Greyhound c 1907Greyhound c 1907

The Greyhound, one of the oldest pure breeds, was mentioned in the Bible (Prov 30:31) almost a Century before Christ[2]. So his breed type has remained recognizable for three millennia. Since early Egyptian times, in Northern Africa he played an important role in running hare and gazelle down for food, and coursing for the thrill of the chase. Also referred to in early Greek literature, his popularity among the aristocracy is documented by Assyrian artists, in early decorative ornaments and later in European art.

History of the Greyhound

Greyhound drawn by Dr CaiusGreyhound drawn by Dr Caius

This wonderful description of a Greyhound is probably the first word description of any breed. Written in 1486 by Juliana Berners, a nun from the Abess of Sopewell in her book of St Albans on Hawking, Hunting and Fishing, stated the Greyhound should have:

"a head like a snake,
a neck like a drake,
a back like a beam,
the sides of a bream, (fish)
be footed like a cat
and have a tail like a rat"[5] 

Greyhound Bronze 50-270 ADGreyhound Bronze 50-270 AD

From the earliest times, the Greyhound has been a dog of not only exceptional speed, but also capable of turning, dodging and changing direction whilst maintaining its balance at a double suspension gallop. Combine this with exceptional eyesight, we have the ideal Sighthound made famous by early aristocracy and wealthy landowners since the earliest of civilizations.

The Greyhound becomes a Pure Breed

J.H.Walsh, under the name 'Stonehenge', in 1886 wrote:

Greyhounds c 1880Greyhounds c 1880

Experience has convinced all coursers that a dog with plenty of length from his hip to his hock is likely to be speedy, because there is a greater than usual length of muscle to act upon the hock, and also a longer stride. The same unerring criterion has also led us to believe that a good back will give increase of power; in fact,... (with all other things being equal), size is power. But this law must not be taken without exceptions, since there must of necessity be a due proportion of parts, or else the successive actions for speed will not take place in due order and with proper regularity of stroke, and also because, by a well known mechanical law, what is gained in power is lost in speed or time. This framework, then, of bones and muscles, when obtained of good form and proportions, is so much gained towards our object; but still, without a good brain and nervous system to stimulate it to action, is utterly useless; and without a good heart to carry on the circulation during its active employment, it will still fail us in our need. Again, even if all these organs are sound and formed of good properties by nature, if mismanagement or other causes interrupt their proper nutrition by digestion and assimilation, the framework speedily falls away, and our hopes are irrecoverably wrecked"[6].

History of Greyhounds in Australia

Australian Greyhound c 1897Australian Greyhound c 1897

In 1788 when the first settlers came to Australia, Greyhounds came with them. They began to be used to bring down kangaroos and related marsupials that were plentiful and provided meat for our earliest settlers. Then Greyhounds and Greyhound-Deerhound crosses were specifically developed for this type of hunting. These dogs were named Kangaroo Dogs[3]. By 1864, the Catalogue of the first dog show held in Melbourne shows that Kangaroo dogs consisting of 5 Rough coats and 15 Smooth coats were entered as well as 19 Greyhounds[4].

Sadly, the Kangaroo Dog was never recognised as a pure breed. When his job became redundant, the Sport of Coursing evolved, mainly for the entertainment of wealthy land owners. So Coursing Clubs became the guardians of Greyhounds[5], presumably also keeping Stud Books which preceded any other Australian pure breed dog records.

The Greyhound Today

Modern GreyhoundModern Greyhound

The modern Greyhound still bears resemblances to the original famous word description of 1486 AD above. Listed in the First English Stud Book published in 1874, today he is an upstanding dog up to 30 inches tall, (bitches around 2 inches less). He is a strongly built, muscular, powerful dog with a long head and neck, clean well laid shoulders, a deep chest, big body, slightly arched loin, powerful hindquarters, and sound legs and feet. His suppleness throughout his body and limbs gives him his distinctive breed type.

His long head is moderately wide with a flat skull, slight stop and powerful jaws housing a normal scissors bite. His dark eyes are oval and obliquely set and his fine textured ears are rose-shaped.


His neck is long and muscular, as are his forequarters but not excessively so that the withers are clean.The forelegs are long and straight and the pasterns and feet are of moderate length. This length of pastern and feet acts like a shock absorber, allowing for great flexibility for the spring required to enable the dog to have this far reaching low free stride when he covers the ground at great speed in a double suspension gallop.


