by   David Hancock

Many types of dog have been used in the boar-hunt, with only one modern breed, the Great Dane or German Mastiff, directly inheriting the boarhound mantle. Hounds of the pack were often regarded as too precious to be risked in the final moments of the boar-hunt, so more coarsely-bred dogs were used 'at the kill', being considered expendable. These were variously described as catch-dogs, bandogges, alauntes and seizers. They were recklessly brave, remarkably agile, extraordinarily determined and admirably athletic. A better name for them would be 'boar-lurchers'; they were never intended to be a breed, they were never uniformly bred and nearly always owned by the lower classes, who were sometimes paid or rewarded for doing so, as a contribution to the hunt.

In England, in the reign of Henry the Second, the wild boar was hunted with hounds and spears in many wooded areas, from the Forest of Dean to Warwickshire and beyond. King James hunted the boar at Windsor, this being described as "a more dangerous amusement than it was likely he could find any pleasure in". Turbervile writing in the late 16th century, recorded that hounds accustomed to running the boar were spoiled for game of scent less strong. They were alleged to be less inclined to stoop to the scent of deer or hare and disinclined to pursue a swifter quarry which did not turn to bay when out of breath. On mainland Europe, both to protect the more precise scent-following from being ruined by boar-scent and to avoid talented scenthounds being slaughtered in the boar-hunt, where more dogs died than boars, boar-hunting ended up being conducted at different social levels.

The true boarhound, a hound of the chase or chien courant, as opposed to a huge crossbred dog once used at the killing of the boar, deserves our respect. Such a hound was required to pursue and run down one of the most dangerous quarries in the hunting field. It needed to be a canine athlete, have a good nose, great determination and yet not be too hot-blooded. But for centuries, especially by the more lowly hunters in remote areas, a much smaller, much more agile dog - the saufinder or boar finder was utilised - throughout the continent of Europe, from what is now Germany right down to Corsica in the Mediterranean. They were coarsely-bred mongrels by modern definition, chosen for their scenting powers and for their skill at staying alive! In central Europe the boar was hunted, once found, by huge hounds in the great forests of what is now Germany, western Poland and the Czech Republic. They were supported by dogs known as 'hatzruden' (literally big hunting dogs), huge rough-haired crossbred dogs, supplied to the various courts by peasants. They were the "expendable" dogs of the boar hunt, used at the kill. The nobility however bred the smooth-coated 'sauruden' (boar hounds), and 'saupacker' (literally, member of a pack used forhunting wild boar). The 'saufanger' (boar seizer) was the catch-dog or hunting mastiff.

The 'sauruden' were the equivalent, in the late 18th century, of the hunting alaunts of the 15th century, with the breed of Bullmastiff perhaps, being the modern equivalent of the "alaunts of the butcheries". The specialist 'leibhund', literally 'body-dog', was the catch-dog used to close with the boar and seize it, sometimes wearing armoured vests as defence against the rib-ripping tusks of their quarry. But without the scenting skill of the saufinders there would be no hunt. In time, in France especially, boar-hunting became part of grand venerie conducted with packs of scenthounds, but the less well-heeled hunters retained a different method, the peasants' hunt if you like. In western Europe too the coarsely-bred dogs of the peasant-hunt, or matins, had their value in taking on the more dangerous roles in the humbler stag and boar-hunt. The matins were big and strong, eventually becoming cart-dogs in many European countries, but without breed-status and as stag and boar-hunting lessened, only a few were kept on in the hunting field. In the early 1900s, a few French hunters maintained 'matin-packs' for use in the boar-hunt; we would have called them boar-lurchers. Some Mastiff breed historians have tried to link the word 'matin' with the origin of the word 'mastiff' but once they realised the mongrel nature of the matins, changed their minds! The Forest of Dean might one day soon need a 'matin-pack'. 

If you want a humane method of controlling wild boar in England, ancient ways have much to recommend them. Before a wild boar harms a child, a likely occurrence if a sow is accompanied by piglets, some form of control makes good sense. Shooting wild boar is not easy and a wounded boar is doubly dangerous. Although ignorant do-gooders would never sanction it, boar-finders, supported by matins or boar-lurchers, seizing the boar by the ear for immediate despatch by humane-killer is a kinder option. Our distant ancestors knew the value of such seizing dogs; we have unthinkingly pursued the shooting method - and that is not wise - or the most humane. Some dogs in such dangerous work might well get killed - that is the nature of such a form of control.