The Santal Hound

by Bulu Imam

Drawing by- E.P. Stebbing

The Dog

The dog we are discussing, and of which the Santal Hound is a pure example, is not a mongrel as meaning the mix of two distinct types, but a pure indigenous dog with no wolf or Nordic/Spitz in its DNA. Dr. Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith of the University of Auckland (Department of Anthropology) helped towards identification, being an authority on the DNA identification of Austronesian dogs moving with human populations into Polynesia four to five thousand years ago, including Southeast Asian dogs, and the ancestors of the  Dingo, New Guinea Singing Dog, and  archaeological samples from New Zealand, Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Rotuma. Her finding confirmed “All Pacific dogs, including the Dingo, share a common ancestor somewhere in Southeast Asia.” Influence from the Chinese mainland cannot be ruled out and the Pacific dog haplotype was found in a Chow.

DNA testing was facilitated through the efforts of Janice Koler-Matznick of the Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society (PADS, USA). The DNA tests of samples of hair from the Santal Hound collected by the Author were done at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm by Dr.Peter Savolainen in 2000, and  confirmed that the Santal Hound as representative of the indigenous Indian dog, has no Nordic/Spitz in it, and that it is similar to the New Guinea Singing Dog and Dingo of Australia, belonging to the so called Indo-Polynesian Group. These dogs would have about five thousand years ago found their way over to Australia with Austronesians crossing by sea. Further DNA tests are presently being carried out with the University of Berkeley at Davis by the Author. The dog in its indigenous form is a small red dog found among primitive hunting tribal societies all over India, and although the present DNA tests were done with the Santal Hound such tests may be carried out with other indigenous breeds from different parts of India, and interested people are encouraged to do this. Only then will a clearer picture emerge of the Indian indigenous dog.

The Dog Among the Santal Tribals

The Santal Hound is named after the Santal tribe among whom it is found in the Hazaribagh district of northern Jharkhand.  It has been used by these tribals exclusively for hunting in both a survival economy as well as in a ritual context in the annual hunts of the tribe called Desom Sendra which have an association with the forest goddess Chandi (and similar to the Arcadian huntress Diana with her hunting dogs).

The Santals call the dog seuta and kukur, and  sometimes affectionately tuio which means jackal. The mixture of black or white in the breed may be taken as a mongrel ad-mixture and is absent in the true type found in the jungle villages. The dog is an affectionate inmate of the Santal household in Hazaribagh.

Anthropological Significance

The Santal Hound like other indigenous breeds, is found among indigenous peoples. The region it spans, as with other indigenous early breeds, including from cereals to humans, spans the atlas of the temperate zones, even though divided by  vast land  and sea spaces which humans have repeatedly navigated for the past more than five thousand years. Being the first animal domesticated by man the dog appears in similar indigenous forms with different tribal and primitive indigenous societies throughout these regions.

In Africa the dog is found among a variety of nomadic  hunting tribes in East Africa. With the Wanderobo tribe, in the Belgian Congo, in the Sudan, and Zaire (Belgian Congo) with the Pygmy and Bantu where it is the Basenji, in the Central African Republic among the Zande tribe, in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia and Botswana with the Bushmen. No doubt the indigenous dog similar to the Santal Hound will be found among many other primitive African societies. It appears in the Bushman rock art of the Drakensberg ranges in South Africa. In Israel it appears as the Canaan Dog/Israeli Sheep Dog. In India it is found in the same form as the Santal Hound in  all tribal-inhabited regions such as Assam, Bengal (Singur); Jharkhand among the Santals and other tribal groups (in Hazaribagh, Santal Parganas,Ranchi, Singhbhum, Etc.); Orissa among the Khonds and Saoras in Phulbani and the Eastern Ghats; in Chhatisgarh among the Maria and Muria Gonds in Bastar and in the Maikal Hills among the Baigas. It is noted in the Hobson Jobson, a glossary of Anglo-Indian colloquial words and phrases, quoting old French  and British journals in the third quarter of the Eighteenth century, as inhabiting the ports of Madras and Pondicherry during the early Franco-British contact. E.P. Stebbing the great sportsman naturalist referred to it as the Pi-dog in his book The Diary of a Sportsman Naturalist in India, and his drawing of the dog is used. He wrote of the dog, killed in a hunt by a wild boar, thus, “He may have been only a pi-dog. But his heart and spirit were pure gold.” Pi-dog is an old British name for the dog. Pariah-dog seems to carry a derogatory sense although it is not so, and may be the most original name.

