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Dog Parks: Are They a Good Idea?
By Judy Kody Paulsen
(Excerpt from Winter/Spring 2006 issue of GCNM News)

What a great way to have fun with your dog - let him run loose in a fenced park with other dogs and socialize. But there is a down side to these dog parks. As these parks proliferate, so too, do the reports of dogfights and various injuries.

Aggressive dogs are not always the cause of fights. Occasionally, play can escalate into a fight when one starts getting overzealous in nipping, pawing, or rolling on top of other dogs. Greyhounds - especially retired racers - have been the cause of many an incident.

Our website gets frequent “hits” on the subject of greyhound behavior. A recent email we received emphasizes the importance of being responsible with your greyhounds when out in open parks where other dogs and people are playing. Retired racing greyhounds have a particularly keen prey drive as a result of intense training to compete in races, in addition to an instinctual desire to hunt. The damage they can inflict upon other dogs is often underestimated - and the injuries a greyhound can sustain because of thin hair and skin can be devastating, not to mention life-threatening.

Our animal companions rely on us to keep them out of harm’s way and we need to use common sense if we are to keep ourselves out of legal trouble. The following is an email we recently received regarding the subject of greyhounds and dog parks:

Dear GCNM,
I was directed to your web site by a Google search for “greyhound aggression.” I need to tell you about an incident that nearly ended in tragedy, and ask you to spread the warning.
I live in Nashville, TN. The other day, I took my 4 month-old Sealyham terrier puppy, “Champ,” to our local dog park and was relieved to find only 3 other dogs there that day - a Golden Labrador puppy about the same age as mine, and 2 rescued retired racing greyhounds.
My puppy walked up to one of the greyhounds, they touched noses, tails wagging, then the greyhound ran off. Champ and I went over to the other puppy and his “people.” The two pups started to play, with my dog dominating. The Golden’s owner laughingly said, “Now my dog won’t nip me when we go home, he’s getting a lesson in submission!” Just as I prepared to step in and end the play before it got too rough, both greyhounds arrived from the other end of the 4 acre fenced park and jumped on top of the two puppies. Somebody growled, then the greyhounds grabbed Champ by the throat and hindquarters and started trying to rip him apart.
I screamed and kicked at the greyhounds and got the puppy away from them. The greyhounds then jumped on me, knocked me down, and got my puppy again. The greyhounds’ owner and I somehow managed to get the puppy again, and I held Champ over my head. The dogs continued to lunge at me until their owner could finally grab their collars. Both the greyhound owner and I received several superficial bites and my sleeves were torn.
Incredibly, my puppy survived with only minor injuries: an abrasion just below his rectum and a bruised trachea. He spent the night at the vet’s office for observation. The greyhounds’ owner feels terrible - he was stunned by his dogs’ behavior and has offered to pay Champ’s vet bills.
Clearly, the sight and/or sounds of the puppies’ rough play triggered the greyhounds’ prey drive. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE warn people not to let these beautiful, otherwise gentle creatures run loose around other dogs! I would appreciate it so much if you would pass this on to other greyhound rescue organization.
Sincerely,
Patty Harbison


And the following was my reply:

Dear Patty,
I am so sorry to hear of the incident that almost resulted in the death or mutilation of your dog. This is definitely a problem with retired racing greyhounds, which is exactly why our site is so comprehensive when it comes to information about greyhound behavior. If you read all the articles on our site that address aggression in greyhounds (and several of them do), you’ll see that I repeatedly forewarn our readers/adopters about these tendencies in retired racers. There is also a warning in there about letting them loose around small, squealing children. Be sure to read the article entitled "Why Muzzle a Greyhound."
The problem is not the dogs, it’s the owners who don’t take heed of the warnings. I still have people say to me, "But my greyhound has never shown a tendency for aggression!" My response is, "Muzzle him/her anyway!" No ifs, ands, or buts about it, these dogs should never be allowed to interact with other dogs that are running loose anywhere - it is an invitation to disaster. Anyone who has a retired racer should be aware of this and this lesson should come from the program from where they adopt the dog. Unfortunately, many adoption programs don’t educate their adopters, and even if they did, you’ll still have the ones who swear they had no idea their retired racer was capable of hurting anything.
These dogs should only go into homes with responsible people who understand they have adopted a dog like no other on this earth. Racers are trained to respond to anything that heightens an already keen prey drive. Many lawsuits have sprung from the popularity of retired racers as pets and the passive attitudes of those who handle them. It is a sad but true fact: These dogs are wonderful pets when proper precautions are taken to avoid incidents like the one you describe - but they are also powerful, efficient hunters that can basically kill or maim anything but a cheetah. Even greyhounds, who’ve never shown a particular interest in chasing anything after their racing careers end, can have episodes of what is similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in humans, where certain stimuli can trigger an unexpected response. I discuss this in my articles, too. I provide the information on our site, but cannot make people read it or heed it.
Many greyhound adoption groups nationwide are using my articles for educating their adopters, but there are still groups out there who are concerned only with the number of greyhounds they place and they will glorify the retired racer as an ideal pet rather than properly inform the adopters of potential hazards. In these cases, the liability falls squarely on the shoulders of the adoption group. We also publish a quarterly newsletter that goes out nationwide. Because our website is rated #1 on Google (and Yahoo) when you type in "greyhound behavior" or multiple other keywords, our information is available to anyone who cares to learn more about these unique dogs. I have yet to find a way to make people read the entire site or for them to retain the information or take it seriously.
Judy Kody Paulsen, Founder
Greyhound Companions of New Mexico
www.gcnm.org


Patty and I have since exchanged several emails. Champ is doing well, but will be doing playtime in his own yard from now on!

This is only one of many emails I receive annually regarding tragic situations involving retired racing greyhounds. These dogs are wonderful companions, but must be viewed as a liability if you insist upon letting them run un-muzzled with other dogs or children.

 


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