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Stefan's Florilegium


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Hounds-p-SCA-art - 7/31/16


"Hounds in Period & in the Society" by THL Allesandra Grimani.


NOTE: See also the files: dogs-msg, dogs-lnks, Dog-Barding-art, medieval-dogs-art, Guinefort-art, hounds-lnks, pets-msg.





This article was added to this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium, with the permission of the author.


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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at



Hounds in Period & in the Society

by THL Allesandra Grimani.


"Qui me amat, amet et canem meum."  ("Love me, love my dog. ")

--- St. Bernard, A.D. 1150, "Sermo Primus"


Do you have a dog?  Would you like to involve it in the SCA?  In this class, I’ll explain how to you can bring your dog with you to events and involve it in a way that will be fun and safe for you, your dog, and for the other event participants!  But first, let’s go over a little history…


Dogs In Period

How Dogs Were Used, or, Where did all those breeds come from?


Dogs were used for just about everything.   Some of the various uses were hunting, war, guarding, herding sheep, pulling loads as draft animals, companions of ladies, killing vermin, fighting other animals, and even turning spits of meat in the kitchens!  Because no one type of dog could do all these jobs, people began breeding specifically for the characteristics they wanted.  You could (and still can!) often tell what a dog was used for by the way it looked and acted.  Here are some examples of breed types and what they were used for:  (You might notice that I mention some breeds that are not period. These are listed as examples of "type" only.)


            --Dogs who hunted by sight (Greyhounds, Deerhounds, Salukis, Whippets, etc.) were streamlined with long legs, deep chests for extra lung capacity, and flexible loins to get the extra flex needed for their extended running gait.  These dogs were used for such prey as rabbits, deer, or other fast moving prey.  They were sometimes used to chase the game until it was tired out, then heavier dogs such as mastiffs were brought in to kill the animal.


            --Dogs who trailed game by scent (Bloodhounds, Bassets, Beagles, Foxhound, etc.) acquired more sensitive noses and were often built close to the ground.  Their dangling ears and loose skin help catch and channel scent to their noses.  Breeds like the Bloodhound are legendary even today for their amazing tracking ability.  Dogs such as these could trail prey over varied terrain for miles, and sometimes days.


            --Retrieving breeds were developed to do just that: retrieve (usually ducks, pheasants, etc.).  The ones who retrieved from the water (Poodles, Labradors, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, etc.) had heavy, water-repellant coats, and sometimes even had webbed feet.  The silly haircut the Poodles endure today for dog shows actually has its roots in a much more practical reason: it was supposed to keep their chest and joints warm during icy water retrievals.  Other breeds specialized in retrieving on land.  Some breeds were at home either in the water or on land, depending on their owners needs.


            --Terriers (Irish, Cairn, Jack Russell, etc.) were developed to hunt vermin both above, and most especially, below ground.  They tended to be smaller, with strong tails (so the owner could pull them out of a burrow if they became stuck) and scrappy personalities!  They were used to kill mice, rats, gophers, and other troublesome critters.  Some of their prey could put up quite a fight, which is why terriers were bred to have practically no fear!  Many terriers today still retain their fierce hunting drive and fiesty attitude.


            --Mastiff types (Great Danes, Bullmastiffs, Rottweilers, etc.) were used for guarding and, of course, War!  The ones used for war tended to be ferocious.  In fact, it wasn’t until recent times that breeds used in war were made to be the calm, loving companions we know today.  They had to be vicious in order to get their jobs done, especially if they were used in war.  Some mastiffs wore armor and were used to disembowel horses, attack the enemy’s soldiers, and even carry flame pots on their backs or heads to catch the horse’s caparisons (what most people thing of as barding) on fire!  The mastiff breeds who guarded estates, while still having the capability of bringing down an intruder, were much more tractable and were extremely loyal to their owners.  They often watched over estates, particular people, or families.


            --Herding dogs were bred by shepherds for intelligence, weather-resistant coats, good eyesight, and for dogs who could be trusted to watch the flock or herd on their own.  They came in many sizes and looks depending on what they herded.  Some were big and long legged like Collies who sometimes watched the flocks by themselves for weeks and had to be able to face down wolves; others were short enough to be under a cow’s kick like the Corgi; still others (like the Komondor and Puli) used coloring and size similar to the sheep they guarded to "hide" from the predators in order to get the jump on them.


