A Primer on Greyhound Training
Whenever people are first introduced to the greyhounds in a racing kennel, they invariably ask the trainer, “How can you tell them apart? They all look the same”.
Of course, they don’t all look exactly the same, and they all have their individual traits, personality quirks and habits that distinguish them from one another. One of the prerequisites of the training profession is to understand that greyhounds, and all dogs, are creatures of habit and routine. They have very accurate biological time clocks. While they live mostly in the moment, they have a remarkable capacity to know precisely when it is time to go out and play, or time to eat, or time to rest.
Good trainers are as punctual and consistent with their own basic routines and regimens as their greyhounds are. Most greyhounds prefer routine to novelty, they want to feel secure and unthreatened. Any time a trainer notices a lapse or a change in any greyhounds habitual behavior, it might be a red flag that something is amiss with that dog, or within his or her pack group.
The attentive and perceptive trainer knows every nuance of each greyhounds personality, just as he knows them by face, by touch, or by conformation. Likewise, he observes and recalls how each one of them moves, not only within their kennel environment, but the details and nuance of their walking gait, and when they are training or racing, the individual way they stride out, and all the details and nuance of their stride bio-mechanics. Anytime there is even the slightest variation in the greyhounds gait, whether galloping, trotting or walking, the trainer needs to get to the bottom of it. Little, nagging injuries, unnoticed or untreated, can turn into career ending or career-altering injuries in a split second.
Greyhounds, kept in tip-top shape, are remarkably consistent athletes. Well cared for and free of injury, they are able to perform at their highest levels, race after race, for extended periods of time.
They all have a preferred line or position on the track where they will be able to perform up to their maximum capabilities. Ideally, a greyhound will break well from any starting box position (1 through 8), race forwardly, clear of the pack, then “rail” tightly around the turns, and then accelerate dramatically into the straights.
A “railer” is a dog who runs very close to the inside rail. A railer saves ground on the turns, and does not have to worry about other dogs to his or her left. Not all dogs are railers. Some dogs prefer to race several feet from the rail, more directly behind the lure. Others prefer to race well outside of the rail, and they are called wide runners.
Some greyhounds will only perform up to their potential if they can secure an easy, uncontested lead, and will sulk and fall behind any time they are seriously challenged or headed in a race, or will back up when having to vie for position on the turn in traffic. Others prefer to settle into stride, and to find their preferred line on the track, before uncoiling their best effort. Others like to be challenged and to race head to head with an opponent, and they pace themselves when on the lead, until another dog races up alongside them, and the real racing begins. Some greyhounds don’t like to feel pressure from dogs on their inside, and will give ground when they feel it—likewise, some don’t like to have other dogs pressuring them from the outside.
Most greyhounds will run as fast as they can for as far as they can, and will try hard to lead the pack at some point in the race. Some greyhounds are gifted with an attribute we call “heart”. This is the term used to describe greyhounds who have the unfailing courage to chase with all out effort, no matter what sort of adversity they encounter, no matter how good their opposition is. When a greyhound demonstrates that sort of dauntless determination, we say that he or she has a lot of heart. There is no higher compliment one can pay a racing greyhound.
Greyhounds seldom, unless forced by racing circumstance, alter their established, individual racing patters. Any time they do so, uninfluenced by racing traffic, or because they are simply over-matched, is cause for trainer concerns. They are as much creatures of habit on the racetrack as they are in the kennel.
Some of these ingrained racing styles or habits are learned behaviors, others seem to be hereditary. Whatever the case, they are all predisposed by the individual greyhounds disposition as it confers or inhibits desire to lead the pack, and their conformation, inasmuch as it limits or enhances locomothion and athleticism.
At a gallop, the greyhounds stride is quite complex. their full galloping gait is called “double suspension”. This is because all four legs of the greyhound leave the track surface during both the flexed and extended phases of stride. When a greyhound reaches out with his front limbs, propelled by the rearward extension of his back limbs, he becomes airborne. Then, as he lands and his body flexes, he again becomes airborne for a split second. Now a horse, at a gallop, only achieves suspension in the flexed phase of stride. He does not become airborne in the extended phase.
There are three basic types of greyhound stride.
The first is where the greyhounds leg speed exceeds his length of stride. This simply means that the greyhound is able to repeat the full phases of stride very quickly, relative to the actual distance he can cover with each stride. Greyhounds of this stride type are usually quick beginners in a race, and are capable of dynamic bursts of speed for short distances.
The second stride type is where the greyhounds length of stride and his need to find a stride rhythm to achieve his maximum capacity, is greater than his relative leg speed. These stride types are usually greyhounds who excel in longer distance races, sometimes of up to nearly a half mile. Extreme examples of this stride type are seldom able to recover quickly from being jammed, bumped or balked, because of their need to achieve a stride rhythm or cadence—having as they do, significantly greater relative length of stride than leg speed. However, they can usually maintain that stride cadence for prolonged periods of high galloping speed when they are not impeded.
The third type of stride is where leg speed and length of stride are relatively equal. Greyhounds who have the greatest amounts of each in relative proportion, are often among the best of their era.
Dogs who have great leg speed in proportion to their stride scope, tend to use more energy earlier in a race. They require more repetitions of the full phase of stride to cover the same amount of ground as a greyhound with more relative stride length, who takes a few seconds to settle into rhythm. The more energy a greyhound uses earlier in a race will result in the exponentially earlier onset of fatigue later in the race. That is why some greyhounds always seem to be “short”, and vulnerable to being taken off the lead by dogs who have more stamina. Both speed and stamina are not only enhanced or limited by a greyhounds individual cardio-pulmonary capacities and/or by their level of conditioning, but also by their stride type, and how and when it compels their expenditure of energy during a race.