By Dennis McKeon
Only in greyhound discussion, can you hear such a diversity of opinion in the face of people who have worked for decades within racing and breeding greyhounds for racing.
Only in greyhound discussion, can we speak of a situation where there are probably in excess at any given time, of 100,000-plus retired greyhounds, happily living out their lives as beloved and cherished family pets and companions, yet still encounter people who feel that the Greyhound’s formative and defining experiences were abuse, neglect and mistreatment.
Greyhounds are all asked to make a universe-spanning leap of adjustment when they move from their racing environment to a home environment. Everything they had become used to, everything and everyone they knew and counted upon is gone—including their kennelmates, and often their siblings, with whom they have lived since birth.
They are then literally thrown into what is, for them, an alien universe—full of scary, noisy, intimidating, and strange sounds, objects, places and people. Try to imagine if somehow a Dolphin could grow legs, and get around on the land. How do you think he might react to the experience? Well that’s about the way it is for a newly re-homed greyhound.
Yet, in spite of these daunting and harrowing challenges, most greyhounds make a splendid adjustment, and do it with a minimum of fuss and bother. And that’s a direct result of their breeding, raising, handling and training—and because they have learned to trust and love the humans they have encountered along the way, during their time spent as racing greyhounds, and before that, as racing greyhounds in development. That’s how dogs manifest.
Those who know little or nothing of a greyhound’s life as a racer, often confuse “socialization” with “habituation”. Greyhounds, because they encounter so many people during their careers as racers, are usually quite well socialized. From the time they are whelped until their early race training begins, and then afterwards as racers, they encounter dozens and dozens of people, including their breeders, their families, their handlers and often their families, their veterinarians, various racetrack personnel, and sometimes even their fans among the racing public.
They are also quite well habituated to their structured and carefully monitored training and racing programs and routines, and all of the attendant care that goes into forging a racing career.
What they lack is “habituation” to life as an ordinary pet. This is where things, for some greyhounds and their new owners, can become problematic. They have to learn the routine and fundamentals of life in a home, just as they had to learn about life as a racer. In that sense, YOU must become the trainer. Like any good trainer, you need to observe and react, and to place the greyhound in situations where he is likely to succeed. Like any good training protocol, progress is achieved by increments.
We can’t take a racer who has been spelled for a month of rest and relaxation, and suddenly ask him to negotiate the distance of a marathon with only a light sprint as a prep. We have to prepare him properly, over an extended periods of time, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of his work, until such time as he has the necessary foundation.
The same is true of the newly adopted pet. He’s not going to know or even necessarily understand what the routine and rules are in his new universe. You have to slowly, and with punctuality, empathy and understanding, re-habituate him. They are intelligent and perceptive dogs, and they are attuned to human body language and the energy you give off.
And yes, there are skittish, shy, fearful and abnormally high strung greyhounds. And in some cases, they are this way because of sloppy, thoughtless, unprofessional, inattentive and even rough handling and caretaking, and/or poor socialization.
But more often than not, as we know, much of a greyhound’s traits, temperament and disposition are highly heritable. So are the greyhound’s greatly heightened power of perception, and his uber-awareness of what is going on within the 270-degree field of his laser-sharp vision.
Greyhounds, because they are essentially sight chasers/hunters, are keen and super-reactive to what they see. When something moves in a way they interpret to be threatening or a reason to chase, they are hard-wired to respond emphatically. That’s why we tell folks to muzzle them at the dog park, and also why some of them are so intimidated by novel experiences, objects, and even strange people, and their natural “fight or flight” instincts take over.
So we can let our opinions be formed by those whose need is to cultivate intolerance, cultural division, narrow-mindedness, ignorance and in some cases, even hatred. Or, we can make a concerted attempt to educate ourselves about the breed we care so much for, and to see him in a new, realistic and holistic light.
There is a lot more to the Greyhound and his racing experience than you are ever likely to read on an agenda driven website. More than you will ever hear from agenda driven people, who feel that because they perceive themselves as “rescuers” of greyhounds, most of whom were never in need of rescue at all, they are also entitled to lash out at others in the most ugly ways imaginable–whenever the mood suits them, and without having done their due diligence.
The choice is ours.