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Great Expectations

CANINE

Susan McKeon talks living and learning with retired racing greyhounds, and explains some of the misperceptions surrounding the breed

Ava practices on the agility course: In a racing environment, early socialization of greyhounds is often not a priority

I

Photo/Becky Harding, Hound and About Photography

t is estimated that, in the UK alone, around 8,000 greyhounds retire from racing each year. In the US and Australia, the figure increases to more than 20,000. Having lived a life that has revolved around the racetrack, once they retire, greyhounds have to make the transition from canine athlete to companion animal. I have shared my life with these retired canine athletes for over 13 years and cannot imagine a future without a greyhound (or two) in it. It is fair to say, since falling in love with my first greyhound, it has become a passion of mine to work with ex-racers and help them adjust to a life post-racing, as well as dispel the myths that seem to surround the breed.

Greyhound 101

If you are thinking about adopting a greyhound, or have been approached by a greyhound owner who wants to join your training classes, what do you need to know?

Life after Racing

Firstly, ex-racing greyhounds are a product of their environment. Unlike the pedigree show greyhound, racing greyhounds are bred for fitness, rather than conforming to a breed standard. For most greyhounds, life at racing kennels tends to follow a set and predictable routine. In the UK, most greyhounds are kenneled in pairs and their lives revolve around feeding, grooming, exercise and the days when they race. Before retirement, most greyhounds will not have experienced many of the day-to-day sights, sounds and activities that companion dogs are accustomed to and that we take for granted. It is fair to say that, in most cases, early socialization of a racing greyhound is not a top priority within a racing environment. For most racing greyhounds, their exposure to the world is limited to their racing kennel, paddocks and the track. They have not generally seen or encountered microwave ovens, televi-

Photo/Susan McKeon

Mina enjoys the wind tunnel: Retired racing greyhounds may not be familiar with day-today sights and sounds

sions, stairs, other breeds of dogs, small animals or children. For most ex-racing greyhounds, coming into a domestic environment must feel rather like landing on an alien planet. One day you are living in the familiar, and the next you are transported to a place where you do not speak the language, know the customs, or understand what is expected of you, and where everything appears alien.

Behavior

There are some quirks to greyhound behavior. Those of us who live with greyhounds will be familiar with the “GSOD.” This acronym stands for “greyhound scream of death,” which, once heard, is never forgotten! Greyhounds are rather sensitive souls, and minor injuries often result in the GSOD, which makes you think the dog has sustained a life-threatening injury rather than a minor scratch. That said, however, greyhounds have notoriously thin skin, and what could be a minor cut on another breed can be somewhat more serious on a greyhound. Other quirks include “nitting” – not quite mouthing, but more like a nibbling behavior; “roaching” – sleeping on the back with all four legs in the air; and “rooing” – the greyhound equivalent of a howl. It should also be noted greyhounds are quite happy to spend most of the day snoozing – which is probably how they earned the reputation of being 45-mph couch potatoes. There are also some common behavior issues which, although not limited to greyhounds, they can be more predisposed to. Possibly the two most common are freezing on walks (also known as “planting”), and on-leash reactions to other breeds of dogs. When you stop to think about it, neither behavior issue is particularly surprising. For large numbers of greyhounds, socialization and habituation to everyday life will have been limited. It BARKS from the Guild/March 2017

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BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...

BARKS from the Guild March 2017  

The bi-monthly trade publication from the Pet Professional Guild covering all things animal behavior and training, canine, feline, equine, p...