and even then we shall often find that we are lost in a sea of doubt.
Fig. 4. - PAIR OF SMOOTH GREYHOUNDS - RIOT AND DAVID.
Until within the last twenty-five years public coursing was confined to a very limited circle of competitors, partly owing to the careful retention of the best blood in the kennels of a chosen few, but chiefly to the existing game laws, which made it imperative that every person coursing should not only have a certificate, but also a qualification, that is to say, the possession of landed property to the value of one hundred pounds per annum. Hence the sport was forbidden to the middle classes, and it was not until 1831 that it was thrown open to them. From that time to the present the possession of the greyhound has been coveted and obtained by great numbers of country gentlemen and farmers in rural districts, and by professional men as well as tradesmen in our cities and towns, so that the total number in Great Britain and Ireland may be estimated at about fifteen or twenty thousand. Of these about five or six thousand are kept for public coursing, while the remainder amuse their owners by coursing the hare in private.
Various explanations have been offered of the etymology of the prefix grey, some contending that the color is implied, others that it means Greek (Graius\ while a third party understand it to mean great. But as there is a remarkable peculiarity in this breed connected with it, we need not, I think, go farther for the derivation. No other breed, I believe, has the blue or grey color prevalent; and those which possess it at all have it mixed with white, or other color; as, for instance, the blue-mottled harrier, and the blotched blue and brown seen in some other kinds. The greyhound, on the contrary, has the pure blue or iron grey color very commonly; and although this shade is not admired by any lovers of the animal for its beauty, it will make its appearance occasionally. Hence it may fairly be considered a peculiarity of the breed, and this grey color may, therefore, with a fair show of probability, have given the name to the greyhound.
In describing the greyhound it is usual, and indeed almost necessary, to consider him as used for the two purposes already mentioned, that is to say, - 1st, as the private, and 2ndly, as the public, greyhound; for though externally there is no difference whatever, yet in the more delicate organization of his brain and nerves there is some obscure variation, by which he is rendered more swift and clever in the one case, and more stout and honest in the other. In the horse the eye readily detects the thoroughbred, but this is not the case here: for there are often to be met with most beautifully formed greyhounds of private blood, which it would be impossible to distinguish from the best public breeds by their appearance, but which in actual trial would be sure to show defective speed and sagacity. This being the case, I shall first describe the general characteristics of both, and afterwards those in which they differ from one another.
The points of the greyhound will be described at length, because as far as speed goes, he may be taken as the type to which all other breeds are referred; but, before going into these particulars, it will be interesting to examine the often-quoted doggrel rhymes, which are founded upon a longer effusion originally published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496, and to institute a comparison between the greyhound of the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the former of these periods it was said that this dog should have -
" The head of a snake, The Deck of the drake, A back like a beam, A side like a bream, The tail of a rat, And the foot of a cat."
Now, although the several points herein mentioned may be enlarged upon, it is scarcely possible to dissent from any one of them; but, as all my readers may not exactly know the form which is meant to be conveyed by the side of a bream for instance, it is necessary to explain it in more intelligible language.
1st. The head, it is said, should be snake-like, but this is not to be taken literally, as that of the snake differs considerably from the head of any specimen of the greyhound which has ever come under my observation. Every snake's head is flat and broad, with the nose or snout also quite compressed, while the head of the greyhound, though flat at the top, is comparatively circular in its transverse section, and the nose is irregularly triangular. There is no doubt that the greyhound of former days, before the cross of the bulldog was introduced, had a much smaller head than that which is now seen; and I also believe that some breeds at present existing may be ascertained to be free from this cross, by their small brain-cases; but, still, none have the perfectly flat head of the reptile in question. The tyro, therefore, who looks for a literal interpretation of the first line of the rhyme will be disappointed. My own belief is that a full development of brain gives courage and sagacity, but leads to such a rapid acquirement of knowledge relative to the wiles practised by the hare, as to make the dog possessing it soon useless for anything but killing his game, which he is often able to do with absolute certainty.