Griffons are scent hounds, and as such, they are probably among the oldest types of domesticated dogs. To trace back all of their origins and development throughout history, from when they split off from wolves and how they became the breeds as we know them today, is almost impossible. For their earliest history we are dependent on archeological remains of dogs and cave paintings. Only Antiquity and especially the Modern Era gives us written clues of how scent hounds, and in particular griffons evolved.

cave painting of dogs, Zarza Capilla, Spain

Cave painting of dogs, in the Bercialejo cave in Zarza Capilla, Spain

Regarding the history and origin of dogs as a species, the debate is still out whether scent hounds or herding dogs were the first descendents of the wolf, the Canis lupus, to be domesticated to become the Canis lupus familiaris. Something can be said for both theories, but one thing is true for both: because of the symbiosis of men and dogs, hunter-gatherer tribes were able to settle in one place and become

The case for the primacy of herding dogs is made by the argument: “when wolves started to stay in close contact with hunter-gatherer people, they began to help on the hunt by driving prey together in a flock, so the hunter-gatherers could more easily kill them with their arrows. These first canines profited greatly, as they were sure to be fed and cared for. Later, people found out that they could keep a flock of wild sheep, cows or goats in one place with the help of dogs, providing a ever ready source of food – and so people could become sedentary and thus civilization started”.

The argument for the primacy of scent hounds is made in this fashion: “when dogs started to assist man on the hunt for daily food, they helped by following the trail of an animal to find it so it could be killed. Later they would learn to flush out animals and even drive them into specially constructed enclosures or other traps, where the hunters could easily take them. This ability to drive prey was what would later develop into the ability to hold a flock in one place”.

Child with dog. Roman mosaic, Palace Mosaic Museum, Istanbul.

Child holding a dog;  Roman mosaic floor, Palace Mosaic Museum, Istanbul.

The paleolithic cave of Palegawrane, in what nowadays is Iraq, is home to one of the oldest archaeologic finds of dog remains that have been dated to be 12,000 years old.

The earliest mention of hounds that somewhat fit the description as we know them today, comes from the Indus Valley. David Hancock writes that in the Rig-Veda, a hound-like dog is described as “with broad of nostril and insatiable…“.  Hancock goes on to make a distinction between these antique hounds in sight hounds and scent hounds: “In time the specialist hounds developed physically to suit their function, the ‘long-faced’ dogs needing a slashing capability in their jaws backed by excellent longsighted vision. The ‘broad-nostrilled’ wider-skulled looser-lipped dogs needed plenty of room for scenting capacity in both nose and lips where scent was tasted“. Hancock also mentions that “Discoveries from near Ergani in Turkey dated from 9500 BC and from east Idaho in the United States dated from 9500BC to 9000BC prove the existence of tracking dogs in cave settlements“. Apart from these early references that might point at the earliest origins of dogs reminiscent of scent hounds –that only thousands of years later will become our contemporary griffon breeds– we have to wait untill Roman and Greek times before we get any further information on the history of scent hounds.

Segusii Hounds
According to Roman Emperor Julius Ceasar, the Celtic Segusi Tribe that lived in the area just north of Lyon at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, kept dogs that appear to be the ancestors of all griffon and bloodhound breeds: the Canis Segusius. They had very good noses and they are described as dogs with hanging ears and a sad expression, and in some descriptions it is claimed that they were scruffy dogs with a white appearance. The Segusian Hounds are considered the ancestor of all the griffon and bloodhound breeds that we know today. The Romans, but also members of Germanic tribes, took some of these famed dogs with them, and thus they spread over Europe.


Talbot Dog

The Talbot Dog, one of the presumed forebears of modern day hunting griffons