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This Cretan hound is something like the dogs Xenophon calls the Castorian.

This Cretan hound is something like the dogs Xenophon calls the Castorian.

The hounds used are of two kinds, the Castorian and the Vulpine. The Castorian is so called because Castor paid special attention to the breed, making a hobby of the business. The Vulpine is a hybrid between the dog and the fox: hence the name. In the course of time the nature of the parents has become fused. Inferior specimens (that is to say, the majority) show one or more of the following defects. They are small, hook-nosed, grey-eyed, blinking, ungainly, stiff, weak, thin-coated, lanky, ill-proportioned, cowardly, dull-scented, unsound in the feet.  Now small dogs often drop out of the running through their want of size; hook-nosed dogs have no mouth and can’t hold the hare; grey-eyed dogs and blinkers have bad sight; ungainly dogs look ugly; stiff ones are in a bad way at the end of the hunt; no work can be got out of the weak and the thin-coated ones; those that are lanky and ill-proportioned are heavy movers and carry themselves anyhow; cowards leave their work and give up and slink away from the sun into shady places and lie down; dogs with no nose seldom scent the hare and only with difficulty; and those with bad feet, even if they are plucky, can’t stand the hard work, and tire because they are foot-sore.

Xenophon On Hunting (This is the Greek Xenophon, not the Roman one, also known as Arrian, who wrote about using coursing dogs many centuries later)

When one reads this text of about hunting dogs, it is pretty obvious that the author never used the “fox” breed.

I think here he’s referring to that ancient European hunting dog  that we might known today as the hunting spitz. The Laika and Elkhound family are the only remaining members of that family. However, it is well-known that dogs of this family existed in places like Germany and Poland well into the Middle Ages. They were then replaced by scenthounds, dog “improved” by the Ancient Celts in Belgium and France.

It is also possible that the author is also talking about this landrace as the fox dog. I am really uncertain.

The Castor breed is not a sight-hound or a scent-hound. It is a kind of varmint cur type that uses both its nose and eyes in the hunt. It’s probably an unimproved pariah type dog that is used for the hunt–something like the dog in the photograph at the top.  The Cretan hound is being standardized into a breed, but it varies a lot in apperance, just as any performance bred dog would. It is probably derived from landrace working dogs, just as the dogs that once made up the packs of Xenophon’s day.

These dogs were bred solely for the work of varmint hunting, and their exact phenotype isn’t firmly written in the standard. It’s about what works, not what’s cute or fancy.

But it is interesting that the Ancient Greeks were very aware of working conformation in their dogs. Of course, they are more interested in what they don’t want in their dogs, instead of what they do want. I suppose that they were much more willing to allow variance in the working dogs than we are now.

The Greeks were also willing to allow a wide degree of variance in hunting behavior with dogs running at different speeds and using different hunting tactics. This differs from how the British bred foxhounds, because they preferred a more uniform running style in their dogs.

So working conformation has been concept that has been around for a very long time, much longer than what I call “fancy” or “non-functional” conformation.

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