by   David Hancock

It's a pity that the old English word for a dog that hunted principally by speed, or a 'longdog', wasn't adopted by the Kennel Club to describe and embrace all such dogs, especially the recognised breeds with this function. There was no such word as 'sighthound'. It's a lazy casual invention and an inaccurate one. The coursing dogs do not hunt by sight; they hunt by speed - they are 'levriers' or 'windhunden'. Similarly, the scenthounds, so called, do not hunt just by scent but by scent, sight and most importantly, by stamina; they exhaust their quarry. Cursorial hounds are light, leggy and lethal! An old sportsman once told me of his blind Whippet that seemed to be able to run with his other dogs with remarkable if understandably limited accomplishment. Powerful eyesight will always be a huge advantage to any prey-driven hound but it's one thing to spot game, quite another to catch it. The wild cat family range from those hunting mainly by speed, like the cheetah and the lynx, to those hunting by stealth and ambush, like the lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. The wild animals hunting in packs were much more dog-like, as  wolves, coyotes and painted dogs illustrate. The heavier members of the cat family have to be lightning-fast over short distances - after first detecting their prey by a combination of sight and scent. The powerful hunting mastiffs, as used in the Assyrian hunt, were utilised in a comparable way, as the ancient tablets reveal. Hoofed game have to be hunted by even faster hounds, bred to exceed their pace and skilled at bringing them down. If the coursers could succeed in the chase, slow down or exhaust their prey, then the 'seizers' could finish the hunt - with the build to permit 'close-quarter battle'. Primitive hunters needed the sprinters and the 'finishers!

rian Plummer, writing in his The Complete Book of Sight Hounds, Long Dogs and Lurchers of 1991, gave the view that: “A longdog is a hybrid between two sighthounds, between two dogs of similar type, both bred essentially for speed but also specifically ‘tailored’ for a particular task…Lurchers were bred as all-purpose hunting dogs and are the result of ameliorating purebred sighthounds with the blood of other breeds, breeds other than sighthounds, that is – namely collies, Bedlington Terriers, and occasionally, gun dog breeds.” That is a very modern interpretation of the word 'longdog' and only aired after the generic term 'sighthounds' had become adopted in the show world. Gypsies, peasant hunters and farmers down the centuries used the loose expression of longdog to describe their coarsely-bred lurcher-type; the educated classes who wrote books on dogs very rarely did. They tended to use the word greyhound to cover all coursing dogs.

Coursing dogs have been revered by primitive man, medieval man and modern man; Tsar, serf, squire and sheikh each valued their canine sprinters, with Henry VII having a Greyhound on his royal coat of arms. The story of the ‘canine cursorials’ – dogs having limbs adapted for running, that find their prey in open country and hunt it using great pace, often over considerable distances, is very much an historic journey. It is no surprise therefore to find their most effective use in deserts, on steppes and prairies or level rocky terrain, from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan and Russia. They were valued by hunters from ancient Egypt and classical Greece, then in turn, by widely-separated Russian, Arabian and western noblemen. Arrian, the Greek historian, wrote in 124AD: “I myself have bred a hound whose eyes are the greyest of grey. A swift, hard-working, courageous, sound-footed dog, and she proves a match at any time for four hares. She is, moreover, most gentle and kindly-affectioned…” That is a timeless description of the courser's function and nature.

In his Of English Dogs published in 1576, Dr Caius mentions two types of hunting dogs: ‘One which rouseth the beast, and continueth the chase. Another which springeth the bird, and bewrayeth the flight by pursuit.’ He subdivided such hunting dogs into five functional categories: ‘The first in perfect smelling, the second in quick spying, the third in swiftness and quickness, the fourth in smelling and nimbleness and the fifth in subtlety and deceitfulness’. The athleticism of the coursing breeds embraces sprinting, hurdling and middle-distance running; they are canine athletes that also clear obstacles and turn at great speed, sometimes facing formidably-fanged or dangerously-antlered quarry. Such talented hounds thoroughly merit our admiration and totally deserve our patronage in these difficult days for hunting dogs. Banning coursing large and small game with hounds has gradually spread throughout mainland Europe: in France in 1844, in Germany in 1848 and in Holland in 1924, denying both noble and working class sportsmen their chance to fill the family's cooking pot. Before such law-changes, northern Europe had a distinguished heritage of hunting with coursers: levriers in France, windhunden in Germany and the rough and smooth-coated Friese Windhond of the Netherlands, for example. Sadly, they lost not just the sport but the hounds too.

The great French hunter De Foix illustrated his famous hunting book of 1404 with depictions of longdogs (levriers), but his translator, choose not to use this term - it was never a word used by educated sportsmen. The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries of the early 15th century, in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, vividly display the sheer pageantry of the hunting scenes of those times, featuring hounds and hawks – with the hounds mainly consisting of the Greyhound type, illustrating the high value in the hunting field of these hounds at that time. Such scenes typified the hunting scene right across Europe and western Asia in the 15th century - the style of the pageantry may have differed but the significant employment of coursing dogs and their immense value to man at that time is evident. The tapestries indicate the wide range of quarry pursued by such hounds as well as the wide range of hounds working together. They illustrate too the close companionship of man and dog in the hunt.

