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Country of origin: Spain
Origins: Ancient dogs of the pharaohs
Naturally bred, about the 15th century

The Middle Ages

It is in the Middle Ages that the Spanish Galgo is shaped and moulded. As the Reconquest of Spain advanced, the lands that were re-populated came under the dominion of the Christian Kings (Ferdinand and Isabelle). In an early stage, in which the Reconquest arrived at the Duero river (the 9th and 10th century), the barren earth of Old Castile (Castilla la Vieja) were settled by private initiative. Monks established monasteries in deserted regions, and groups of re-populators, with scarce means of plowing, seized small land holdings near these monasteries. Thus was the land populated without cultivating it between the Duero and the Tajo rivers. Farther to the south the military orders of San Juan, Santiago, Calatrava, Alcantara, Santa Maria, and the Archbishopric of Toledo formed a military caste which was the most efficient militia against Berbers and Almohades (Arabs). They conquered immense extensions of land and took charge of the re-population of these lands, which extended as far South as the Guadiana River. The cultivation of the earth, and especially shepherding, became the means of survival.

At this point began what would later be seen as the most destructive force in the Spanish ecology, the undertaking of intense work of deforestation by cattlemen and farmers, which in Spain went on throughout the long Middle Ages. Hares took up residence in the cultivated fields. The great extension of uncultivated fields and fallow lands produced an increase in game, consolidating the tradition of running the hares with greyhounds, a practice that was as common in Arab realms as in Christian. War and hunting were mixed together in those times. As David Salamanca said, “The lebrel, the horse and the Galgo are three great warriors.”

Protecting Laws

Proof of the esteem in which the Galgo was held in those times can be seen in the great number of laws which penalized their theft or death: the Fuero (Code of Laws) of Salamanca (9th century); Fuero of Cuenca; Fuero of Zorita re Dogs; the Fueros of Molina de Aragon (12th century); Fuero de Usagre (12th century). In the Carthusian monastery of Slonza can be found a manuscript about the gift of a country estate in Villacantol authorized by Mayor Gutierrez in favor of Diego Citid (Spanish national hero El Cid), dated the 3rd of November of 1081, in which is included: “Urso galgo colore nigro ualente caetum solidos dae argento” (one Galgo of black colour with solid spots of silver). To find this type of dog inventoried gives us an idea of the high esteem in which it was held.

Renaissance

During the Renaissance the tradition of keeping Galgos continued alive and strong. Martinez del Espinar writes in his book Arte de Ballesteria y Monteria (The Arts of Archery and Riding); “there are many ways to kill these animals (the hares), but I will tell you that in Spain they chase them with Galgos, because here the dogs are extremely fast, as some of the hares are. Some of them escape without it being possible to catch them, but just because they run away today doesn’t mean that they don’t return to their favourite haunts; these hares come back, because they have their escape routes all figured out. Most of them nest near some path or road, at the edge of a thicket, hill or cliff, or stony ground, and thus they flee from there and go down hill and when they are caught later on the sides of the hill and in hard ground, it seems that they are flying.” It is the Castillian geography which forms the Greyhound, in the Northern Meseta: Valladolid, Zamora, Avila, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, Burgos and Palencia; as well as the Southern Meseta: Toleda, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Madrid and Ciudad Real. Thus we see the Galgo spread through all those flat zones in which the bloodhound can’t rival him.

Crossing with the Irish Greyhound

The Spanish Galgo has suffered the greatest ecological attack of all our native breeds, by indiscriminate crosses with the Irish Greyhound. These half-breeds were the centre of social parties among the bourgeoisie and the nobility at the beginning of the 20th century. In competitions and matches in Fresno, Venta la Rubia, La Ina, Algete and Logosos the well-off classes attended ready to enjoy this type of Galgo entertainment. Thus the founding president of the Coto La Ina in 1919 was Juan Pedro Domech. In 1911 the Real Sociedad Canina (Royal Society of Canines) rushed to recognize the official character of this body, which seems natural when we consider that the Queen, Dna. Victoria Eugenia ran a Galgo under her name in one of the races, and that various members of the royal family were avid spectators.

The appearance of the Anglo-Spaniard brings with it the consequence that the great love of hunting, with the death of the hare, is being lost. Now we are looking only for the spectacle of the race. The annals of the Real Sociedad Canina serve as an obligatory and constant reference to the very detailed development of competition, thus making itself an accomplice to the creation of this half-breed who lacks the typical morphological characteristics, whose speed can not make up for the resistance, rural character and tenacity of the authentic Spanish Galgo. --Eduardo de Benito

The terms “galgo” and “lebrel” are now taking hold as synonyms for the same kind of dog; nevertheless, it was not always that way. We have documentation which shows us that the Lebrel of the 15th century was of medium size, had a rather thick and long head, a voluminous belly and powerful flanks, as we deduce from reading Gaston Phoebus’ book on hunting. With the passage of time, the galgo went about changing its morphology, at the same time that the two terms became indistinguishable.

Canine History

Three types of Spanish Galgo are known: the straight-haired variety, the long-haired type (practically non-existent) and the one with a rough coat. Of the three, the first is the one that we find most easily in dog beauty contests, in the field trials and in the competitions which take place in dog tracks.

Perfectly adapted to the Iberian geography, to the aridity of our fields and our changeable and unruly climate, the straight-haired Galgo has become the ideal and best adapted variety over the course of the years. Nature has taken charge of configuring a breed which resists perfectly the aggression of wild animals and the scraping against thorns and rocks. The Galgo still reminds us of those remote dogs of the Pharaohs which are found in the tombs of ancient Egypt.

Without too much fear of being mistaken we can assure you that the Spanish Galgo is a descendent of the Vertades Romano, which arrived in Spain with the Romans. This Roman breed is itself descended from the Egyptian Lebrel, and for this reason we should not be surprised that the Spanish Galgo resembles this Pharaohnic breed. The only discernable difference is in the placement of the ears, since the Egyptian dogs have upright ears, the Galgo has drooping ears.

Another hypothesis affirms that the Celts were the ones who brought the Galgo to the Peninsula when they installed themselves in Galicia, and that is where we get the name of the Galgo in Latin, Canis Callicus. What is not in doubt is that the Galgo comes from the ancient Egyptian dogs.

There is still one more hypothesis, which doesn’t seem very logical, according to which the greyhound is descended from the Sloughi, and arrived in Spain with the Arabs about the 9th century.

The latest investigations have pointed out the possibility that two branches of similar dogs arrived from two different points (the Romans and the Celts), and that later crosses between them over the years would explain the differences which exist between the hounds and the Galgos.

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