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Greyhounds are one of the most gentle, docile and sociable breeds of dog. This is a brief guide to help you and your new dog live a happy life together.
In sharing your home with a Greyhound you are following in the footsteps of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, medieval kings and queens and more and more modern dog lovers. Unlike most breeds Greyhounds have hardly changed over the centuries because they have been bred for their speed rather than looks, a fact reflected in their name. The word ‘grey’ has nothing to do with the animals' colour but is rather an old Saxon word for a running dog.
The Greyhound’s breeding and history means there are some rules owners should follow to help them become the perfect pet. They're not difficult, however, and you'll be amply rewarded by the love and joy your Greyhound brings you.
Born to run
The common perception of Greyhounds is one of dogs charging round a racetrack at high speed. In fact they are extremely laidback, require little exercise and are particularly good with children and elderly people. They are fantastic company, too.
Sadly they are also a neglected breed and many of those bred to race never get the chance to enjoy life once their racing career is over.
Greyhounds are trained to chase and catch prey, which is unacceptable behaviour in a pet dog. The simple instructions contained in this fact sheet, particularly the section on exercise, will show you how to make sure this doesn’t happen.
No matter how wonderful your Greyhound is, never take unnecessary risks. It should be under control at all times. Remember it is now an ambassador for other Greyhounds still needing homes, so be sure to show everyone what they're missing!
An ex-racing Greyhound will have probably only known the strict regime of kennel life so your home will seem strange to begin with. It has probably never encountered stairs, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, TV or a pond. If you have patio doors make sure your Greyhound realises there is a barrier there, otherwise it may try to run through them at 40 miles an hour!
Taking a Greyhound into your home is like having a puppy. He may appear stressed to begin with and pant or salivate, but with patience and gentle encouragement will settle in no time. He'll never have been around people when they are eating, so when you sit down to a meal he'll be convinced the food is for him. A few firm "No"s and he'll learn quickly though.
He will also assume the food in the rubbish bin is his dinner. For the first few days, until he realises he doesn’t have to eat everything he can get his paws on, you'll need to keep your bin out of his reach.
Initially it's best not to leave him unattended in the garden as he's capable of jumping over high fences, although most never show any inclination to escape.
The best way to teach your Greyhound is through encouragement: rewarding good behaviour and ignoring bad behaviour. Greyhounds are very sensitive and do not respond well to being shouted at or disciplined. If they are afraid they will not learn anything. You will also need to teach your Greyhound how to play, as most rescue hounds have never seen a toy before.
Your Greyhound will probably be what is known as ‘kennel clean’. This means he tries not to soil his bed area, which has represented his home so far. When he first comes into your house he will not understand the whole house is now his ‘bed area’, so his first instinct will be to scent mark his new surroundings.
To avoid this walk your Greyhound straight through the house and into the garden as soon as you arrive home. When he goes to the toilet give him lots of praise. Wait a while until you are sure he has finished. When you go indoors watch for any signs he needs the toilet again (circling, sniffing and scratching, especially after sleeping and eating). When you see any of these signs take him outside and praise him as soon as he goes to the toilet.
For the first few days you will have to be extra vigilant and go for lots of short walks, always praising him for ‘going’ outside. If any accidents do occur indoors, clean the area with biological washing powder. Do not punish your Greyhound as it will only confuse him. After a few days he will recognise your home is now the equivalent of his kennel and should avoid going to the toilet in the house as long as you are giving him sufficient opportunities to go outside.
It's advisable to leave your Greyhound alone indoors only for short periods of time at first and if possible restrict him to one room. The more he wanders around the more likely he will be to go to the toilet.
Whenever you let your Greyhound into the garden it's worth making a noise to frighten off any squirrels or cats that might already be there. Most dogs will chase a squirrel or cat out of their garden, but a Greyhound is more likely to catch them and could kill them.
Greyhounds and other animals
Racing Greyhounds lead an incredibly sheltered life and never get to meet other types of dogs, just lots of other Greyhounds. As a result they are usually very friendly towards their own kind but can be unsure of other breeds to start with. Small fluffy dogs may initially be mistaken for prey, while larger dogs are likely to be quite threatening and may make your Greyhound uneasy.
Socialise your dog with lots of other breeds so he builds up good associations with meeting them. Introductions, which should take place in a neutral area, should be calm and controlled with your Greyhound on a lead and muzzled.
A dog training class is an excellent environment to socialise your Greyhound with other dogs. He probably won’t everlearn to ‘sit’ as this is actually very uncomfortable for him, but will benefit from just being there.
Believe it or not some Greyhounds can live quite happily with cats. Others definitely can't. If your Greyhound shows signs of being able to live with cats you will still have some work ahead of you to ensure long-term harmony in your home.
Introduce your cat to the Greyhound from day one. If you shut the cat away for a few days while the dog settles in, when they meet your Greyhound will feel the cat is intruding on his territory. The Greyhound must understand right from the start that the cat was there first.
When you introduce your dog to the cat for the first time, keep the dog on a lead and muzzled and don’t let the cat approach it. Allow the animals to spend time together in the same room - the cat’s first instinct will be to leave! - but don't leave them unattended. You won’t be able to leave them alone together until much later when you have total trust in your dog.
You should look for one of two responses from your Greyhound when he meets the cat. He should either be indifferent and ignore it or be wary of her, looking away when she looks at him. If the Greyhound looks directly at the cat and wags his tail this is not a sign of friendship. It means the dog is excited by the cat, not a good response. When the Greyhound looks away from the cat or ignores her, praise him. If he stares at the cat, barks and wags his tail while looking at her, or lunges towards her, say “No”. And don't forget a running cat is a lot more exciting than a stationary one.