Research on the Santal Hound

The dog has been subject of three decade’s research and documentation by the Author at the Sanskriti Centre, (Hazaribagh, Jharkhand) which is also the office of the Hazaribagh Chapter of The Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH), A Video film was made by National Geographic in 2003 titled Search for the First Dog, in which the Santal Hound featured prominently  in its natural environment. The film was produced by Lloyd Fales of Working Dog Productions (NY) for National Geographic, and after being premiered in the USA in 2003 was shown in India on National Geographic Channel TV in  March 2004.  It went on to win the Explorers’ Club film festival award in New York.

The Breed Standard by the Author with photos and description of the dog appears in Muriel Landers-Cooke’s work  Dogs of All Nations, Vol. II “Wild and Semi-Wild Varieties.” This Breed Standard will be given later on in this Note. The dogs used for DNA testing by the Author have been carefully selected as standard Santal Hound types. A reddish-brown colour  is the standard, with short coat; the eyes being almond-shaped and of brown color. Male dogs stand seventeen to eighteen inches, females an inch less. It has been observed in urban dogs of this type found in Bangalore and Mysore that they are heavier in build and one inch taller. Similar dogs among the Bender tribals in Mysore are of lighter build. It would seem that feeding and hunting life has affected the dogs’ conformation. The tail is generally clean but sometimes shorter and bushy, carried in a gay curl over the back, the curl increasing when approaching one of their own kind. Though a bark is rarely heard the dogs when hunting only yap, and packs are known for “yodeling” to the moon, which is a polyphonous wailing as in the New Guinea Singing Dog, and may also be compared with the pack howling of Dingos in the Simpson desert in Australia. Researchers are advised that only dogs conforming to the Author’s description and Breed Standard for the Santal Hound should be used for DNA samples.

Spiritual Significance

The Manjhi Santals though being animists do not exactly worship the forest god Shiva, but they  continue an ancient  tradition of the forest god and his two dogs Bhairav and Bhairavi found in stone relief carvings in Shiva temples in the area, showing the forest god with his two dogs. There may also be some further indication of continuity as the Dog appears in the Sohrai ritual harvest paintings of the Kurmi and Ghatwal tribals of the same area in place of the Bull with a tree on its back.  It seems that this represents an earlier importance of the animal tracing its origins to a Mesolithic society. The Oraon tribals of Hazaribagh  have a tradition of their god Dharmes being accompanied  by his two dogs Bhowra and Bhowri. In the Rig Veda we read of the two four-eyed dogs of Yama the god of death (Shiva as the god of destruction is associated with Yama) (Rig Veda Book 13, Funeral Verses Nos.2, 12-13). This type of dog has been found in Crete in the Aegean dog cults as well as in the dog cults of Egypt as Anubis the god of the dead; and among the Bedouins as a horned deity in the rock art of Palestine-Jordan, 3500 B.C. The significance of the horned dog appears in the tribes of Hazaribagh also where they are said to belong to  “times when dogs wore horns”  (sihare diring paraiyare). This is a living tradition among the nomadic Birhor hunter-gatherers of Hazaribagh who believe the jackal master of the pack howling to the moon sheds his horns on a moonlit night, and this is called the Pharao. The dog is depicted in the local art sometimes wearing a ritual collar similar to the Egyptian Anubis, the collared dog of Australian Aboriginals from the rock art of the Kimberley ranges,  and the horned Sinaitic dog of the rockart of the Sinai peninsular. Work with ancient texts has emphasized the sacred importance of dog cults during the fifth century B.C. during the Persian and Hellenistic periods in the Grecian, Phoenecian, and Mesopotamian world. This was considerably highlighted by the discovery of  the ritual burial of thousands of dogs in the Southern Levant, Israel and Lebanon. Ritual  burials of dogs in China is also well known. The dog it seems has always held a supernatural significance for man and it is an ancient dog cult we witness in man’s close association with the animal.

