Do You Respect Your Greyhound ?
By John Parker
A Greyhound is a gentleman’s dog and is a gentleman himself. When we care for him, he should receive all the care and attention that his rank, dignity and unique qualities deserve, otherwise we demean him and demean ourselves.
Charles Blanning, Keeper of the Greyhound Stud Book
It is a given that we all love our Greyhounds. Equally important is the question, do you respect your Greyhound ? You respect your elders, you respect tradition, but what does it mean to respect your Greyhound ?
In a nutshell, it means understanding the history and legacy of the Greyhound breed, appreciating the unique qualities of the breed, and meeting Greyhounds on their terms, without unrealistic expectations that they be something they cannot be.
One of the last of the true working breeds, today’s racing Greyhound is the product of centuries of breeding and husbandry practices, the fundamentals of which have not changed significantly over that span of years. Just like their coursing ancestors in England, Ireland and 19th century America, racing Greyhounds are carefully bred for easy, biddable temperaments and fierce, almost irresistible chase instincts. This is the dual nature that has given them special value to sportsmen through the years, and has been a key to the unprecedented success of the Greyhound adoption movement.
That value has created a structure of husbandry practices by which coursing and racing Greyhounds are raised and trained with their littermates and learn both pack hierarchies and competitive drive within the pack. Their future jobs mandate that they be cared for in groups, not as household pets but as working dogs with regimen and routine. These practices have produced a dog of quiet dignity and then single-minded purpose whenever, to quote Shakespeare, “the game’s afoot.”
For these reasons, it is disrespectful – not to mention unrealistic – to expect Greyhounds to be little four-legged, fur-covered children. While words like “furbaby” or “furkid” themselves may be harmless enough, the viewpoint which these words evince
approaches Greyhounds as humans with emotions and reasoning powers they don’t have. It is a recipe for confused dogs and disappointed owners.
Sometimes these viewpoints are reinforced by adoption groups which “oversell” the sweet nature of the Greyhound personality, while downplaying their pursue-and-take instinct. Anyone who has volunteered in Greyhound adoption long enough has likely heard of an adopter who has let his Greyhound run in a play group or dog park with a small dog, with unhappy consequences for the small dog. It’s a losing proposition for all concerned – the small dog is injured or even dead, its owners are devastated and will likely never have anything good to say about Greyhounds, and the adopter is in shock that his sweet former racer is capable of such swift and decisive action. All of this can be avoided if adopters are educated to resist the siren call of the furbaby urge.
While seemingly harmless, dressing Greyhounds up in funny costumes or pajamas is also disrespectful to their inherent dignity. Have you ever seen a Greyhound that really looked happy to be dressed up ? Put a costume or a hat on a Greyhound, and you will very likely see a dog with a very “put upon,” perhaps even unhappy expression on its face. Nature has given Greyhounds the most beautiful of appearances, celebrated in art and literature – can we really improve upon that by dressing them up as if they were dolls ?
Another way in which you can show respect for your Greyhound is by keeping him at proper weight and fitness. There is little that is sadder than a once proud racer, bursting with fitness and in racing trim, that has been allowed to become thickened with excess weight. It is not only disrespectful to the legacy of the Greyhound, but also poor stewardship of the dog that will likely shorten his lifespan.
The celebrity dog trainer Cesar Milan and the training methods he uses are controversial in some quarters, but there is no denying the value of the message on his television show that dogs are not people and do not think or reason like people. This is a fundamental principle that is often forgotten by a public which has been exposed for generations to Disney and other movies in which dogs talk and have human-like personalities. Meeting Greyhounds on their terms and relating to them as dogs requires a re-programming of this cultural mindset. This is respect for your Greyhounds at its most basic level.
Proper respect can also be shown to your Greyhound in the twilight of his life. How many Greyhound owners have we seen insisting on extensive treatment of a terminally ill Greyhound whose quality of life has significantly diminished, thereby extending the dog’s life for the benefit of the owner, not for the dog ? Respect for the Greyhound – and the ultimate kindness – require that such decisions always be made entirely for the benefit of the Greyhound and the quality of his life.
Greyhounds are an ancient, noble breed which have served mankind well as working and sporting dogs as well as companions. Respecting them alongside loving them gives them the richest, fullest life possible. How can we do less ?