By Dennis McKeon
LEARNING “HOW TO DOG”We often hear new adopters of retired greyhounds remark that their adopted greyhound needs (or needed) to learn to be a dog, or “how to dog”. This is an interesting observation on many levels, considering that among all dog breeds, performance-bred greyhounds are perhaps the largest, domestic, canine population most immersed, influenced and informed by a canine societal construct and its uniquely canine culture. That being, the inner workings and dynamics of the pack and then the larger canine colony, to which all performance-bred greyhounds once belonged.
Within this society and culture, greyhounds are taught and learn to become exceptionally adept at co-existing, communicating and bonding with other greyhounds, to a degree that is far beyond what the average family or personal pet may have learned in their normal, relatively short time spent with their dams and littermates after birth.
The greyhound colony, which can comprise as many as 60 or more greyhounds, is a veritable “university” of canine socialization, communication, signaling, and the reading of canine body language—of proper and peaceful deportment during social interactions, and of bonding opportunities for each of its members. This is higher education that most canines are not afforded, and that few ever have a chance to experience.
Greyhounds have often been accused of being “breed snobs”— said to be uninterested in social interaction with any other canines who are not, themselves, greyhounds—able to communicate at a very refined level, and not used to encountering what must seem to them, like canine “baby talk” in other dogs.
This is understandable, when we look at the totality of the performance greyhound experience as a functioning member of a large, performance-dog colony—as a purely purpose-bred athlete, not bred to be a pet. One who is descended from a long line of greyhounds who were afforded similar experiences, and who thrived within such an arrangement. Which is the case in a meticulously selective paradigm, where only the most well-tempered and functionally adept individuals, on the cutting edge of performance adaptation, are chosen to input the genepool.
There is nature and there is nurture. The greyhound colony provides both to each and every individual, in a purely canine context. It is understandable that people who have never lived and worked with colonies of greyhounds, may have no sense of the ebb and flow of the colony, or of separating what is actual canine need and fulfillment, from what is human desire.
Greyhounds, as much or more than any other breed or population, know precisely and intimately how to “be a dog”.
Many of us, it seems, have yet to learn just what it means to “be a greyhound”.