Behavior Part 1
Racing greyhound trainers often deny ever having observed behavioral problems in their greyhounds. Most of the time, this is not intentionally misleading information they provide, but it must be remembered that the relationship between racing trainer and greyhound is one of a professional nature. Their relationship is conducted under very structured conditions, and there is very little interaction other than specifically for training purposes. Take a greyhound out of that rigid, well defined environment, and it is likely to become confused and behave differently until it knows its place in the adoptive household and understands the new boundaries for behavior. For this reason, we cannot always rely on reports from trainers regarding a greyhound's personality. The following article is offered as advice in dealing with a newly adopted or fostered greyhound, but can also apply to dogs that have been in the home for some time, yet still exhibit behavior or training problems.
Retired racing greyhounds have known a very limited and structured environment during their lifetimes. Everything they have been exposed to during preparation for life at the racetrack has been controlled by a very rigid schedule of training, eating, resting, turnouts, confinement in crates, and racing. To a racing greyhound, this existence represents normalcy and the repetition and predictability provides a certain security for them.
When a greyhound is transplanted into an adoptive home, there can be much bewilderment during the first few days or weeks. Understandably, most greyhound adopters would prefer to give these dogs constant love and attention, room to roam in a safe, fenced yard, a life free from confinement in a crate, and access to toys and playtime at their whim. We are eager to bestow special treatment on them, so they're given fluffy beds and lots of affection. But we must remember, most of these things are unfamiliar to a greyhound that has been in a racing environment, and they can be the source of fear and confusion initially.
The racing environment, beginning at a very early age, encourages competition and the desire to be "out in front" and in control. This is conducive to raising successful racers, but it can be detrimental to cultivating a personality that will be appropriate for a pet. Most greyhounds will learn to abide by the rules that are established in its adoptive home, but adopters must be aware of certain considerations. Implementing changes to discourage undesirable personality characteristics that have been developed at the track can take lots of time and patience and, above all, an understanding of what your dog may present with in terms of training challenges.
Watch for a greyhound that turns its head slightly to the side when someone approaches to pet it this may indicate it wants to be left alone or is head shy. Never put your face directly into the face of a greyhound (or any other breed, for that matter) unless this has long been established as acceptable by your pet.You'll know by their response. If they suddenly become very still and the tail is not wagging, this means they may be interpreting your approach as a challenge or a threat to their well being. Resist the urge to hug or join a greyhound that is lying down, especially if it is in its favorite bed. Remember, these dogs have had very few "personal items" during their lifetimes, and a bed and crate are at the top of the list. Of my three greyhounds, one cannot be trusted with face to face contact unless she initiates it with licking and tail wagging; then I know it is acceptable to reciprocate with a kiss on the nose. But never do I grasp her head and keep it in one position. My other two greyhounds are fine with face to face contact, but I still don't overdo it. You never know when a pet is having a bad day they have moods, too, just like we do! Many people are tempted to enforce a "you must obey" rule with head shy dogs, and they try to expose the dog to frequent, positive handling of the head. This can backfire. It is best to recognize this peculiarity and respect the dog's need to avoid such interaction. The key here is let the dog initiate any face to face contact, and hopefully the tail is wagging when this occurs!
If you have observed aggressive behavior in one or more of your pets when they are playing, especially outdoors in a large open area, you should look at this as a potential disaster if you allow this type of "free play" to continue. Racing greyhounds are especially prey driven and competitive by nature and training, and can become frenzied into an attack mode if the right circumstances prevail. Competing for a toy or jockeying in position for the lead in a game of chase are perfect examples of "setups" for fighting. Even in the most friendly and companionable of dogs, there can be a sudden overwhelming need to possess a toy or be ahead, which can produce devastating injuries in a pack response. Muzzle any greyhound that exhibits aggression when running with other dogs. Muzzles on all greyhounds while running in groups is the safest bet.
Aggression in dogs can be a result of any one thing or a combination of factors. When they are aggressive toward other pets, you must be vigilant of this tendency. Even the subtlest hint of "alpha" (dominant) behavior should be taken very seriously. It is your responsibility to avoid situations that may provoke this behavior.
It should go without saying that handling an injured pet carries with it considerable risk that you could be bitten or at least growled at. Always muzzle an injured dog before attempting to transport or treat it.
A common human behavior toward new pets, especially ones we feel have come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds, is to try to relate to the animal on its terms. We may find ourselves crawling on the floor or lying with the animal (particularly when they are moderately to excessively shy) to attempt to comfort in the initial adaptation period. When putting yourself at the dog's eye level, especially if you are crawling toward the dog, you are creating a situation that can easily be misinterpreted as a challenge or threat. This can produce instinctual fear akin to that of another pack member approaching for a "stand off". Similarly, being on all fours can give the "alpha" (dominant) dog the impression that you are just another litter mate that needs to be put in its place.
If you want to establish a trusting relationship with a shy or timid dog, it is best to avoid direct eye contact; at least until the dog has determined you are not a threat. Stay on your feet or sit, but don't crawl. When approaching a shy dog, act as though you are walking past and gently touch its head or back; accompany this gesture with some reassuring words. Sit on a piece of furniture and let the dog approach you don't rush the process of getting close to the dog. Let it advance on its own terms. Have treats in a pocket so you can offer a reward each time it comes to you for attention. Do not allow children to chase or persist in approaching a shy dog.
Crate for Safety
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