Dogs in the Medieval Period

Image source: Le Livre de chasse de Gaston Phébus.

Hey everyone! Since we can have a dog companion in KCD, I just wanted to share some information I dug up on dogs from roughly the time period the game will be set in. The first source is a period hunting manual, and the second an archaeological report. I’ve listed the different types of dogs mentioned in the sources as well, with some of my own interpretation.

Some caveats! These sources are from England/France and Scotland respectively, so of course the information from them might not apply 100% to the setting of the game.

  • The Master of Game, by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York. Published originally in 1413. Modern translation accessed at the Internet Archive

This is a medieval english translation of a French book written in 1387-1389, the Livre de Chasse by Gaston Phébus. It is a treatise on hunting and is one of the primary historical sources of information on dogs in the Medieval period. It is important to remember that the dogs written about here were used by noblemen, and so would not necessarily have been representative of the ‘common’ dog. It covers a broad range of hunting related topics. It also covers how to care for dogs, and the main types of dogs used in hunting. It’s very much worth a read! There is also a great anecdote in it about a loyal greyhound that defeated its master’s murderer in a trial by combat.

This is a summary of the archaeological evidence for domestic animals in Scottish towns in the Middle ages. The remains analyzed date from the 12th-16th centuries, so they include the time period the game is set in. Again, it’s very geographically specific, but it is interesting nonetheless. It goes in to detail about the sizes of the animals found, and tries to relate them to dogs mentioned in historical sources, including the Livre de Chasse/The Master of Game.

Medieval Dog Types

Image from Livre de Chasse. Top left and Center: Greyhounds. Top Right: Running Hounds. Center right: Mastiff. Bottom Left: Alaunts. Bottom Center and Right: Spaniels

Before I start it is important to note that the modern notion of a dog ‘breed’, where dogs are classified as being of a certain breed only if they possess certain physical and temperamental traits, did not exist in the past. We therefore shouldn’t try to identify animals found on archaeological sites or mentioned in literary sources with specific modern breeds (Smith 1998, pg. 862). In fact, while the Livre de Chasse/Master of Game does mention what physical traits Gaston believes a good dog of each type should have, this is only because he believes those traits would make them better at executing their function. To me it also seems that he even believed a dog’s color influenced its temperament. Outside of France then, it is possible that hunting dogs that fulfilled the same functions ascribed to each of Gaston’s types might have looked and behaved differently. Gaston hints at this as well throughout the Livre de Chasse/Master of Game. I’ll talk a bit about local varieties to cover this and will also talk a bit about other dogs that, because they were not useful for hunting, were not mentioned by Gaston – ‘common dogs’ such as lap dogs, stray dogs, and pet dogs. Just to make this post more interesting to look at, I’ll include photos of modern dogs which I feel Gaston would believe to be an ideal dog of each type in terms of appearance. Let’s start!

  • Running Hounds

The Master of Game discusses these in Chapter XIV of the version linked. It says these hounds were used for tracking by scent and running down and harrying pray. They were Gaston’s favorite type of hound. Like the above modern Coonhound, Gaston believes a good hound should have a long snout, droopy ears, droopy lips, droopy ears and a straight tail that cromps at the end. He says he’s seen good hounds with shaggy tails as well though. He also says the color “most common for to be good, is called brown tan”. They should have great necks, breasts, shoulders, legs and feet, small flanks and long sides and…“small hanging ballocks and well trussed together” :stuck_out_tongue: . They came in all sizes, large and small. The small hounds were known as either kenets or harriers, apparently depending on how good they were. Hounds trained to track by scent were known as lymers. Supposedly the hounds from the Basque countries and Spain were good for hunting down boars, but not harts, since they tired of the chase too easily. The larger dogs found in Scotland had skulls very similar to modern Fox-hounds, a breed which were likely bred from running hounds (Smith 1998, pg. 868) .

  • Greyhounds

Greyhounds are interesting because the name also denotes a modern breed, so they are a good example of the difference between modern breeds and older dog types. The breed standard for the modern Greyhound is available here (Group 10, section 3 under Great Britain). They are described in Chapter XV of the Master of Game. According to the book their best coloration is “red fallow with a black muzzle”, and they come in all sizes - but the medium size is the best, if one cannot afford to keep both a small and a large one. In terms of body appearance, they were generally similar to the modern Greyhound, but they should have a long large head like a pike (the fish), and a large mouth. The archaeological evidence from Scotland turned up leg bones which could have been from greyhounds, but none of the skulls were slim like those of modern Greyhounds - it’s possible the slim modern heads are a recent trait (Smith 1998, pg. 866-867). Illustrations in the Livre de Chasse show greyhounds with both long and short hair. They were supposed to be able to run faster than any prey, so they could overtake them and seize them. A medieval greyhound then could be anything in size and coat from an Italian Greyhound up to an Irish Wolfhound. The size of Gaston’s ideal greyhound (“medium”) sounds like that of a modern Whippet, possibly something like the one pictured.

