Only a few people know that Spain has a long sighthound tradition. Some tourists have already met the original sighthound of Spain. It can be seen in the villages beside its master, ready for hunting hares over stick and stone. They are a beautiful sight to see their long body, long neck and narrow head. Their shape, which was not formed by breeders striving for certain beauty criteria, comes from the natural demands of hare hunting.
A large part of Spain consists of steppe, only remainders of the original forests exist. In order to hunt a hare in such an open area, a dog is needed which is very fast and persistent. It must also be extremely agile, in order to pursue the hare despite sudden direction changes. On the dry uneven terrain of the Spanish mesetas, scattered with rocks, enormous strength is needed to complete the pursuit of the hares. Thus the climate, the topography and the demands of hunting have influenced the appearance and abilities of the Spanish greyhound.
If you search for the roots of the Galgo Español, you must go far back into history. Many centuries before Christ the Celts already hunted with medium sized sighthounds. These dogs pursued the track of the game not with the nose, but with their sharp eyes, and they were fast enough to catch up to their booty in the run. As valuable hunters, they accompanied the Celts on their migrations, thus they were spread over most of Europe. They arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, when the Celts crossed the Pyreneeses in the sixth Century BC. Centuries later, the Romans controlled large parts of Europe and continued the tradition of hunting with sighthounds. The reputation of these dogs is reflected in numerous paintings and lyrics out of this time (e.g. Ovid).
In the Roman province of Hispania, this sighthound breed was called Canis Gallicus (celtic dog), and one assumes that from this the word Galgo developed, which in the today's Spanish generally means sighthound. Therefore, the Galgo Español or Spanish Greyhound, is - like other breeds of European sighthounds - a descendant of these celtic dogs. But, the breed was probably influenced by other breeds over the centuries, e.g. by the Podenco Ibicenco or by the Sloughi, which was brought into southern regions by the Moorish occupiers during the 8.-15. Century AC.
The Galgo Español is closely linked to the Spanish tradition and was a companion of the Spanish aristocracy during the centuries. It is reported, for example, that the national hero El Cid used these dogs for hunting. In Spain, however, hunting with sighthounds was not only the privilege of the upper classes as it was in many other European countries. Today, it is still practiced by the rural population.
Originally, hare hunting was done only to get food, but later it was organized as a sport, the so called "carreras en campo". In these competitions, courage, power, and hunting technique of the dogs are evaluated. The tradition and the rules of such competitions can be retraced into the times of the Roman Empire. Today, many Spanish Galgo owners belong to small racing clubs, which regularly organize their coursings. They are eager to be under the best ones of the entire country, in order to win the Copa de Su Majestad el Rey (cup of the king) in the final of the Spanish coursing championship.
Due to the increasing interest in such hunting competitions, the purebred Galgo Español threatened extinction at the beginning of the last century. Spanish Galgueros began to cross imported Greyhounds with their Galgos, in order to get dogs with speed and robustness. Appearance and characteristics of these cross-breeds, also called Galgo Inglés Español, were more like those of Greyhounds. The original type of the Galgos however were continuing to disappear.
In rural areas, in which the dogs were exclusively bred for hare hunting and no crossing with Greyhounds were made, there are still stocks of beautiful and typical Galgos.
With many thanks to Claudia Gaede from http://www.galgo.de for allowing us to use her text.