Breed  Standard

The Santal Hound has a fine pointed and prominent nose important for a scent-hound; the ears are pricked well forward; it has dark almond shaped eyes either topaz golden to dark brown; the coat is short but not smooth except in puppies; waist is narrow and shape sleek but chest is not broad though it is well-ribbed; the dog is quite thin, even bony in prime condition;  the dog has dainty feet and a high-stepping gait, and when in playful mood given to playing with objects between paws; it has a habit of wrinkling its forehead forming fine furrows between its eyes giving it an inquisitive look, especially when it sometimes cocks its head to a side; when playful or inviting play  they “wipe” the face with front paws, and the front paws are put out like hands.

They often lie on their stomach with forelegs or forepaws crossed.

General Appearance And Habits:-

GENERAL APPEARANCE: Lightly built, fine boned, aristocratic animal, high on the leg compared with length, always poised. Alert and intelligent. Wrinkled head with pricked ears, proudly carried on a wall arched neck. Deep brisket runs up into definite waist, tail tightly curled presenting a picture of a well-balanced dog of gazelle like grace.

  • Body narrow, rather high on legs.
  • Centrally balanced with a prancing, high-stepping gait.
  • Delightful manner of cocking head from side to side when inquisitive or spoken to.
  • Likes curling up and sleeping instead of roaming except when hungry.
  • Very playful and likes catching playthings between forepaws.
  • Delicate eater, does not gulp or grab food.
  • Delicate in carriage, calm of temperament.
  • Can sometimes be snappy with small mouth but sharp, pointed teeth.
  • Barks little, yaps when hunting, yodels in packs to the moon
  • Alertness and keenness are its main characteristics
  • Strong scenting power and highly developed original hunting abilities. Runs with nose on the ground following a scent trail.
  • Cleans itself cat-like, assumes skittish attitudes, paws its face or, lifts a foreleg and prances inviting play. Sits on belly with crossed forepaws. Lies on back with legs in air to sun itself, going to sleep in this position.
  • It is a very fast hound when chasing a prey.

CHARACTERISTICS: Barkless but not mute, its own special noise a mixture of a chortle and yodel. Remarkable for its cleanliness in every way. It sits/lies upright on its stomach with the forelegs crossed.

TEMPERAMENT: An intelligent, independent affectionate, alert breed. Can be aloof with strangers.

SIZE: Ideal height.  Male17 inches(43cm) or 1 inch higher

Female 16 inches (40cm) at withers or 1 inch higher

Ideal weight. Male 11kgs (12 Kilograms under Kennel feed)

Female 9.5kgs (10.5 Kilograms under Kennel feed)

COAT:  Smooth, short, sleek and close. Hair very fine. Skin very pliant.

HEAD AND SKULL: Flat, well chiseled medium width, tapering towards nose, with slight top. Distance from top of head to stop, slightly more than from top to tip of nose. Side lines of skull taper gradually towards mouth, giving a clean cheeked appearance. Fine, profuse wrinkles appearing on forehead when ears pricked. Side wrinkles desirable but not exaggerated into dewlaps. Wrinkles more noticeable in puppies. Black nose desirable. Pink nose generally goes with light brown eyes.  Lean and long in head, medium breadth, narrowing at eye level and carried high. Flat skull with  porously wrinkled brow when inquisitive. Cocks head from side to side at this time. Muzzle narrow from eyes to nose. Nose shorter than skull,  conspicuously set on fine muzzle. Teeth level.

