Hunting dogs of the Middle Ages
Why I love using dogs in my romances
I’m a dog lover. Friends and family will say that’s an understatement. Okay, so I’m a lover of dogs—BIG TIME! To me, there is no such thing as an ugly dog. Nope. Not a one. In my eyes, all dogs are cute. But cute wasn’t a prerequisite for people in the Middle Ages who owned dogs.
After the bubonic plague and the Black Death, people saw dogs in a negative way. Fleas spread disease. With so many people dying, dogs were left to fend for themselves. Domesticated dogs turned wild, roaming in packs. They killed in groups and even resorted to eating corpses.
After the plagues, dogs were back in favor and considered a symbol of nobility. Although the animals were seen as loyal, they also symbolized a husband’s and wife’s devotion to each other. On the other side of the coin, dogs were associated with envy.
The largest group of breeds in the Middle Ages was the hunting dogs. The assortment of breeds were used for different tasks. Many of these dogs differed from the breeds of today. Some were much larger back then, and their disposition has changed over the years.
The Greyhound is a classic hunting breed. They were valued for speed and were able to attack and take down game. Unfortunately, these dogs didn’t have stamina, so they were released only when it was time for the kill. The Greyhound was an aggressive dog, but it was also docile in the home (or castle) and often were brought indoors.
The Alaunt (or Alant) was built sturdier than the Greyhound and was used to catch larger game like boars. The problem with this breed was their reckless nature. They were known to attack humans as well as game.
More rugged than the Alaunt was the Mastiff. This breed was not only used for hunting but also as guard dogs. They were huge. Would you want to mess with them? The history of the Mastiff dates back to 3000bc. Their images were found on recovered Egyptian monuments. Mastiffs may have been (and still are) large, powerful and courageous dogs, but they were gentle and affectionate.
The Greyhound, Alaunt and Mastiff didn’t have the ability to follow a scent. Instead, they hunted by sight and were referred to as sighthounds. Mostly people of rank and the nobility owned these dogs. A few sighthounds were the Wippet and Borzoi. And more.
The dirty work of tracking game by scent fell upon the running hounds such as the Foxhound we have today. With excellent stamina and sensitive nose, they were quick and tenacious. Similar dogs were the terrier, harrier and Spaniel.
The Lymer (Lymerhound), on left.
The Lymer was an asset for his scenting skills. He can be compared to today’s Bloodhound. He’d be sent out to find the game, then he’d lay quietly until the hunter’s and their sighthounds came to attack and bring in the game. Lymer’s had a good nose, and they were patient and quite while waiting for the hunting party.
I used the Lurcher in my latest novel, CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY, book 2 of the Sisters of Destiny trilogy. It was the dog of choice for Gypsies.
This dog isn’t a purebred. At least one parent was a Greyhound. You can see the similarities by it’s sleekness, long legs and narrowed head and muzzle. The other parent usually was a working/herding dog. These dogs were obedient, faithful and affectionate.
Irish Wolfhound (below)
From the 14th to the 16th centuries, English monarchs asked for this breed in particular and referred to them as large Greyhounds.
This breed was always eager to please, gentle and dignified. They were known for their power, speed and strength. The following is from a 16th century manuscript:
“Some are of a greater sorte, some of a lesser; some are smoothe skynned and some curled, the bigger therefore are appointed to hunt bigger beasties.”
As you can see, the Greyhound is the first and foremost breed of choice for hunting in the Middle Ages. Their traits are evident in the larger group of hunting dogs, some of which I noted above.
Interesting tidbit from The Long History of the Canine Race: “The term “cur” derives from the medieval practice of requiring lower-class dogs to have their tails docked so they could be distinguished from hounds belonging to aristocrats. Such canines were first described as “courtalt,” then “curtal,” and finally “curs.” Francis I of France apparently was not much of a dog lover, for he issued an unusually cruel mandate that ‘all dogs belonging to peasant or farmer must wear, attached to their necks, a heavy block of wood, the weight and bulkiness of which will stem their ardor whenever they move away from their homes. If despite this precaution they take to hunting on royal land they will be punished in situ immediately by pure and simple hamstringing.’”
Because of the above, Francis I of France was a cur in my book.
I’ve used dogs in various books I’ve written not only because I love dogs, but also because there’s nothing like a big, strong hero intermingling with his or the heroine’s dog. It’s one way to bring out his tenderness, to endear him to the reader, to give us a warm feeling when he talks to the dog and rubs his head. I’ll take alpha males any day, but they must be kind-heart towards animals.
Nine years ago, I got my first hunting dog, a Rat Terrier. Not a huge dog by any means; she weighs 16 pounds (she’s 2 pounds overweight). We were impressed with her quickness and agility. She goes from 0 to 60 in seconds. We saw first hand what she was bred to do when she chased down a squirrel on our front lawn and shook it, snapping its neck. Not a pleasant sight, but an awesome experience.
Rat Terriers are a mix of the Smooth Fox Terrier and the Manchester Terrier, both breeds brought to the U.S. from England. They were crossbred for speed to hunt squirrels, rats, hares, and other small game.
FYI: The RCA trademark dog was a large RT.
From Wikipedia: U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt owned a small, dark colored dog that became well known for eradicating rats from the White House, and some have claimed the dog as a Rat Terrier. A short-legged version of the Rat Terrier (a.k.a. the Type-B Rat Terrier) was recognized in 1999 by the *UKC as a separate breed, named the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier since the former President's dogs were supposedly of the short-leg variety.
It was said Roosevelt preffered the RT to cats because the dog was better at chasing down mice and rats.
*Thanks to the efforts of the Rat Terrier Club of America, the Rat Terrier is now recognized by the AKC.
What I’ve written about is only the tip of the iceberg in the arena of hunting dogs and the Medieval and the Renaissance period. Dogs have been romanticized in paintings, drawings, engravings and sculptures throughout history. They are loyal and give unconditional love. All they ask for in return is a place to sleep, food to eat, and lots of affection.
Please support your local shelters and the Humane Society of the United States. Dogs, cats and other animals need loving homes. If you can’t adopt, then help out by donating towels and toys. My local Humane Society has a list for needed items up on their website. Yours may, too.
For information on my Sisters of Destiny trilogy, please go to my website: http://www.jcortipetska.com/. The trilogy is about 3 psychic sisters separated at birth. The first two books are available to buy.
Carina and the Nobleman, book 1
Charlotte and the Gypsy, book 2
Callie and the Knight, TBA
Jannine Corti Petska
Assapora la passione (Feel the Passion)