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Greyhound Behavior Part 1
Some Basics on Why and How Retired Racers are Different.
By Judy Kody Paulsen

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.

Greyhound with owner

Dominance and Fear
Learn to recognize subtle signs of dominance or aggression, such as a greyhound positioning itself in a stiff stance (usually with tail held erect over back) above another pet that is lying down or playing with a toy or eating. This signifies a greyhound that wants to establish itself as "the boss" and wants respect from the rest of the "pack." Gently pull the greyhound away with a firm "NO" to let it know you are the "leader of the pack" and will not tolerate this behavior from one of your "charges".

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.

Fetching Balls or Frisbees
Never play group fetch with dogs that have shown a competitive streak unless you can separate the competitive one from the rest of the dogs. You may have to have two games of fetch going so that all can participate, but it should be only with the aggressive dog isolated in another area where the game is between just you and the dog, rather that the whole pack.

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.

Fear Fighting
Fear fighting among animals often follows an injury to one of the pack. This type of response is one of pain and confusion, and results in the injured animal striking out at the nearest thing that may have caused the pain. If there are other animals present at the time of injury, the injured animal may attack and a very vicious fight may ensue — occasionally to the death. This is often the case when animal owners describe fights between animals that have been "best buddies" then suddenly become vicious toward one another. Very often, the owner was not present at the time of the altercation to know the details of how it happened, and they are speculating that one of the animals "just went berserk" and "tried to kill another". Rarely will an animal turn on one of its own pack unless provoked or in pain.

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.

The leaders of the pack

You — The Pack Leader
Animals will almost invariably revert back to instinctual behavior without the presence of a pack leader, and that pack leader should be you. Set guidelines for what is allowed and what is not when dealing with your greyhounds. Remember that the environment they have come from, in most circumstances, is one of a totally different nature compared to what they will experience in their adoptive home. They have been expected to do very few things at the track and kennel besides run and rest, and they were required to obey. Once in an adoptive home, multiple stimuli (stairs, sliding glass doors, TVs, ringing phones, ceiling fans, children running, cats hissing, etc.) and new rules for socializing, can produce a very challenging adaptation period for the greyhound. These dogs rely on us as their human pack leader to keep things in order and to enforce rules that are meant to protect all those in the pack — human, canine, feline, and otherwise.

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
Don't hesitate to crate a dog for brief periods. This can keep it out of trouble or safe from endangering itself or other family pets when you cannot be present to supervise. Do not confine greyhounds to small rooms (i.e. bathrooms, laundry rooms, etc.) as this can frighten them and also can result in destructiveness. A dog in a crate is less likely to harm itself or its surroundings. Don't leave a dog unattended in a crate for long hours.

It's All Up to You!
Be aware of your role in promoting peaceful relations among the pack. Close supervision and recognizing subtle signs of aggression are paramount in providing safety for your family and your pets, especially when a new pet is introduced into the family. Be observant of all behaviors that may signal the onset of a problem. Protect your pets and yourself by practicing common sense.


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