Head, Heart, Kidneys

by Dennis McKeon

There is an old expression in greyhound racing, and it’s not too far from the truth. It was what we call a cliché. You’d mention in casual greyhound conversation, that you had a greyhound who wasn’t quite right, but for some reason you just couldn’t put your finger on precisely what it was that was troubling him. And then some old timer would chime in with his ancient wisdom:

”It’s either his head, his heart or his kidneys.”


By way of explanation, “head” would refer to racing quirks, preferences or habits a greyhound might develop, which do not necessarily enhance his ability to race successfully, or as successfully as he might, otherwise. An example of this would be a dog who decides he doesn’t care for inside (or outside) pressure from greyhounds within close proximity to him. So he decelerates, or fails to accelerate, to the point where the traffic clears, and there are no dogs to his left (or right), losing precious ground in the process. Another would be a greyhound who refuses to pass to the inside of another, even when there is a clear lane and plenty of room, and instead always takes the overland route, again losing ground and letting his rivals get first run on him, as the dogs get ready to battle it out through the homestretch. Extreme examples of “head cases” are greyhounds who dramatically slow down or “check” when entering the turns, or greyhounds who refuse to break, or who “quit” in the middle of a race, for no apparent reason.

The “heart” part of the equation would refer to a greyhound’s desire, or will to win. Some greyhounds refuse put forth their best effort unless they break well and are able to outrun their rivals to the turn, entirely clear of them. If they have to deal with any adversity or traffic, or if they are not in the lane they most prefer, they will fall back, and simply follow the leaders within the pack, never making a genuine effort to lead it. Others might shrink away and give ground to a rival the moment they are challenged, finding themselves eyeball to eyeball with a competitor, becoming intimidated, or not wishing to expend their energies in a head to head dual, or to fight hard against the effects of fatigue when they are beginning to feel its pangs.

Sometimes, these affairs of both the “head” and the “heart” are at least somewhat predisposed by genetics. Other times, it might be the result of improper or insufficient training when the dog was being schooled prior to his racing career. Still, others can be anomalous in nature, and cannot be attributed to any specific incident or to a habitual pattern, developed in spite of training and corrective actions. They can simply be part of the dog’s make-up. I can recall one greyhound who was a grade A marathoner at Wonderland (in Revere, MA), when it was a top tier track in the 1980s. He would always race on the extreme outside part of the track, right next to the grass apron, giving away gobs of ground to his rivals. He never deviated from this path. We tried everything short of performing a High Holy Novena to correct or at least modify that unusual track behavior. No dice.

Now, the “kidney” aspect of the “It’s either his head, his heart or his kidneys” homily, is perhaps a bit more inscrutable.

Kidneys and the muscular network that enables urination or withholding urine, have nothing to do with intangibles, which are always a matter of the head and heart. Kidneys are organs within a greyhound’s body. They are critically important, however, to a greyhound’s physical fitness and overall well-being, and therefore to his performance potential.

A greyhound’s kidneys are located on either side of the spine, just about beneath/alongside the oblique-type muscles, which comprise the widest part of the dog’s back, as you look down upon him.

The kidneys help to regulate the PH of body fluids, as well as removing waste products and cleaning extra fluids from the bloodstream, which are then excreted as urine. A racing greyhound’s kidneys are kept quite busy dealing with exercise-induced stresses, and their effects upon all of the above processes, as well as coping with the typical racing greyhound’s high protein diet, and preventing that protein from leaking into the urine and damaging the kidneys.

One of the ways a trainer can help to keep a greyhound’s kidney and urinary system functioning at an optimal level, is to do frequent turnouts so that the greyhounds may relieve themselves, and not be forced to withhold urine, which creates discomfort and therefore stress, especially for greyhounds who will not wet their bedding under any but the most extreme circumstances.

Switching the males to the females’ tunout pen, and vice versa, will also encourge marking, and therefore more passage of urine.

Since greyhounds who are actively racing or in training require a greater intake of fluids to replace what is lost due to those exertions, greyhounds should each have their own water bucket in their crate, so that they are able to take a drink any time they like. This way, they won’t “tank up” at the outdoor water buckets, or quibble with others over who gets first dibs, when several of them are desperate to quench their thirst at once.

It is crucially important to greyhound health, kidney/urinary function, and to achieving maximum athletic performance, that they be properly hydrated, and that they be given a chance to urinate frequently, and keep their system adequately flushed and flushing, and the muscles that actuate or withhold urination from becoming over-stressed.

Legendary greyhound trainer, Aaron Kulchinsky, used to advise that small groups of greyhounds should be in a near constant state of going out and coming in during the days’ activities, in addition to the normally scheduled full turnouts. When other trainers would protest that useful advice, and complain that the greyhounds instead “needed their rest”, Kulchinsky would then ask: “What do you suppose they do all night long? Are they having poker games in there after midnight?”

We can often tell when a greyhound’s kidneys and/or urinary system are likely being over-stressed, or when he/she is not getting proper fluid intake, by noting their urinary habits and output. They should have a strong urine stream, and urination should be uncomplicated and efficient. Males can show a weak, erratic stream, and sometimes take an unusually long time to develop any urine flow at all. Females who “spot high”, that is, who don’t get low to the ground when urinating, can also be suffering from inadequate fluid intake and/or reduced or compromised kidney/urinary system function.

Greyhounds who never wet beds, but who suddenly develop the habit, can also be suspect, and might even have developed a urinary tract infection.

So, when a greyhound is not getting enough fluids, and not being turned out as frequently as is ideal to urinate and to flush his/her system, we can imagine how that might affect his kidney and urinary system function, and therefore his ability to eliminate metabolic wastes efficiently, or to simply be comfortable. It doesn’t take a degree in urology to surmise that how well a greyhound’s kidneys and urinary system function, and how frequently he is afforded the opportunity to eliminate, can have a significant effect upon his/her performance, and how compromised kidney/urinary system function can have an inhibitive effect upon it.

Now there are greyhounds whose genetics predispose them to sluggish kidneys/urinary systems, but they tend to be few and far between in the case of young racers in the prime of their lives, who are approaching the height of their powers as athletes. Many kidney/urinary issues can be trainer-induced.

The fundamental and prophylactic solution is to increase the frequency of turnouts, reducing the duration of them, as the great Aaron Kulchinsky always advised. Switching pens–letting the males into the females’ pen, and vice versa, halfway through the turnout, will also tend to induce more complete emptying of the bladder. Keeping clean and fresh water in the crates with your racers is elementary, and I believe should be mandated by all racing commissions. Doing a late night turnout after racing concludes is a must, if you wish to encourage optimal kidney/urinary system function, and simply make sure that your dogs are comfortable, getting a good nights’ rest…and not staying up playing poker.

The extra time and attention you devote toward management of this hugely important responsibility of the professional greyhound trainer, will be more than well compensated for by the increases in your purse checks, and the reduction in wet bedding. The old timers weren’t talkin’ through their gimme caps when they imparted to us their sometimes nebulous, but nevertheless, valuable wisdom.

Copyright, 2014