            --The companion dogs of today were often working dogs in the Middle Ages, and some were larger than they are now. Pomeranians, for example, were bred down from larger spitz-type dogs used for hunting.  Companion dogs were small with happy, easy-going attitudes.  They were often hidden in sleeves to keep the hands warm, and were used as bed warmers; in fact, some speculate that this was the original meaning for the saying, "Three dog night."  The tiny Maltese may have always been a companion dog, one of which we know to have been owned as such by the Roman Governor of Malta.  A breed which originated in Egypt and became popular in the Italian Renaissance was my personal favorite, the Italian Greyhound.  While they were mostly used as companions, there is also speculation that they were sometimes used to hunt.  There is even some evidence that they were used in packs to hunt wharf rats!


            --Some breeds were a combination of "types" because of their job requirements.  For example, breeds like the Irish and Russian Wolfhounds had to be both swift and strong to bring down their prey.  Dachshunds are another good example: since they were bred to go after badgers underground, they had to be low slung to get into the burrows, but also feisty and have a strong bite for when they found their quarry!  Newfoundlands were used as both draft animals and water retrievers, so they were large, strong animals with thick, water-repellant coats and a placid temperament.


The two most common dogs used in Heraldry were the Greyhound and the Talbot.  There seems to be some confusion over the difference between the Talbot and another breed called the Alaunt (or Alant/Aland).  In some texts the two names are used interchangeably, while others call talbots loyal and trustworthy, and the alaunt vicious and unpredictable.  One writer from 1615 writes, "The Milk Whyte (hound) which is the true talbot do most delight in blood and have a natural inclination to hunt dry foot."  Another writer states, "the Alaunt was fleet enough to hold down a wounded deer, brave enough to hold a wild boar and easily able to dispatch a wolf and also a fierce guard."  From my own research, my opinion is that while the two breeds were large and looked similar (and quite probably were related), the talbots are usually depicted as a white dog, having long, droopy ears and a face like a Bloodhound.  They are more often referred to as being loyal, and good hunters.  Alaunts seem to have been more used for killing boar and similar creatures, and are often depicted as having cropped ears, heavy collars, and are often wearing muzzles.  Heraldry Unlimited describes an "Aland" as a mastiff with short ears.  I once found a reference which stated that alaunts were so savage that the only time their muzzles were taken off was to feed them or when they were actively hunting.  So I believe them to have been related, but separate breeds...though this is only my opinion.



Canine Accouterments, or, What They Wore

Humankind has dressed dogs in many different ways.  The most common item, of course, was the collar.  The earliest collars were usually leather or iron, and were often fairly simple affairs only used when a dog needed to be restrained or needed protection from its prey.  As time went on, the rich began to embellish the collars, sometimes extravagantly.  Leeds Castle in England has what I believe to be the largest collection of medieval collars in the world.  Some period examples from their collection include one from Italy, circa 1600, which is made of brass, pierced and chased with acanthus trellis-work and with a cartouche engraved with a shield (the family is unknown).  Another much different collar is an example from 15th century Germany, which is composed of eight "W" links terminating in spikes.  A similar one, also from the same time period and country, is made of stirrup-shaped links, each set with a spike.  This one is lined with leather.  The famous Unicorn tapestries show greyhounds wearing decorative collars made of dyed leather with metal mounts and locks.


During war times, some dogs wore armor, just like their owners!  Most dog armor seems to have covered just the chest and back, and occasionally the neck.  From what we can tell, both leather and metal was used.  The dogs would also often wear the spiked collars (as mentioned above) for protection and to possibly injure the person or animal it was attacking.



Dogs In These Middle Ages

Taking Your Dog to an Event


First things first, check the event announcement.  Most event articles will state whether pets are allowed on site, and if they are, what restrictions there will be.  If there is nothing either way, contact the autocrat and make sure.  The last thing you need is to drive 5 hours only to find out that you can’t bring your dog on site!  At that point, your options are to find a local boarding kennel or bring your dog home.  Neither is very enjoyable or cheap!  Now, let’s say the write-up says pets are allowed.  What will you need to bring to make your stay fun and safe for you, your dog, and those around you?  That depends on what kind of event you’ll be attending.  For a day-long event, you might not need all of the items listed, but for camping events, you’ll want to try to cover any contingency.  The basics are:


Collar and leash:  Make sure the collar has up-to-date info on the ID tag, in case your pet escapes!  Below is an example of what I put on my dogs’ tags:



      There’s enough information on the tags to help anyone who finds them to get in touch with me, whether it’s a mundane, SCA, or retail situation (I often have a booth set up at SCA events and renaissance faires).  If your cell phone number is listed on the tag, make sure to keep your phone with you.  It’s also a good idea to bring some extra leashes and an extra collar, just in case.


