I am not known locally as ‘The Greyhound Man’ for nothing.
(Actually, I prefer short leads, but we must allow Lawrie Crisp some artistic licence.)
Greyhounds are wonderful dogs and make marvellous pets. Those that have come to the end of their racing life - often at the age of just 3, or even less - are often treated in an abominable manner, so consider giving one a home. Once they have settled down - like any dog in a new home that may take a little while - they are easy, undemanding pets. Most of my wonderful dogs have come from the Celia Cross Greyhound Trust, based at West Clandon, near Guildford.
(Photographs © Crena Watson, photographer, 2011)
There are a lot of misconceptions about this breed. They do not need a lot of exercise, for example. Just a couple of 20-minute walks a day are enough, although they will be happy to go out more often if you want to take them. Remember that they are sprinters, not long-distance runners, so short walks are usually enough. And they are not hyperactive. Indoors, they tend to be lazy, and lie around until something interesting starts to happen. But they do like to be with you, so be prepared for them to follow you around, especially at first, before they have really gained their security.
Strangers – even other greyhound owners – often say: ‘Ooh, you let your dogs off!’ To which the answer is: ‘Of course, they don’t want to run away, they want to stay with me.’ And they do. In fact, one of my current dogs, Jack, is constantly looking round, as if to say: ‘Are you coming? Can I go on ahead?’ As with any dog, you have to become the ‘pack leader’, and they will take their cue from you. If you encourage them to run away or hunt, then of course they will, but if you keep them close to you, talk to them (very important), and generally treat them as you might a child or another adult, then they will bond with you and stay within range.
Cats, other small animals, and other dogs
At first, of course, you need to be careful if they are likely to encounter cats, very small dogs, or anything else that is small and furry. Apart from it being inate with all sight-hounds, ex-track dogs have, after all, been trained to chase anything that moves. And whereas any type of dog will chase a cat, greyhounds are fast enough to catch one. When ex-track dogs come to you, they may never have met any other breed of dog, so they need to develop their ‘social skills’ as well. Let them talk to any dogs, but just be slightly careful if the other one is very tiny. Generally, greyhounds soon realise that dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and are not to be chased - except perhaps in play. Even then, it makes sense to go carefully, because greyhounds are quite strong, and could easily hurt a tiny dog, such as a Yorkshire Terrier, quite by accident. Often small dogs develop a great affection for much larger greyhounds. One small old Yorkie, called Fergus, was utterly smitten by my beautiful bitch Candy, and would rush as fast as his shaky legs would carry him to talk to her.
But if there are a lot of small dogs or cats around, you can easily start by using a muzzle. They are used to these, because they always wear one when racing, and it will save any problems. The light, wire muzzles are better than the heavy, plastic type, and generally easily accepted by the dog. But a muzzle may make a dog nervous when meeting other dogs - because it feels at a disadvantage - so discard it as soon as you can. On one occasion I had to rush to the aid of my fairly new dog, who was muzzled, when he was attacked by two spaniels, and could not defend himself. (I lost my camera in doing so.) Given time, most greyhounds accept that other animals are not to be chased. The rescue society from which we have had most of our dogs has numerous photographs of rescue dogs peacefully talking to cats - and even to rabbits. At present, I have two greyhounds, Dora and Jack, and no less than eight local cats come to talk to us. Strangely, tortoiseshell cats (always female, of course) are the most eager to see to us. (We currently talk to four tortoiseshell cats. There was yet another, but unfortunately the owners moved away.) One even appears in the pouring rain to rub around the dogs’ legs. But all the cats, without exception, vanish if another dog appears. Here are photos of two of the cats with dogs (other cats to follow later):
Fly & Breezy Dora & Smudge Jazz & Breezy Jack & Smudge
Jamie and an uncertain new friend (name unknown),
who is now a fully grown cat that comes running to talk to us.
Greyhounds love to talk to other greyhounds (in particular), as well as to other sight-hounds and lurchers. Handling several is usually just as easy as handling one or two. I walked a neighbour’s greyhound, Fly, for about seven years, with no problems. Five greyhounds and one deerhound? – Easy.
The Gang of Five: Fly, Archie, Jamie, Jazz & Dilly
Adjusting to life as a pet
Because rescue greyhounds have spent most of their life in kennels, they are normally unused to life in a home, and are also uncertain how to behave in the great outdoors. (Most of my dogs, for example, have been overwhelmed by the wide open spaces of the beach and the sea.) So patience is required. In the home, you may find that initially, at night, they are happiest being confined to a single room (such as a utility room) that bears some resemblance to their customary kennels. All my own dogs, however, have ended up having the run of the house. In kennels they are normally housed in pairs – they do like to be with their own kind – and they like to sleep on a low bed rather than on the floor. (In kennels they often have ‘bunk beds’ like steps, with the one closest to the wall higher than the other.)
