The Galgo Español - a dog that looks fragile, but possesses enormous strength and speed. It presents itself in two different shapes - elegant with smooth hair or rustic with rough hair. Both types are characterised by robustness, agility and energy, paired with a pleasant nature. Actually, it is difficult to understand why this breed is so rare among the sighthounds in Germany. In Spain, its homeland, the Galgo Español is esteemed as a hunting and companion dog since the antique.
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. Unfortunately, many of their owners are not that interested in entering their litters into the stud-book. But, the number of ambitious breeders in Spain, who set store by breeding their dogs with pedigrees and registration, is growing.
Unfortunately, this has to be mentioned here, there also seems to be a number of so-called "Galgo-lovers" in Spain, who do absolutely not deserve this term. So, you can read about many Galgos which are killed at the end of the hunting season, partly with terrible methods. Important organisations in Spain, among them the 'Club Nacional del Galgo Español' (CNGE) and the 'Federacion Española Galgueros' (FEG), have attended to this topic and are trying to create awarness among the Galgueros (see picture).
Differences between Galgo and Greyhound
Very late, around 1972, the Galgo Español was recognized as an own-standing breed by the international dog breeders federation, the FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale). The first standard was created and ten years later it was again revised and specified. This detailed standard emphasizes the differences between Galgo Español and Greyhound because of the mentioned problems with cross-breeds. In some cases, it can be difficult to distinguish between Galgo and Grey. While the Greyhound is a sprinter on short distances, the Galgo must be able to gallop persistently. These different requirements formed their types. The Galgo is smaller than the Greyhound, a male Galgo measures only 62-70 cm, the female 60-68 cm.
The loin should be higher than the shoulders. In contrast to the Grey, the Galgo does not have thick and round muscles portions at rear spar and back. He has a flat musculature, which is characteristic of a long-distance runner. Its rib cage is less deep than that of Greyhounds and should not reach the elbows. The head of a Galgo is very long and fine with relatively large rose ears. The tail is very long and has a lateral hook at the end.
There are two types of Galgos, the smooth and the wired haired. There is no separation in breeding and dogs of different hair types are also paired together. In addition the standard permits the whole variety of colors: brindled, black, dark and bright beige tones, cinnamon, yellow, red, white and pied marked. White markings at head, tail and feet are also existing.
The Galgo Español shows typical characteristics of a sighthound. At home, a Galgo behaves relative calmly and unobtrusively. Galgos bark very rarely. He saves his energy and his Spanish fire for the outside walks. The Galgo normally can be kept in a city dwelling without problems, if it is given sufficient opportunities for movement. When running in the fields, he inspires the viewer by his fiery temperament. He is very affectionate to his master or his family. With strangers, he commonly behaves reserved and careful, but not aggressive. He wants to decide who may pet him. Because Galgos incline to caution and reserve, puppies should be exposed to different situations early in their life. It is also important for them to learn to know other people, so that caution does not change to fear. Galgos get along easily with other dogs. They do not like quarrels. They also are gentle and sensitive with children.
The Galgo Español generally obey very well and can be educated easily. He reacts extremely sensitively to rough handling and strict measure regulation. The education may never be with pressure or punishment, but should be with praise and treats. With a gentle and sensitive training, the Galgo Español will be a good dog. Despite all that, it may never be forgotten that a sighthound can cover long distances very fast. Therefore, you must be sure before unleashing, that there are no dangers like roads, electric fences or similar things. Additionally, it has to be noted that Galgos were bred for hunting, and that this instinct is still inside of them. Before buying a Galgo, you should consider that sighthounds love to run. It is not necessary to walk with them for hours. Instead of this, they rather prefer to have the possibility to run in full gallop and then have an expanded Siesta again.
A Galgo is an ideal companion for active people: joyfully and with much energy he joins us for jogging, biking or hiking. If you would like to perform sighthound sports with your Galgo, then lure coursing offers a good opportunity. You can also join an amateur dog racing club.
You are going to find comprehensive information about the breed Galgo Español (character and talents, appearance, education, health and care, movement etc.) in our Galgo Book (ISBN 978-3-8423-5996-3).
© 1997 Claudia Gaede and Thomas Ebbrecht