It could be argued that of all types of sporting dog the longdog has the widest diaspora, featuring from the American prairies to the Asiatic steppes and from Northern Europe to Central Africa. You may not find them in the densely wooded areas of Scandinavia or South America, but where there are open spaces, and especially where deer abound you will find the canine speedsters. As human settlements change their nature and urban living increases remorselessly, we may gradually lose them as the demise of such types as the Sloughis of North Africa and the Circassian Hound of the steppes indicate, but the Rampur Hound of India, the Chart Polski and Magyar Agar of Eastern Europe still have their devotees. Colonists too introduced longdogs to North America and Australia, where they quickly adjusted to quite different quarry.

The longdog function in the United States was first carried out there by what they call staghounds, big rough-haired hunting dogs, crossbred in pursuit of function not whim, although hunters’ preferences do manifest themselves in their anatomies. In his Hunting Dogs of 1909, Oliver Hartley refers to a Minnesota wolfer who averaged 35 wolves a year and who pinned his faith in the long-eared variety of hounds, with features of strength, endurance, good tonguers and stayers. He had been advised that the best dogs for coyotes, were part English blue (i.e. Greyhounds,) and Russian stag (i.e. Borzois,). He wrote that the English blue are very fast and the stag are long-winded, with the grit to make a good fight. He wrote that another admired and capable dog is the one-half Scotch stag hound (i.e. Scottish Deerhound,) and one-half Greyhound. He recorded that a Wisconsin hunter believed that the best breed for catching and killing coyotes is made by one-half shepherd (our working collie) and one-half hound, being quicker than a hound and trailing just as well on a hot trail. He wrote too that another fast breed for coyotes is a quarter English bull, a quarter Bloodhound and one half Foxhound. Here is a classic example of blending blood in pursuit of performance, the hunter's endless challenge. Nowadays so many sighthound breeders seem unconcerned by performance, seeking flashy show points ahead of soundness and function. Sadly too, you can see longdogs at country shows with alarming physical faults.

Freeman Lloyd, writing in The Kennel Encyclopaedia of 1908, stated that ‘It is the ‘Long Dog’ of the Prairie, a breed that has been produced to suit the requirements of the climate, the plains and the particular style of hunting, that is engaged in running down and killing the Prairie Wolf’. He wrote that ‘all the best ‘Long Dogs’ are about three quarters Deerhound’ and that he had seen ‘some very good dogs the result of a first cross with a Borzoi and Greyhound…they had good backs, grand ribs and a good deal of the depth of the Muscovite…sound animals with a lot of sense.’ But he did question the stamina of the pure Borzoi in the long pursuits on the plains. Lurcher breeders will identify with his words ‘with a lot of sense’; a fast dog with no brains is not an ideal hunting companion.

Freeman Lloyd likened a day’s coyote hunting with antelope coursing in Africa and an open ‘go as you please’ coursing match in Australia. He mentioned the ‘Strathdoon Dingo Killer’, a blend of Borzoi and Deerhound with the tried and tested Kangaroo Hound. The latter was described by him as ‘a large Greyhound, having in many cases the coat of the Deerhound’. The kangaroo can be a formidable quarry, capable of disembowelling a hound with its immensely powerful hindfeet. His words emphasise the endless need to embrace terrain, climate and quarry in developing an efficient hunting dog, especially a longdog, even from a blend of well-tried types. 

In his book Lurchers and Longdogs, Ted Walsh mentions the Nebraska coyote hound, 29½" at the shoulder and weighing 90lbs. He quotes from a Minnesota report on the American houndman which states: 'He merely breeds one good hound to another regardless of background...the basis of the American lurcher is the greyhound crossed first with the Scottish deerhound; secondarily with the Irish Wolfhound and Borzoi; rarely with the whippet or saluki. This breeding pattern may be explained by considering the game coursed in North America, the hare (jack rabbit), red fox and coyote.' This account sets out the use of 'cold blood' or coursing greyhound on hare, a rougher-coated hound on red fox and the emergence of an American Coyote Hound, 75 to 100lbs, with a Deerhound coat. But it stresses that no kennel there was raising either Deerhounds or Borzois primarily for hunting. The Whippet was recommended for the cotton-tail rabbit, lacking the stamina for the jack rabbit. In Australia, their lurcher-like running dogs are a type described either as Staghounds, Kangaroo Dogs or Bush Greyhounds. Their similarity illustrates how function dictates form.

Australian hunters have made good use of imported longdog blood, blending the blood of Salukis, Borzois and Scottish Deerhounds with the long-utilised Greyhound source. Kangaroo Dogs from the famous Wheatbelt line have strong Greyhound blood; Staghounds from the same line have clear Saluki blood, intended to improve their heat tolerance and long distance sprinting capability. The Wheatbelt Kangaroo Dogs remind me of the outstanding longdogs once bred by Nuttall of Clitheroe, who, I believe, used a purebred Deerhound sire to a retired track or coursing Greyhound dam. Brian Plummer has described them as ‘truly magnificent animals…leg weakness, a common fault in deerhounds and in first-cross deerhound hybrids was practically unknown in these kennels, partly due to the judicious selection of both sire and dam by Nuttall and partly due to careful feeding of the whelps at his kennels.’ Those words sum up the key ingredients for the successful breeding of any longdog: the selection of breeding stock and wise rearing. May the future be kind to them, wherever in the world they are favoured. We have allowed the show world to impose the term 'sighthound' on the cursorial breeds but they are all longdogs!