Jazz (& Fly) on the first day she saw the sea. Jazz on the second day she saw the sea.
Most settle down in a few months, and fully develop their own character in about a year. Steps and stairs often pose a problem, both indoors and out. (On one occasion, I had to carry a new dog up steps from the beach, because she had never encountered them before. But with a bit of gentle coaxing, she soon discovered how to cope.) Some dogs are completely overawed by wide open spaces, whereas others will, if let off the lead, be ‘over the hills and far away’. So, initially, keep them on the lead – indeed, if they are particularly nervous, a harness gives them extra security – and be cautious about letting them off. As usual with most dogs, offering them a treat will help to ensure that they stay with you (or come back when called). There is a slight problem in that most greyhounds are reluctant to eat outdoors – some will refuse treats from anyone – so you may have to experiment to find something that is sufficiently appetizing for them to take it from you. Usually, offering them a treat when you let them off the lead is sufficient to keep them close to you.
Greyhounds are not greedy – none of mine have ever begged or even registered an interest when humans are having a meal – but when they first come into a home, there is a tendency to pinch food if it is available. (After all, it is never freely available in kennels.) Being tall, they can also reach things. So, yes, they have been known to pinch frozen chops, lumps of cheese, and even apple and lemon tarts. But very soon, that tendency disappears when they find that they are fed regularly, and properly. (Incidentally, they are used to two meals a day in most working and rescue kennels.) With my own dogs I have found that after the initial period, I can leave my own food – to answer the phone, perhaps – within relatively easy reach without their being tempted to even sniff it.
Some odd (but not troublesome) characteristics
Greyhounds may be strong, but that does not mean that they are a problem to walk or handle. They may be eager to go for a walk, but once they have settled down, they do not habitually pull you along, unlike some breeds. Indeed many seem to have a natural tendency to walk to heel, even when off the lead. Wearing spectacles as I do, I cannot see things very clearly to the sides or behind me, even if I turn my head. Often I have wondered where a dog was (or dogs were) not seeing them with a quick look to each side, only to find that they are walking close at my heels. When walking with friends and their greyhounds on the beach, we have occasionally been asked ‘How do you get them to do that?’ ‘What?’ ‘All (five) walking behind you like that.’ ‘They just do it naturally.’
When lying down – especially when flat out on their side – none of my greyhounds has ever jumped up if anyone has gone to step over them. This actually makes them idea pets for older people, who might otherwise trip and fall if a dog moved suddenly. This seems to be common to all greyhounds, but quite why they have this unusual characteristic is anyone’s guess – are they just so lazy?
Similarly, they are used to being handled, so are generally no problem at all if you or your vet needs to examine them or do anything. They do tend to shout loudly if anything is wrong, though, but that does not mean that they are making a fuss over nothing. They are perhaps more sensitive than some other breeds. But most of my dogs (and I’ve now had eight) are happy to visit the vets and some have even regarded it as a treat.
As already mentioned, greyhounds do not need a lot of exercise, that is long walks. However, it is important that they should be allowed to run freely (preferably every day) because, like all sight-hounds, a short burst of exercise helps to prevent the build-up of toxins in the body. If on one day they have had a long walk of (say) an hour or so, or rushed around at high speed, they will often be reluctant to tear around on the following day. In general, they do not chase balls or sticks or, at the most, may run after something for two or three times and then lose interest. Jack was a slight exception in that he liked a particular soft ball if it was bounced on the sand, and he could jump up after it. Even so, three or four bounces were enough. Here he is:
Regrettably, the bricklayer working on my garden wall brought his Jack Russell, who promptly seized the ball, and tore it to shreds. Since then I have not been able to find an acceptable replacement.
In general, greyhounds are happiest and get their best exercise racing around with other greyhounds, lurchers, or similar sight-hounds.
Five on the beach: Fly, Jazz, Dilly, Harry & Jamie
(only four paws are touching the sand)
A very sound (and inexpensive) book on greyhounds is Anne Finch's Pet Owner's Guide to the Greyhound, Ringpress Books Ltd, 1997 (ISBN 1 86054 077 5).
Greyhounds have slim feet – they do not particularly like walking over shingle – and it is not easy to find suitable boots if they need protection. I strongly recommend the boots made by Paw Ideas, Unit 1, The Willows Enterprise Park, Hobbs Cross Road, Theydon Garnon, Epping CM16 7NY. Their boots, made from neoprene (like wetsuits) are ideal and obviously perfectly comfortable. One of my dogs, Jamie, had a verruca on one pad, which took months of treatment, finally becoming a corn, which I eventually cured. He would quite happily wear one of Paw Ideas boots day and night to keep the dressing in place. The boots, incidentally, come in two versions for front and rear paws. Greyhounds need size 5A and 5B.
Text and images copyright © Storm
(Images of Jack & Dora © Crena Watson, 2011)
Latest revision: 2013 May.22, 08:03 UT