Food, water, bowls:  Bringing food and water from home lessens the chance that the local food/water will upset your dog’s stomach.  Especially at a hot event, it’s a good idea to carry a water bottle and bowl for him too, and offer water frequently.  The most common vet emergency at events is heat exhaustion, which can be life threatening!  A good way to keep your dog from overheating in a dry climate is to drape a wet/damp cloth over him.  In fact, it works so well that special terry cloth coats, called cool-coats, are made and marketed for just this purpose!  The cloth/cool-coat creates a swamp cooler-like effect, which keeps him enviably cool!  In a more humid climate, spraying cool (not cold!) water on his belly, armpits, inner thighs, and head works well too.


Crate:  Properly used, a crate gives your dog somewhere it can go to "get away from it all" and feel safe.  SCA events, while exciting and fun for us, can be a source of stress to your dog.  Ever feel like you’ve had enough for a while, and head back to camp to take a nap?  Your dog needs the same sort of hidey hole to run to.  Crating your dog also pretty much ensures that he won’t escape (many dogs learn almost immediately how to unzip a tent!) and helps keep him from being harmed by stray dogs and wild animals.  **Make sure you put the crate in a shady area on hot days, and in a heated area on cold ones.**  Don’t leave your dog unattended for long periods of time, even when he’s safely in a crate!  Shade moves, which can leave your dog in the hot sun, children can poke fingers into the crate and get bitten (or let your dog out!), your dog can run out of water and get the idea.  I personally like to use wire crates while traveling because they afford good air flow during the heat of the day and can be covered with a blanket or two to trap heat when it gets cold at night.  (NOTE: Make sure your dog is happy to be in a crate before going to an event!  A crate should be a dog’s "down time" place, not one that makes him feel trapped!  There are many resources, especially online, which can help you train your dog to happily rest in a crate.  I’m also happy to help with this sort of training!  If your dog adamantly refuses to be crated, then you need to take responsibility for his comfort.  If that means going back to camp because he’s too hot/cold and you’re not done socializing or have responsibilities that preclude it, then you should either leave your dog home or pre-arrange for someone you and your dog trusts to take care of him until you’re able to again.  Remember, if you bring a dog to an event, his welfare is ultimately YOUR responsibility!


Pooper scoopers!:  Something to pick up your dog’s "messes" IS NOT OPTIONAL!  One of the biggest complaints from site owners (and other participants!) is fecal matter underfoot.  The easiest thing to bring for this is a bunch of plastic baggies (sandwich or bread bags work well).  Just turn the baggie inside out, pick up the poop, then turn it right side out again; the poop is scooped, and you didn’t even have to touch it!  (Be sure to properly dispose of the baggie afterwards!)


Some extras you might want to bring:

Exercise Pen:  Also called an x-pen.  These are available at places like PetSmart or through most pet supply stores or catalogs.  They are available in several different materials and many different sizes.  X-pens are basically movable fences, which are handy for giving your dog a fenced-in "yard" to run in, so he doesn’t have to be always in his crate or on a leash.  A couple of things to consider adding to your x-pen is a top and stakes to hold the edges down.  A large (or just very determined dog!) can knock over an x-pen or jump out without a top or stakes.  Also, as with the crate, make sure your dog has shade and isn’t left alone in his x-pen for long periods (especially if you haven’t used one before, and don’t know whether he can escape it!).  A tarp draped tightly over the pen can both provide shade where there is none naturally and help keep him from getting out.