EYES: Dark, almond shaped, obliquely set, far seeing, rather inscrutable in expression. Pink nose generally goes with light brown eyes. The eyes are highly reflective, and in the dark under low light they shine to a bright emerald gleam as in wild animals (also the New Guinea Singing Dog). Light to dark brown, sometimes black with a slight pinkish tint at the tip which is up-tilted.  Deeply set in  almond shaped recesses. Whites often show at rest when it can look back with the corner of the eye but this is not suspicious-looking as in some other breeds.

EARS: Small, pointed, erect, slightly hooded, of fine texture, set well forward on top of head, tip of ear nearer centre of skull than outside base. Skin of ears is thinnest in bright tan coloured dogs having smooth coat, cupped and pointed, carried erect, set high on head and angled forward. In dogs with thick coats the skin of  the ears is noticeably thicker. Ears move independently to observe various sounds like antennae.

MOUTH: Jaws strong, with perfect regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping the lower jaw and set square to the jaws.

NECK: Strong and of good length without thickness well crested slightly full at base of throat with a graceful curve accentuating crest. Well set into shoulders giving head a “lofty” carriage.  Medium length well set on shoulders, having a muscular crest. The thickness of neck depends on type. Thin coated dogs have thicker necks.

FEET: Small narrow, compact, with deep pads, well arched toes and nails. An important characteristic is that it sits/lies upright on its stomach with the forelegs crossed.

TAIL: High set with posteriors curve of buttock extending beyond root of tail, giving a reachy appearance to hindquarters. Curls lightly over spine and lies closely to thigh with a single or double curl (sometimes).

FORE-QUARTERS: Shoulders well laid back, muscular, not loaded. Elbows tucked in against brisket. When viewed from front, elbows in line with ribs and legs should continue in a straight line to ground, giving a medium front. Forelegs straight  with fine bone and very long forearms. Pasterns good length, straight and flexible.

HINDQUARTERS: Muscular with short level. Hocks will let down, turned neither in nor out, with long second thighs and moderately bent stifle.

COLOUR: Brown , light to dark reddish-brown.Yellow-brown is the most common colour. Mix of black or white not acceptable, although in litters pups of a Santal Hound bitch may contain both types due to siring. In these cases the pure browns develop true characteristics while the mixes may stray from form of the Breed Standard or, apart from colouration, remain true.

BODY: Balanced with short level back. Ribs well sprung deep and oval. Loin short coupled. Deep brisket running up into definite waist. Square in outline, oblique, well-set on shoulders. Deep chest in coarse-coated specimens. Prominent ribs, level back, medium loins, well defined waist. Bright red specimens have tighter skins and are lighter built with silky smooth coat.

LITTERS: In mixed litters black and white and brown and white seem to dominate. Generally one or two pups are brown, the rest may be four or five dappled. The brown pups tend to survive. The sire may be any one of the village pi-dogs, so mongrel strains may be indicated by dappled pups, but  many of these mixed colour pups are fine dogs. Many are as fine as Santal Hound.

HEAT: Generally once a year, during winter when days shorten, in keeping with the Dingo, Basenji, New Guinea Singing Dog, in spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

PACK INSTINCT: Pack instinct occurs in these dogs observed in villages and towns.

HOWLING: The Santal Hound has a pack howling instinct. It lasts 10-15 minutes. During this there may be some intermediary variations. Local tribals believe that the short single howling are a bad omen and mean somebody will die. A similar polyphonous chorus has been marked among the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD), with a similar trill or variation, and these dramatic changes of the pitch have to be unique to dogs in the wild. The Indian wild dog (Cuon alpinus)is known for making a high-pitched whistling sound to keep contact between the pack members when hunting. There is also pack howling among the Indian jackals (Canis aureus). Generally it seems the howling is directed to other members in the distance, and it is performed on moonless nights also, so it is not howling to the moon. Trill in the middle, common to NGSD (as noted) may be attributed to the single lone series of howls in the pack howling of the Santal Hound noted above.

GAIT/MOVEMENT: Legs carried straight forward with swift long, tireless swinging stride.

FAULTS: Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to the degree.

NOTES: Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.


