In his The New Book of the Dog of 1912, Robert Leighton wrote: “Turning again to the south of Europe one may include a reference to the hound known in Spain and Portugal as the Podengo. This dog, with its racy limbs, its pointed muzzle, erect ears, and keen, obliquely set eyes, reminds one at once of its probable ancestor, the jackal, and the resemblance is rendered yet more close when the coat happens to be red. In build it is of Greyhound type, and it is frequently used for coursing rabbit and hare; but in the Peninsula, and more especially in La Mancha, Andalusia and Estramadura, it is slipped to the stag and the bear, and is also employed as a gundog.” Such a wide range of employment would demand not just a wide spread of hunting skills but also hounds of varying size. Horowitz, writing in Hutchinson’sDog Encyclopaedia of 1934, gave the view that these dogs came to Iberia with the Moors, likening them to similar hunting dogs found in North Africa. He gave details of variations in size, coat and colour in the Portuguese dogs not found there today. Even before that, van Bylandt, in his monumental work Dogs of All Nations of 1904, referred to the Podengo or Portuguese Greyhound but in one size only and the Charnique or Balearic Greyhound, our Ibizan Hound of today
A Spanish writer on dogs, Carlos Salas Melero, editor of Revista Del Perro, has written: “Spain has been considered a paradise for different hunting species as is proven by the etymological sense of the word ‘Spain’ which comes from Span – Hispania, which means ‘the land of rabbits’…As far as we know hare hunting with Greyhounds is a procedure introduced into this country from French Gaul, although later the Arabs imported their Sloughis. Out of the cross of both types the Spanish Galgo also emerged – a tough, resistant, tenacious animal and also the fastest racer.” Such a dog was mentioned by Cervantes when writing of Don Quixote being accompanied by a ‘rocin flaco y galgo corredor’ – a skinny horse and the fastest dog. A sighthound with a likely Asiatic origin, it is undoubtedly the result of an admixture of hounds brought into Spain by the Gauls, hence its name, and those brought in during the long occupation of Spain by the Moors.
Late Comer to Show Ring
This sporting sighthound owes little to the show ring for its survival. In a breed feature in Chiens de France in 1984, veterinary doctor Christian Bougerol wrote: “That the Galgo has survived to the present is because essentially it has been modelled by a harsh environment and conserved by a traditional society which ahs held it in high esteem.” Rather like our lurcher, poor shepherds and peasants used them to supplement their daily fare, and, unlike our Greyhound, the Galgo was never the preserve of the aristocracy. To respond to the demands of the track in Spain they have been crossed in more recent times with our racing Greyhounds. Males stand 62 to 70cms at the withers, bitches 60 to 68; the hunting type is renowned for its long, strong, elastic trot, giving it great stamina in the field. Brindle is the favoured colour. Quite a number of the hunting variety strongly resemble a Greyhound lurcher.
Saving the Sporting Breed
Some Spanish patriots have even claimed their sighthound breed as an ancestor of our Greyhound, quoting accounts of the trading in dogs between the two countries throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. And there are marked physical similarities between the two breeds, although the Galgo can feature the rough coat too. Dr Bougerol ended his article by stating that the Galgo has nothing to gain by becoming exclusively a companion dog or ‘beauty hound’, writing: “If it merits attention, it is by reason of its ability to catch the hare under the most difficult conditions. What is feared is that it finally loses its identity, classified with the rare, misunderstood breeds, breeds to be reconstituted or preserved and to become a breed bred for its beauty.” In the quarter century since he wrote those words, so many sighthound breeds have gone that way and more will surely and sadly follow, without coordinated efforts by breed devotees - across national boundaries.
Sadly, the Galgo has been described as the ‘most brutally abused dog’ in Spain, due to its high rate of abandonment by hard-hearted hunters, its poor quality breeding establishments and misuse by misguided owners unable to cope with a hunting dog in urban areas. Every year over 350 are rehomed by worthy rescue organizations, but it is estimated that twice that number are put down each year, some without much compassion from their recent owners. At least one of the leading rescue organizations is run by British expatriates who are appalled by the casual attitude of local so-called sportsmen towards the welfare of their dogs, which are discarded after three years of age, their coursing life behind them, together it seems with their actual life. There is evidence from time to time of their lives ending in quite horrifying ways, acts which disgrace the name of sport and the reputation of sighthound owners everywhere. The Spanish government has now been persuaded to act over such callous animal cruelty.