The chest is deep allowing for lots of room for the heart and lungs, and the flanks are well cut up. He has a rather long broad back and a powerful slightly arched loin. This loin combined with very powerful muscular hindquarters gives him propulsion when galloping at high speed. When still, his muscular first and second thighs combined with well bent stifles, enables him to stand over lots of ground. The tail is set and carried low, but with a slight curve.

The coat is fine and close and comes in black, white, red, blue, fawn, fallow (light brown) or brindle or a mixture of any of these colours with white.

Comparison between Italian Greyhound, Whippet and Greyhound

An excellent way to understand the Greyhound is by comparing him to his closest relatives, the Italian Greyhound and the Whippet. The obvious differences are their gait, size and length of leg. The Italian Greyhound has proportionately the longest length of leg of these three breeds, the Whippet is more 'square' and the Greyhound has a body longer than height at withers. There are also some minor differences which makes the following comparison table interesting.

Italian Greyhound Whippet Greyhound
Size Ideal height is 32-38 cms (12.5-15ins). Ideally weight is
3.6-4.5 kg (8-10 lbs) but overall type and elegance is essential.
Desirable height is dogs 47-51 cms (18.5 - 20 ins) with bitches 44-47 cms (17.5 - 18.5 ins).
Ideal Height is dogs 71-76 cms (28-30 ins) with bitches being 69-71 cms (27-28 ins)
Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound WhippetWhippet GreyhoundGreyhound
Gait The Italian Greyhound has a unique high stepping action as described above. Never-the-less it should be free with the front and hind legs moving forward in a straight line with great propulsion (but not high stepping) action from the rear. The Whippet should move with long, easy strides with great freedom, whilst holding its topline. Its forelegs should be thrown forward, low over the ground and not high stepping. The hind legs should come well under the body giving great propulsion from the rear. The Greyhound should have a straight, low reaching, free stride enabling it to cover the ground at great speed. The hind legs should come well under body giving it great propulsion from the rear.
Head The long, flat and narrow skull ends with a slight stop. The muzzle is also long and fine, with a dark nose. The long, flat, rather wide skull ends with with a slight stop. The muzzle is powerful with clean cut jaws. Nose is either black or corresponds to the coat colour. A butterfly nose is permissible in white or parti-coloured dogs. The long, flat, moderate width skull ends with a slight stop. The jaws are powerful and well chiselled.
The rather large eyes are bright and full of expression.
The oval eyes are bright and full of expression. The oval eyes are bright, intelligent, obliquely set and preferably dark.
Ears The ears are placed well back, rose-shaped, soft and fine, but not pricked.
The small ears are rose-shaped and fine in texture.

The small ears are rose-shaped and fine in texture.
Mouth Jaws strong with a complete scissor bite Jaws strong with a complete scissor bite Jaws strong with a complete scissor bite
Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound WhippetWhippet GreyhoundGreyhound
Neck The neck is long and gracefully arched. The neck is long, muscular and elegantly arched. The neck is long, muscular and elegantly arched. It is well let into shoulders.
Forequarters The shoulders are long and sloping. The forelegs, with their strong bone and pasterns should be straight and set well under the shoulders. The shoulders are well laid back with flat muscles. There is moderate space between the shoulder blades and the chest is not too wide. When viewed in profile, the upper arm is approximately of equal in length to the shoulder blade and placed so that the elbow falls in a line directly under the withers. The moderately boned forelegs are straight and upright but the strong pasterns have a slight spring. The shoulder blades are oblique and well set back. The shoulders are muscular without being loaded, and cleanly defined at the withers. The chest is narrow.The elbows are free and well set under shoulders. The forelegs are long and straight with good bone ending in moderately long and slightly sprung pasterns which should not incline either in or out.
Feet Hare feet Oval feet, well split between the toes Compact feet with toes of moderate length
Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound WhippetWhippet GreyhoundGreyhound
Body The deep chest is narrow but the ribcage and brisket are long. The back has a slight arch over the loin but there is much more arch and steeper croup than the Whippet or the Greyhound, causing the Italian Greyhound's high stepping front action. The chest or brisket is very deep with well sprung ribs. The somewhat long back is broad, firm and well muscled, showing a graceful arch over the loin, but not humped. Instead, the loin should give the impression of strength and power. The underline has a definite tuck up. The chest is deep and capacious, providing adequate heart room. The ribcage is deep, with well sprung ribs carried well back. The rather long back is broad and square with a powerful, slightly arched loin. In profile the flanks well cut up.
Hindquarters The well muscled first and second thighs make the hind legs parallel when viewed from behind. The stifles should be well bent with the hocks well let down. The well developed hindquarters are broad and strong across the first and second thighs. The stifles well bent without exaggeration, with hocks well let down, enabling the dog to stand naturally over a lot of ground. The first and second thighs are wide and muscular, showing great propelling power. The stifles well bent and the hocks short, inclining neither in nor out. The body and hindquarters are well coupled together, enabling the dog to cover adequate ground when standing.
Tail The long, fine tail is low set and carried low. The long, tapering tail should reach at least to the hock. When moving it should be carried in a delicate curve not higher then the back. The long tail is set and carried rather low. It is strong at root tapering to point and slightly curved.
Coat The skin of an Italian Greyhound should be fine and supple while the hair is short, fine and glossy. The coat of a Whippet should be fine, short and close in texture. The coat of a Greyhound should be fine and close.
Colour The Italian Greyhound can be black, blue, cream, fawn, red, white, or any of these colours broken with white. White dogs may be broken with one of these colours. The only unacceptable colours are black or blue with tan markings, or brindle. The Whippet may be any colour or mixture of colours.
The Greyhound may be black, white, red, blue, fawn, fallow, brindle or any of these colours broken with white.