  • Alaunts

Chapter XVI describes alaunts, of which there were supposedly three sub-types. All of them were harebrained and reckless, according to Gaston. The alauntes gentle were to have the body of and speed of a Greyhound and a “great and short” head, and the good ones should be white with sharp standing ears surrounded by black spots. The image above is a modern recreation of an alaunt, probably similar to the alaunt gentle (except for the ears). Their bite was supposed to be more powerful than three greyhounds, and they were used to pin down prey. Alauntes veutreres were supposed to be ugly and slightly stockier than greyhounds, with a big head and great lips and ears. After the greyhounds chased down the prey, the slower alauntes veutreres would catch up with them and pin it down. They were good for hunting boar, and used in the sport of bull-baiting. The third type of alaunt was the butcher’s alaunt. They were used by butchers to heard cows in to towns, and to catch and pin down any cows that tried to escape. They could also be used for hunting boar and bull-baiting. Smith (1998, pg. 864) identified three dogs which may have been considered butcher’s alaunts. They were bow-legged dogs, 26.5-39cm high at the shoulder, and one had a skull very similar to a modern Bull Terrier (Like Dan’s dog!).

  • Spaniels

Chapter XVII is about spaniels, which he also calls hounds for the hawk. They should have a big head, a big body an be “fair of hue, white or tawny…and of such hue they be commonly best”. Their coat should not be too rough, but they should have a rough tail. Pictured above is a modern French Spaniel. They were supposed to run ahead of the hunting party and scare fowl and other animals for the hawks to pounce on. They were best for hunting quail and partridge. When they were taught to be setters (to lie down) they were useful for hunting partridge and quails with nets. They were also good for use in the water, such as to retrieve water-fowl. Gaston really dislikes them though, because they would bark at any animal that passed by, which would egg on the greyhounds. And since they ran back and forth barking, they would make the running hounds lose the scent. He said like alaunts, they came from Spain, and that “they have many bad qualities like the country they come from”. Unless you were hunting by hawk, he didn’t recommend using them.

  • Mastiff

Mastiff’s are the last type discussed by Gaston, in chapter XVIII. These dogs were used for keeping “his master’s beasts and his master’s house”. He finds them to be “of a churlish nature and ugly shape”. The above pictured dog is a Mastiff of the Abruzzi, also known as an Abruzzese Shepherd. I only included it because in Italy these working dogs are still outfitted with the exact same type of spiked anti-wolf collar which the Mastiff pictured in the Livre de Chasse is wearing. It also looks fairly similar to it in shape, and as a sheep guarding dog performs the same function. Gaston says they are also good shooting dogs (not sure exactly what that means…maybe sort of like a modern retriever/pointer?), and good for driving game. They are also good for people who hunt for profit. When crossed with alaunts, they were good for boar hunting. When crossed with hounds for the hawk, “(there be bred) hounds that men should not make much mention of…for there is no great mastery nor great readiness in the hunting that they do”.

  • Common dogs

While not a piece of medieval artwork, the above Hellenistic-era mosaic from Alexandria is one of my favourite pieces of artwork (And my profile picture :stuck_out_tongue: ). It depicts a pet dog looking guilty after knocking over a bronze pitcher. Smith (1998, pg. 869) paraphrases a passage from The Boke of St. Albans which describes the types of dogs one might expect to find in a medieval Scottish town: “butcher’s hound, midden dog, trundle-tail, prick-eared cur and ‘smale ladies popis that beere away the flees’”. Butcher’s hounds were likely the butcher’s alaunt mentioned by Gaston. The ‘ladies popis’ were probably like small terriers and lap dogs of today. The smallest skeleton of the Scottish assemblage, only 23 cm high at the shoulder, was likely a lap dog as it seems to have been a decrepit elderly individual, and would have likely only survived that long as a well loved pet (Smith 1998, pg. 870). The other types were probably normal mongrels of different sizes like the one in the mosaic, which may either have been pets, strays, or feral dogs surviving off trash from the middens.