Portuguese Breeds At the start of the last century, one enthusiast here imported a Portuguese Warren Hound, one of the Podengo breeds of all-round sporting dogs from Southern Europe. It didn't gain supporters; if it had been imported under its proper title: Portuguese Rabbit Dog, it might have done better, there's a lot to a name. A decade ago, Betty Judge brought in a number of the small variety of the Portuguese Podengo. They look a little like Cairn Terriers, but are commendably nondescript, with no fancy coats, special heads or breed features for the exaggerators to get excited about. They are alert, robust, keen-eyed and determined little sporting dogs. When I was in Portugal fairly regularly some thirty years ago, I was impressed by both the medium-sized and the small-sized Portuguese Rabbit Dogs; they were brilliant at hunting rabbits in trying conditions, such as cork farms, where there are dry stone walls and terraces, that provide enormous scope for agile rabbits. Similar podengos can be found all along the Mediterranean littoral.
The Sighthound of Ibiza
German scientist Max Hilsheimer has linked all these hounds to a common ancestor the Tesem, writing: 'This breed has died out in modern Egypt, but still exists in Crete, the Balearic Islands and Pityusa...The island of Ibiza is the chief breeding centre...' Long-time Ibizan Hound breeder, Rafael Serra of Vinebre near Catalunya in Spain, has written that: 'The Ibizan Hound is a farmer's hunting dog...which hunts rabbits in packs over rough rocky terrain, mainly at a ground-covering trot, but which needs repeated short bursts of speed involving extreme agility and high jumps.' There is, unusually for this type of hound, a rough-coated variant, believed to come from an outcross to hounds from further north. Ibizans will retrieve live game to hand, having soft mouths despite their sharp muzzles. They are distinctive, with their pink noses, large mobile ears, amber eyes and a wrinkled frown. They are renowned for their 'suspended trot', an effortless economical 'hover-stride', of value in a hot dusty energy-sapping terrain.
The blood of the Ibizan Hound brings with it well above average hearing, a priceless attribute in an all-round hunting dog, like the lurcher. Breeders here may not favour the bat-ear but its shape and position acts like a radio-receiver, enhancing sound considerably. We talk of sight and scent hounds, but hunting dogs, terriers especially, rely on their hearing much more than we admit. If you ally this benefit to keen eyesight, discerning scenting powers, astonishing agility for a tall dog and impressively-quick reflexes, you have some very desirable lurcher ingredients. The Ibizan Hound may not be making great progress here as a breed, for although 25 were entered for Crufts in 1980, only 8 were registered with the Kennel Club in 2010, but that doesn’t mean they do not have value by way of introducing fresh blood.
Known throughout the Balearic Isles and across into Valencia and Barcelona, with a Catalan name of Ca Eivissenc, known as the Charnique in the south of France and the Balearen Laufhund in Germany, its hunting sequence has been graphically described as: find and flush, pursue at 40 mph, kill with a neck-break, then retrieve to hand. Not a bad write-up for the lurcher role. They have been utilized here by mounted hunters, retrieving well to saddle. The Spanish hunting strain seems as strong, vigorous, robust and uncomplicated today as it must have been centuries ago and the Balearic devotees have taken their job seriously, culling unwanted specimens and only breeding from the best-performing stock. Lithe and elegant, remarkably deer-like and even-tempered companion dogs, they may fade from view here in time, and that will be a loss to British sportsmen; for me, they offer more than the current fondness for bull blood.
The physique of this hound is a challenge to sighthound breeders; with upright shoulders, relatively short upper arms and lacking the deep brisket, it seems to defy accepted wisdom for hounds that rely on speed. The Greyhound is expected to have a deep and capacious chest, allegedly to allow ‘heart-room’, even though the heart doesn’t actually require space around it; the Ibizan Hound apparently needs a long flat ribcage, with space between the elbow and the brisket. Its function demands far greater agility than that usually performed by the Greyhound.
Half a century ago, when driving to Gibraltar, I stopped at Sitges near Barcelona, where a parade of ‘podencos’ was being held; the hunting demonstration involved a small pack of hounds from Mallorca working a small ravine for rabbit. The hounds worked as a natural team, the smaller ones flushing, the bigger ones chasing, with remarkable success. The terrain was testing and shoulder flexibility essential. It was easy to see why the forequarters were needed the way they were; hounds the world over have to succeed in their hunting country - not fit a universal template. The sighthounds of the Iberian peninsula and its islands are essentially working dogs, hunting by sight, yes, but by ear and scent too, with an apt physique for their terrain; we must never breed them to look like Greyhounds, they are very different and merit being regarded as quite distinctive breeds, ones not conforming to uniform show ring styles.