Origin of the Greyhound

In 1570, Dr. Johannes Caius called the type of Gazehound that pursues prey swiftly Greyhound in his classification that was written in Latin and translated into English by A Fleming in 1576[1]. The original translation of this important work is in my opinion too difficult to read to be printed in its original form. So it appears here as my interpretation in modern English:

Caius 1Caius 1


There is another kind of dog which, for his incredible swiftness, is called a Greyhound because the principal service of them depends and consists in bolting and hunting the hare. These dogs have the strength and lightness to tackle the game whether finding it, or taking the buck, the hart, the doe, the fox, or other beasts of similar kind. But each dog has instinct in proportion to its desire and the ability of its body. For it is a lean kind of dog, some bigger than others, some smooth and some curly coated. The bigger are appointed to hunt the bigger beasts, and the smaller serve to hunt the smaller accordingly.

Greyhound c 1907Greyhound c 1907

The nature of these dogs is wonderful according to the testimonials. Jean Froissant[A] reports the following story about a Greyhound belonging to King Richard the Second when he was the reigning King of England. This dog never knew anyone, besides the King. But when Henry, Duke of Lancaster came to the castle of Flint to take King Richard: the dog left his former lord and master, and went to Duke Henry with conceived goodwill and as much affection as he had given the King before[B]. He followed the Duke around, utterly ignoring the King. So it was perceived that this dog was enlightened with the lamp of foreknowledge, predicting his old master's miseries and the unhappiness to come which King Richard himself evidently perceived. Such was the account of this deed of his dog, a prophecy of his overthrow.


[A] Jean Froissant (c. 1337 - c. 1405), often referred to in English as John Froissart, who was one of the most important chroniclers of medieval France

[B] King Richard the Second, the subject of Shakespeare's famous play was removed from the throne by Henry, Duke of Lancaster and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was later removed from the Tower but kept as a prisoner and died, allegedly from starvation.

References and Further Reading

[1] Dr John Caius, "Of Englishe Dogges: The Diuersities, the Names, the Natures, and the Properties", London, 1576, translated into English by Abraham Fleming, Pages 14-15. The work was originally published in Latin in 1570 as "Johannes Caius, De Canibus Britannicis".

[2] The Bible (950 - 700 B.C.) Proverbs xxx. 31 written by Lemuel

[3] Walter Beilby, 'The Dog in Australiasia' pub 1897, George Robertson & Co Melbourne, Sydney, Adeliade, Brisbane, London 'The Kangaroo Dog' P.430

[4] Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Sporting & Other Dogs, Thursday & Friday April 7 & 8, 1864 promoted by the Council of the Acclimatisation Society, printed in Melbourne by Mason & Firth, Printers, Flinders Lane West Page 7

[5] C. S. Turner, 'Tyzack's Annual' Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner Published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912 Printed by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne, Introduction Page 5.

[6] J.H.Walsh, under the name 'Stonehenge', 'The Dogs of the British Islands' (Fifth Edition) Published by 'The Field' Office, 346 Strand, W.C.London 1886. Book ll, 'Hounds and their Allies' Chapter 1 The Greyhound Pages 117-8.