The cat and Greyhound should eventually become more comfortable in each other’s company and you will be able to feed them together and even encourage them to sleep in the same room. Your hard work and patience will pay off, and once they accept each other the cat will be the boss for good.
Even if your Greyhound is good with cats inside don’t be complacent outdoors. A neighbour’s cat in your garden could trigger the Greyhound’s chase instincts, as could cats encountered out on walks.
Greyhounds love to sleep. They can sleep for up to 20 hours a day in racing kennels where there is little else for them to do. If nothing exciting is happening your Greyhound will probably be asleep! This is part of their appeal and means they fit in well with a working lifestyle.
Greyhounds sleep deeply and it is important they are not suddenly startled awake. This is probably the only time when a Greyhound will snap or growl, until he realises where he is. So make sure your dog sleeps in a safe place on a soft bed well away from everyone, and children are told to leave him alone when he’s in his bed. The best way to wake your Greyhound is to call his name rather than touch him.
Greyhounds are very flexible when it comes to exercise. On a rainy day, or a day when you are very busy, two 20-minute walks will be enough. If you want to go for a five-mile hike at the weekend, though, your Greyhound will happily keep you company. Greyhounds are almost always good on the lead and love riding in cars. Avoid letting your dog exert himself directly before or after a big meal as this can be dangerous for his digestive system.
When taking a Greyhound out it's essential to have the necessary equipment. Greyhounds are very good at slipping their collars. Use a wide collar designed for the breed and make sure that when you are outdoors it is tight enough. When the collar is up behind the ears you should be able to slip two fingers underneath it, no more. Indoors you can loosen the collar or replace it with a softer one. If you do this it's essential to have ID tags on both collars.
A Greyhound’s best friend is his muzzle. This may sound strange as we are not used to seeing friendly dogs wearing muzzles. But for the Greyhound a muzzle is every bit as exciting as his collar and lead. It means he going out for a walk. Your Greyhound’s muzzle is also all that stands between him and centuries of breeding to chase and grab. For the sake of other people’s pets, wildlife and ultimately your dog’s future, you must use the muzzle even when he’s on the lead.
Most Greyhounds are safest being kept on the lead. No matter how much your Greyhound loves you, once he is in hot pursuit of a squirrel or rabbit you will cease to exist, as will other obstacles like cars and barbed wire fences. After a good deal of training some Greyhounds will achieve a level of recall. But it's not worth taking the chance. Better to find safely fenced areas for a quick off-lead sprint. Your Greyhound will still be having a wonderful life compared to what he is used to, especially if he’s an ex-racer. And by taking simple precautions you'll ensure he has a long as well as a happy life.
Health and physical care
Generally speaking Greyhounds are fit and healthy and are not prone to the genetic problems that affect many breeds. They have very little body fat and feel the cold, which is why many people use dog coats on colder days. Some may have bald patches on their thighs, which is quite common particularly in black or dark coloured dogs, and is usually nothing to worry about. If the skin becomes sore you should consult your vet. When you take your Greyhound to the vet for his annual vaccinations, you may find his nails need clipping, too.
One of the best things about Greyhounds is their soft, short coat which makes them a perfect companion for people who suffer from asthma. They are clean dogs and require minimal grooming. You will find that by the time you get back from a walk any mud seems to have disappeared. However they really enjoy having their coat brushed.
Greyhounds can be wimps and if they get hurt they'll let you know. Any little knock can result in a scream. Don’t be overly alarmed, though, you only need to take notice is if they can actually remember which leg it was five minutes later.
Any dry complete food is fine for Greyhounds but it's best to avoid those with more than 20% protein. You may find you need to soak the food in warm water and add a little gravy or tinned meat to make the food more appetizing. If only fed sloppy food they tend to develop bad teeth and smelly breath, so try and ensure your dog eats chewy, crunchy things that will help remove and prevent build-up of tartar. It is also a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth if possible.
It is hard to overfeed a Greyhound as they are naturally thin and usually maintain a good body weight. A dog is the ideal weight if his pin bones - the little ones on top of the hips - are covered with muscle. If these stick up above the muscle then the dog is underweight. You should be able to see the outline of the last two ribs; the rest should be covered by muscle.
As long as your dog isn’t greedy it may be a good idea to leave some dry food down all the time. This reduces the chance of him trying to steal food from elsewhere (worktops, bins etc). Greyhounds benefit from having their food lifted up off the floor. You can buy feeding stands to hold the food and water bowls at the right height or use an upturned bucket. This will also help to prevent digestive problems.
Here at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home we feed all our dogs on a mixed diet of wet and dry food kindly donated to us by Pedigree.
Don't forget that when feeding a dog either canned or dry foods ample water must be available at all times.
Dog training classes
If you plan to attend a dog training class make sure the class has been approved by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). Before registering it's important to watch a class in progress to make sure you agree with its methods. A list of recommended dog training classes in your area can be obtained from the APDT by calling 01428 707234, or online at www.apdt.com.
References and recommended reading
Pet Owner’s Guide to the Greyhound by Anne Finch, Ringpress Books
For further advice, contact:
The Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT)
149a Central Road
Surrey KT4 8DT
Tel: 020 8335 3016
The website contains lots of useful advice on the breed as well as the latest Greyhound products. It can also help you research your Greyhound’s racing tattoos.