  1. P. Chattopadhyaya, Ancient Indian Culture Contacts and Migrations, F.K.L.Mukhopadhyaya Publishers, Calcutta, 1970
  2. Sewell & Guha, Mohenjodaro and the Indus Civilization Vol. I, 1993
  3. W.pimpelly Durest, Animal Excavations in Anau
  4. David Cavill, All about Spitz Breeds, Pelham Books, London 1978
  5. Blayney Percival, Game Ranger on Safari, Nisbet &V Co., London, 1925
  6. Elizabeth and John Oppenheimer, Certain Behavioral Featuresin tef Pariah Dogs ( Canis familiaris)in West Benga (Singur)l, Applied Animal Ethology  2 (1975), pp 81-92, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam
  7. M.Beck,Ecology of Stray Dogs — A Study of Free-rangingUrban Animals, Baltimore, 1973 p.98
  8. R.C. Davidar, The Dhole or Indian Wild Dog, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 70:373-374, 1973
  9. G.Kleiman , Reproduction in the Canidae,  International Zoo Yearbook, 1968 , 8:3-8
  10. D.Mech, The Wolf, Natural History Press, New York, 1970, p.384
  11. H.Prater , The Book of Indian Animals, Bombay Natural History Society, 1980, pp 113-116
  12. A.Dunbar Brander, Wild Animals in Central India, Edward Arnold & Co. ,London, 1923, Chapter 2 The Wild Dog pp 26-43
  13. Col. F.W.Corton Jones, Bombay Natural History Society, vol.vii, no.1, 1907p.194
  14. Gordon Childe, New Light on the Most ancient East, p.122s
  15. Bulu Imam, The Santal Hound, Sanskriti Publishing, 2003
  16. Letter of Leyden in Morton’s Memoirs, Ed. 1819, p.lxvi
  17. Henry Yule & A.C.Burnell, Hobson-Jobson, John Murray, London 1903, Paraiah, p.679, Paraiah dog,p.681
  18. Asko Parpola, Decipherment of the Indus Script, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2000,p.247
  19. P.Stebbing, The Diary of A Sportsman Naturalist, John Lane, The Bodley Head, London, mcmxx, p.110
  20. Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society News, Vol 1(1) December 1997, Oregon , USA/ Winter 200l/ other issues/ Email:
  21. Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith, The Austronesian Origins of the Dingo and Other Pacific Dogs – Evidence from Mitochondrial DNA , 8th International Congress of the International Council for Archaeozoology, Univ. of Victoria, BC, Canada.Aug.23-29, 1998.
  22. Jacob S. Jaya Raj, Evidence of Dogs from PrehistoricArt and Paintings in India, 8th International Council for Archaeozoology, Univ. of Victoria, BC, Canada, Aug 23-29, 1998
  23. Lehr Brisbin Jr., (University of Georgia), The New Guinea Singing Dog: Taxonomy, Captive Studies and Conservation Priorities, Science in New Guinea, 1994.
  24. Laurie Corbett, The Dingo in Australia and Asia, Comstock/Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca,NY,1995
  25. Mary Thurston, The Lost History of the Canine Race, 1996, Andrews and McMeel Publ., Kansas City, USA
  26. Desiree Scott, Why Are There So Many Different Types of Dog? 8th International Congress of the International Council for Archaeozoology, Univ. of Victoria, BC, Canada, Aug 23-29, 1998
  27. Janice Koler-Matznick, The New Guinea Singing dog: A Living Primitive Dog, 8th International Congress of the International Council of Archaeozoology, Univ. of Victoria, BC, Canada, Aug 23-29, 1998
  28. Paula Wapnish and Brian Hesse, Morphological Types in the Persian Period dog Burials from Ashkelon, A Coastal Site in the Southern Levant, 8th International Congress of the International Council of Archaeozoology, Univ. of Victoria, BC, Canada, Aug 23-29, 1998
  29. Bulu Imam, The Manjhi Santals of Hazaribagh – Hunt Rules, Songs, Lifestyle and Folklore, Sanskriti Publishing, Hazaribagh, 2006