Tabard:  I know this may sound kind of silly to some of you, but not only does a tabard for your dog look good, (just think how impressive you’ll look while processing to the battlefield or even just down merchant’s row!) but if you decorate it with your device or symbol, it also helps identify him if he gets away.  Plus, if it’s made of a terrycloth type material that’s been wet with cool water, his tabard can also double as a cool-coat!  Just make sure that you use common sense when having your dog wear a coat of any sort.  If it’s not a wet terrycloth cool-coat, make sure it’s not too hot for your dog to have that extra layer on.  If it’s starting to get cool, make sure he’s not still wearing the cool-coat.  I like to have two coats for each of my dogs: a cool-coat and a warm coat.


Sweaters/extra blankets:  A general rule of thumb is if YOU are cold, your dog is too!  Some northern breeds, like Huskies, may be perfectly happy without any extra protection, but most dogs will thank you!  While you’re out camp-hopping, check on your dog frequently to make sure he’s warm enough.  Consider putting a sweater on him if it gets cool.  Also adding an extra blanket inside the crate and another over the top helps to trap warm air in the crate.  Make sure when draping the crate to allow for plenty of fresh air!


First Aid kit:  There are many good resources on the internet as to what to include in your dog’s First Aid kit.  While it should include the usual First Aid items like bandages, you’ll need to change/add a few things to make it "dog ready."  Make sure you have any medications your dog regularly needs, including heartworm meds.  Talk to your vet about what pain killers to include.  Common pain killers like Tylenol, ibuprofen and naproxin are harmful to dogs and fatal to cats!  Also, check to make sure what doses are right for your dog and each med’s expiration, BEFORE leaving the house.  Tape this information onto the inside lid of the kit.  Then, if anything happens, you won’t be frantically trying to remember how much to give him!


You’ll also want to make sure your dog is up-to-date on all legally required vaccinations as well.  This will help you avoid possible problems down the road, in case (heaven forbid!) your dog bites someone, or if you will be in an area where your dog will be at risk for insect-transmitted diseases like Lyme disease and heartworms.  Make sure to bring a copy of your vet records (and license paperwork) as well, especially if you’re traveling out of state.  **Note: many canine diseases are transmitted through bodily fluids (saliva, urine, semen, etc) and fecal matter.  It is always a good idea use caution when allowing your dogs to interact with unknown dogs, and also to keep them away from other dogs’ urine and feces.


A word about training:  Two things that can be extremely annoying to others are excessive barking and jumping.  While some dogs are very quiet by nature, some bark at every little breeze.  Know your dog!  If you know he’s yappy, make sure you don’t leave him alone.  If you have to leave him for a short time, make sure he’s got a treat or favorite toy to keep him occupied.  Also, try to block his view of passersby, so he won’t have as much temptation to bark.  Be especially careful not to let him bark into the night!  Remember, tents have thin walls...  Another habit to keep to a minimum is jumping.  By jumping, I mean letting your dog jump up on people, tables, etc.  This one is something my dogs and I struggle with; I have to keep reminding them that not everyone loves them, especially not that much!  Don’t let your dog jump or climb up on people, unless the person is actively encouraging it.  On a related note, remember that even a small dog can knock over a small child or someone who is unsteady on their feet.  Keeping your dog on a leash and training him to Heel or Sit on command will solve this problem 99% of the time.


When walking down merchant row, be considerate.  Not only of your fellow shoppers, but also of the merchants!  Many merchants don’t mind you bringing a well-behaved dog into their booths, but always ask them first.  (Some will allow dogs if they’re carried in your arms and not allowed to touch anything.  Ask!)  If they would rather you didn’t bring pets inside, DON’T tie your dog to a handy table, chair, tent pole, etc.  Besides the obvious fact that most dogs see poles as a bathroom(!), an unattended dog is an accident waiting to happen!  Even a calm, well-mannered dog can turn defensive if he’s left alone in an unfamiliar situation.  Find someone reliable to hold your dog while you’re browsing.


While all this may sound like a lot of work and worry, bringing your dog with you doesn’t have to be hard.  Just use these guidelines and you can bring your dog to events with a minimum of fuss and make the whole experience more enjoyable for both of you!