  • Local dog varieties

In both his chapter on running hounds and his chapter on spaniels Gaston mentions how different regions are known for their dogs. Spain is known for it’s hawking dogs, it’s alaunts, and along with the Basque countries it’s hounds for hunting boar. Scotland and England were known for their greyhounds (Although a footnote in the book notes that in the original French version of the Livre de Chasse, Gaston says Brittany and not Scotland and England. It maybe an error on the part of the English scribe who translated it). This isn’t really surprising - different regions of the world are still known for their local dog breeds. It wouldn’t be far fetched to assume that in different parts of Europe the different hunting dog types defined by Gaston were performed by a variety of locally bred dogs. I’d like to take this opportunity then to highlight two modern Czech breeds which are claimed to come from ancient stock, which might be appropriate to include in the game in some form (Obviously, the devs are probably aware of them. This is more for us non Czech people): The Český Fousek (Top image), which today is used as a gun dog and so might have been classified as a spaniel by Gaston, and the Bohemian Shepherd (Bottom image), which would probably have been considered a Mastiff. Of course, as mentioned previously, modern breed requirements did not exist in the middle ages. So while the Český Fousek is supposedly mentioned as a hunting dog known as a ‘Canis Bohemicus’ in a Czech document of 1348 (Maybe some Czech board members could find and translate it for us? The specific document is talked about in the link), it is unlikely those dogs looked exactly like the modern breed, and probably varied quite a lot in appearance. Kind of like the varied appearance of the Scotch and English Collie landrace breeds. The same might go for the Bohemian Shepherd.

Anyways, while this post was long, I hope it didn’t ramble too much and included some good information. If you are interested in the topic, I do highly recommend you read the two sources I based most of this post on as they provide a lot more information than I could summarize. The article about the archaeology of Scottish medieval dog remains also has a bibliography with more books and articles on the subject of ancient dogs.

Also of interest is this chart I found from an article in the journal Nature. The article is an analysis of the genetics of modern dog breeds. It’s interesting how some dogs which perform similar functions come from different genetic stock.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this! When doing this research I couldn’t help but think of a variety of quests which could lead you to a dog companion - maybe while hunting hart with some noblemen, you perform an action which leads one of them to gift you one of their dogs. Or you could return to your old village, and rescue an injured mongrel or butcher’s dog. Who knows! I’m sure the devs will come up with something awesome though :smile:

EDIT: Slightly changed the Mastiff section


Great post, thanks! :smiley:

I would like to add some more or less contemporary paintings to show the use and the kinds of dogs for hunting. Dogs were displayed in most of the medieval paintings about hunting which should indicate their great importance for hunting itself and also for their owners.

Boar hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, about 1390-1400

Hare hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, about. 1390-1400

Partridge hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, about 1390-1400

Pheasant hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, about 1390-1400

Partridge hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century

Quail hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century

Gazelle hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century

Hare hunting in Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century

Hunting scene in Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century

Gaston Phoebus’ Le livre de chasse, early 15th century

Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry: Aout, 1412-16

Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry: Décembre, 1412-16

Giving the entrails of a stag to the dogs in Henri de Ferrières, Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, Paris, 1379

Scenes of Country Life, unkown master, Italy, 1343

Scenes of Country Life: Falconry, unknown master, Italy, 1343

Ivory panel with hunting scenes, Paris, about 1350

Saladin and Torello di Stra, Decameron, second quarter of the 15th century

Prince Tassilo Rides to Hunting, master of the Polling Panels, Bavaria, 1444

It’s also nice to know that dogs were not necessarily bred in the castles of the nobility. The surrounding villages often had to take over the breeding which caused problems for the peasantry. The dogs were useless for them and the breeding took time and resources which could not be invested in the breeding of cattle. This was one of the points which is said to cause the outbreak of the Peasants’ Wars in 1524.

The dogs weren’t handled with extensive care. They could be killed or injured any time by a wild animal while hunting. If it failed in any form the dog’s tail was often cut off as a form of punishment. This was probably a sign that the animal “lost its honour”, a punishment which was far worse than death for the medieval nobility. :slight_smile:

Edit - I still don’t know for sure if hunting was illegal in Bohemia in 1400 in general but I guess so. Well, a well trained greyhound was far out of reach of a normal peasant, soldier or usual craftsmen anyway. These animals were the Rolls Royce of their time and hunting was the preferred sports or leisure time activity of the nobility, not the common man… :smiley:


Nice information you dug up @ABINHOF. I was just thinking about how hunting could be improved greatly with dog interaction. I wasn’t sure if dogs were going to be a factor in the game, “we can have a dog companion in KCD”. Now that you have confirmed this for me and with that research and input you added it would be great for the Developers to add dogs in the aspect of hunting. (give them commands to hunt stay, or scare a pray ect…)

   This being a game so meticulously trying to pin point reality of the medieval times. Dogs aren't just pets but a means of survival, in those period they are a tool not only of comfort but utility. 

