Welsh hound history: From loyal to royal

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The Welsh have always had an affinity with dogs. Welsh mythology, folklore and legends from The Mabinogion are full of tales about hunting hounds and ferocious, dangerous beasts that roamed the hills and always obeyed their masters.

There are very few Welsh children who have not been regaled, either at home or in school, with the legend of the faithful hound Gelert and his noble sacrifice.

It is a tale to both thrill and entrance but it’s not just in legend that the love of dogs comes through.

The Encyclopedia of Wales mentions that even the early Welsh law books “contain numerous stipulations about staghounds, greyhounds, terriers, shepherding dogs and guard dogs.

Freemen were obliged to maintain the king's hunting dogs and horses during his tours, a custom which obliged tenants to keep pack hounds for their landlords.”

Of course there are gentler stories too, stories where the dog was a companion and a friend to anyone in need.

Every year the farm hosts a sheepdog trial, and this year Sior is planning to compete.

In more recent times the performance of Welsh dogs during the live and televised sheepdog trials has grown into what is almost a national institution.

These days the hunting dogs so beloved by the storytellers and poets have largely disappeared but, there are still several Welsh breeds of dog.

The Welsh sheepdog is perhaps the best known, an animal that originally had a dual role – to drive and move livestock around the countryside and occasionally protect the herdsman and his flock from wild animals and rustlers.

Strangely, for many years what we thought of as a Welsh sheepdog was actually a Scottish animal.

The Welsh sheepdogs of old, including the long-haired greys that were used by the drovers taking cattle into England had almost died out, until the Welsh Sheepdog Society was formed in 1997.

Sior from The Hill Farm series with his Welsh sheepdog.

The formation of the society prompted a renewed interest in Welsh sheepdogs and these days they are worked at sheepdog trials alongside the famous collies.

Their way of working might be different but they are still highly efficient animals.

Think Welsh dogs and you invariably think of the famous corgis. There are actually two different breeds of corgi, the sandy-coloured Pembrokeshire corgi and the Cardiganshire corgi that come in a variety of colours.  

Originally bred to drive cattle and other livestock by nipping at their heels and frightening them with their loud, shrill yapping, the name corgi actually means dwarf dog.

These tiny dogs, often imperious and sometimes even a little bad tempered have become popular all over the world, probably due to the influence of the Royal family pets.

The Welsh terrier is a black and tan animal with a coat that is wiry on top and woolly underneath.

The dogs were originally bred to kill rats and were invaluable in the farmyard and around livestock.

A Pembrokeshire corgi playing on the beach by Sherri Damlo (Getty Images).

However, they have now become popular animals in the showground where they are much coveted and admired.

The Welsh springer spaniel has a similar background and was originally bred to flush out game from deep cover and then retrieve the fallen birds that were shot.

Springers are still used as gun dogs but they are perhaps equally well known as affectionate and caring pets.

The Welsh foxhound is descended from a breed of dogs known as the segussi that lived and roamed the plains and forests of northern Europe in Roman times.

These days the dogs have light-coloured fur but originally they would have been black and tan.

During the medieval period the foxhounds were used to hunt wild boar, particularly in Wales where the dogs were well-suited to the rough and dense terrain.

A Welsh Foxhound in Carmarthenshire by John B R Davies (Getty Images).

In later years, as wild stags disappeared from the countryside, the dogs were trained to hunt foxes and otters.

Now the hunting has ended, these strong and rugged animals are increasingly valued as faithful companions and pets.

One breed of Welsh dog which has an origin that can be easily traced is the Sealyham terrier.

Originally a hunting dog, it was developed and bred at the end of the 19th century by Captain Edwardes on his estate at Sealyham in Pembrokeshire and was first shown at Haverfordwest in 1903.

The role of the Welsh dog has changed drastically over the years, originally bred to hunt or herd but nowadays they are loved as pets throughout the world.

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