21 December 2012

A Greyhound's Christmas Wish

Image: Greyhound wearing reindeer antlers
Stevie's Christmas Wish
© Susan McKeon, All rights reserved

I was playing about on photoshop with a photo of Stevie and it struck me that many a greyhound's wish this Christmas, would be to find a forever home, which is why I came up with my recipe for a 'pawfect' Christmas (if you can't read the 'recipe' in the picture, here it is below):

The recipe for a 'greyt' Christmas
Take a greyhound (or 2, or more)
Add a sprinkling of reindeer dust
Place into a forever home
Allow to settle in
Look forward to a lifetime of love

As anyone who reads my blog will know I'm a greyhound nut. After being dog-less for most of my life, I fell in love with the breed seven years ago and after giving Mina a home, went on to give two more greyhounds - Stevie & Jasper - their forever homes.  I'd love more greyhounds but we'd need to sell the car for a van, buy a bigger house and I suspect, if I did sneak one home, I'd need a new husband!

Greyhounds make 'greyt' pets

Each year in the UK around 8-10,000 greyhounds retire from racing.  There are a number of charities that rehome greyhounds including the Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT), Greyhound Rescue West of England (GRWE), Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust (LGT), Greyhound GAP and all of them do a marvellous job. However, there are many greyhounds in rescue kennels and rehoming charities this Christmas who are still searching for a home to call their own.

This post is an unashamed plug to highlight the 'greyt' companions that greyhounds make, after racing.  There are so many myths about this noble breed that often put people off adopting them, so with Stevie, Jasper & Mina in mind (along with all the greyhounds currently looking for homes), I hope to bust some of those myths & encourage you to think about adopting a greyhound...

Common myths about greyhounds

1.    They must needs lots of exercise
Err, no! Greyhounds are bred for short bursts of speed not stamina. Most are happy with two 20 minute walks a day, which means they're often suited to homes that may not have the time for very long walks each day.  They can walk for longer but their stamina should be built up before embarking on a lengthy walk.

2.    You can never let them off lead
Whilst it's true that greyhounds have been bred and trained to chase, it's not true to say that they can NEVER be let off a lead.
Like any dog, training a reliable recall takes time and every dog is different. Some greyhounds may struggle with recall but many can learn it (check out Mina's video below).

However, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If you haven't trained a recall - DON'T let your greyhound off the lead and expect them to come back when you call them!  Also, if you've not worked on impulse control, you'll find it difficult (if not nigh on impossible) to call a greyhound back to you when they're in chase mode.

3.    They can't live with cats or other small 'furries'
Really?!? Someone better tell that to my 3 hounds!  In all seriousness though, not ALL greyhounds are suited to living with cats or other small furries.  For some the chase instinct is so strong that it would be dangerous to place them in a home with another small furry.

All rescue/rehoming centres can advise you whether a greyhound is cat-friendly, cat-trainable or can't live with cats.Many greyhounds, with careful training, can adjust to life with cats, chickens and even rabbits!

4.    They must be aggressive as they wear muzzles
Again, this is another misplaced myth. Greyhounds are generally one of the least aggressive breeds (Duffy et al, 2008*). Aggression and a successful racing dog don't mix.They wear muzzles in racing to prevent any potential injuries (their skin is quite delicate)

5.    They're picky eaters because they are always so thin
Most greyhounds have a good appetite and they're naturally slim dogs (you should be able to see the outline of the last 3 ribs). Some greyhounds may be picky eaters - but many breeds can be picky.

6.    You can't train a greyhound to do anything other than run
Whilst most greyhounds won't have been taught any voice cues or basic 'obedience' training during their racing careers, that doesn't mean that they are incapable of learning new behaviours post-racing.

Each of my three greyhounds are different in the way they learn and in their capabilities (just like us humans)...

Mina, sitting pretty on her wobble board
Mina is the one who seems to enjoy learning the most. She can sit, lay down, stand, wait (until released) and stay (until I go back to her).  She's had a go at agility (until her canine catastrophe ways meant she had to retire) and used her lovely long nose in scentwork.  She loves trick training and does a mean retrieve and recall.

Stevie & me in the Official
Ahimsa Dog Training Manual

Stevie is very food motivated (which helped with training). He was 'cat-trainable' when he arrived with us and I spent a lot of time working on his impulse control around food and then the cat.  For a dog that used to think nothing of snatching a treat out of your hand, we can now put treats on his paws and ask him to leave them (and he will) before we release him to eat them. Stevie came to us with great recall and like Mina, he's really taken to nose work.

Jasper the greyhound with Tula the cat
Jasper & Tula

Jasper is the 'hardest to reach' of all my three hounds and although I've learned something from each of them, Jasper is the one who has taught me the most. His recall is improving, he's got a good wait and has grasped targeting.  I've also introduced Jasper to nose-work and he loves it too.

Greyhounds competing in agility & obedience

If you'd like to see how successful greyhounds can be in doggy disciplines like agility or competitive obedience, you really need to check out the marvellous Never Say Never Greyhounds blog.  Jennifer and her greyhounds excel at agility and the blog is a 'must-read' for any greyhound fan.

Greyhounds in the home

Most greyhounds adapt very well to life after the track. Their reputation as the 45mph couch potatoes is very true.  Most of the time they are very laid back (and could give Tula, the cat, a run for her money in the sleeping stakes). They're very affectionate and each have their own personality.

I can't imagine my life without a greyhound in it. To quote an oft used phrase:
"Greyhounds aren't my whole life, but they make life whole."

So, if you've ever considered offering a greyhound a home, I'd urge you to visit your local greyhound rehoming centre and go and meet some.  Be warned though, greyhounds are addictive and one is often not enough!

*Duffy,D. Hsu, Y. and Serpell,J.A. (2008) ‘Breed differences in canine aggression.’  Applied Animal Behaviour Science 114 pp.441-460
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