Hope to see more great news and updates about this game. Feels good to see a down to earth realistic game with no dragon or fire and ice magic.

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Awesome post and research! Thanks! When we start design for dogs, it will help us a lot!


Hehe, you have missed out a famous one :wink:

Unfortunately no pink ribbon on its head! :wink:


Since I have to do some dangerous quests in the game, I would like the dog companion more like the last one from this picture:

You see: either fighting for me, or, should I die, mourn the master…

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Scenes from the wonderful Devonshire Hunting Tapestries made in Holland at around 1420-1430 for the Duke of Devonshire by an unknown master. It’s a set of four pieces, all showing hunting sceneries in great detail (Falconry, Deer Hunt, Swan and Otter Hunt, Boar and Bear Hunt). As you might notice dogs play quite some substantial role in them. In the swan and otter hunt tapestry (the third one from above) two dogs even wear some kind of armor or cloth which probably was “en vogue” at the time among the nobility… :wink:

The tapestries are also a great source for showing fashion, clothing and habits of the central European nobility of the time. Of course it could be different in Bohemia 20-30 years earlier but nevertheless the quality and the sense of detail in the tapestries is impressive, especially for its time of creation. :slight_smile:


Short Sidestep: I like those tapestries very much, too. The fashion showed there is what we call the “Burgundian-” or sometimes French-style, worn in Burgundy, France, Belgium, Holland, parts of England, parts of north/west Germany… It was in competition to the “German-style” , worn in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Bohemia, parts of Poland, … and the Italian Style (Spain was a kind of its own).

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Thanks guys! Those pictures are great @LordCrash! I might have to add some of them to the main post as well :slight_smile: And @loksley’s picture too :stuck_out_tongue:

@LordCrash do you have a source that talks about the 1524 Paesants’ War? Was that in Bohemia? It sounds interesting, especially if dog breeding has something to do with it. I was thinking of maybe adding more info to my original post in the future, and that sounds like an interesting place to start. There was also possible evidence for inbreeding in some of the dog remains from Scotland (three dogs at one site had the same deformity in their dentition). This may suggest selective breeding to some extent, which is backed up by the The Master of Game. Gaston says on numerous occasion the quality of a dog depends on its parents, so I’m curious as to the extent of breeding programs in medieval dogs! Obviously they can’t be as bad as in modern breeds (the massive genetic issues of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed comes to mind), but since they understood the concept of parents passing down traits to their offspring, I wonder how prevalent it was.

Let me just put in a +1 for the breed another poster promoted in the other canine thread from two months ago. The Bohemian Shepherd is not only a nice looking dog but also dates to the 14th century (per Wikipedia). They’re supposed to be “brilliant learners” with lots of energy that can be used for rescuing, service-training, or even sledding. Sounds like the perfect intelligent and strong companion for Henry our epic hero!

Link to the Dog Breed Info Center Information on the Bohemian Shepherd

I don’t have an English source but I can offer you a German one (I lack a translation as well, sorry):

On pages 239-244 the author describes the duties of the peasantry in terms of hunting support and things like that based on original sources from the HRE (like Thuringia). It seems that the hunting duties (and hunting bans) of the peasanty got more severe and more extensive in general in the time between 1100 and 1600 and especially in the 15th and 16th century (with the Peasant’s War in southern and central Germany in 1525). Short: peasants had to house the noble hunting society, feed them and their dogs and they even had to breed their dogs. At the same time more and more wild animals were forbidden to be hunted by normal peasants, even to protect their own fields and animals from wild animals. The combination was quite obviously one of the reasons why the peasantry revolted. It’s also stated in their twelve articles from 1525:

I don’t know exactly the situation in Bohemia in 1400 so let’s take that article more as an addition to the general discussion about the topic instead of something directly related to the game. :wink:

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Bárány A. 2013. Cumanian Dogs from Csengele. A csengelei kun kutyák


Greyhound from a painting by Rogier van der Weyden:
augusto e la sibilla tiburtina, 1460

Imagine commanding your dog to catch a rabbit you saw in the forest, or going on a hunting party with other people and their dogs.