Activities for You and Your Dog


Now we come to the fun part!  (Note: Not all of these hound activities are in every Kingdom, so check with your local group to see what’s available.)  Here are a few activities that are offered in various locales:


            --Lure Coursing:  Lure coursing today is a re-creation of the chase portion of a hunt, with some similarities to Queen Elizabeth’s "Laws of the Leash."  For obvious reasons we no longer use a live rabbit, but substitute a plastic bag instead.  The bag is called a lure, and it is pulled around a field by a cord held by a series of pulleys.  The cord is moved by either a hand crank setup, or more commonly, by a small motor.  In the mundane world, the hounds win points based on where they finished (placed), the number of hounds they competed against, and a few other criteria.  In the SCA, we don’t course to compete...we do it just for fun!  In some Kingdoms, only certain breeds are allowed to participate, so make sure to check before bringing your dog to try coursing.


            Here is a walk-through of a typical coursing event in the Kingdom of Artemisia:  The course is set up and all participants checked in.  This includes making sure that all dogs are up-to-date on all vaccinations and are fit to run that day.  Any dogs without proper paperwork, with injuries, or bitches in heat are removed from the field.  The first handler, called a fewterer, brings her dog to the starting line.  The Huntmaster asks, "Are you prepared?"  When the fewterer indicates she is ready, the Huntmaster calls, "Hold your hounds!"  All dogs in the area are held securely by their handlers to ensure that they will not get loose when the lure starts.  When the Huntmaster sees that all dogs are secured, he starts the lure.  Just as the lure passes the hound, he calls, "Tally ho!"  This is the fewterer’s cue to slip (release) her hound....and hopefully, at this point the hound sees the lure and chases it around the course!


            Archery/retrieving:  (Work in progress.)  A special arrow (the war-legal, golf-tube type) is shot out of a crossbow.  The arrow is then retrieved by a dog.  This is meant to recreate when a lord would go out hunting with a bow, and his hounds would bring back the duck, pheasant, or whatever for him.


            Agility/cross-country:  In Mundane agility competitions, dogs run through an obstacle course: the faster and more accurate the better!  Some of the obstacles are an A-frame, a tunnel (of cloth), a teeter-totter, and a dog walk (a narrow board, raised off the ground).  In the SCA, this recreates the cross-country chase portion of the hunt.  (Of course, as in any SCA dog-related activity, we won’t be competing.)


            Combined hound and equestrian:  There are several scenarios that can include both horses and hounds.  One is a boar hunt:  The dogs will "chase the prey" (coursing, retrieving, and/or agility), after which the equestrians will "kill the boar" (lancing straw bales etc.).  The two species aren’t on the field at the same time, of course!  Then, that night at feast, "the boar" (a roast pig) and fowl can be served as "the spoils of the hunt."


            Spaniel "coursing":  Spaniel coursing is based on hunting with spaniel-type dogs, including field and water sections.


What About My Kids?


Many of the same "hunting games" our dogs play at an event can be easily translated into children’s games!  Several times now, I’ve let the kids be the hounds and chase the lure.  The kids loved it, and so did their parents...since the kids were so tired out that they slept like rocks that night!  Check with your local Minister of Children, Minister of the Stables/Hounds, or the Regent of Hounds to see if there are any local hound activities that can be adapted for children.




Now, I know I didn’t cover everything about hounds in Period, but I hope I caught your interest enough for you to want to find out more!  There were so many ways that dogs were used, and in so many places!  There are hundreds of breeds out there...what breed of dog do you have?  Look it up!  Maybe it was used for hunting boar or chasing rats on the decks of a ship.  Think how you could work that into your persona!  Or maybe you have a mutt... remember, all breeds were "mutts" at one point, so what’s stopping you from looking at him and figuring out what he would have done if he’d lived back then?  Use your imagination!  And next time, bring your dog to an event and chase a "bunny" or retrieve a "pheasant."  You’ll be glad you did!




Leeds Castle Foundation; "Four Centuries of Dog Collars at Leeds Castle"


American Kennel Club; "The Complete Dog Book"


Phoebus, Gaston; "The Book of the Hunt"


Taylor, David; "The Ultimate Dog Book"


Illustration from the Book of the Hunt




Tile from the palace of Isabella d'Este                           Embroidered collar in a tapestry



Sketch in the Louvre, 1500c              1470s playing card





c1401-1500                      A greyhound in the Tudor Garden











The 3 images above are from the Leeds Castle Dog Museum     




unknown source                         Reproduction of a boar dog’s armor



Linen dog armor from the 1600s (German) from during Emp. Charles V’s reign



Copyright 2016 by Holly Howarth. <sablegreyhound at>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

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