Showing posts with label retired greyhounds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retired greyhounds. Show all posts

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

10 March 2012

Crufts Catch-up with the Retired Greyhound Trust

One of the 'greyt' things about Crufts is the chance you have to meet up with fellow dog lovers and find out more about them and their passions.

One such person is Peter Laurie, the new Chief Executive of the Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT). Peter is a greyhound lover through and through and became CEO of the RGT on 4 July 2011.

He took some time out of his busy diary to chat to me about why greyhounds make such good pets and what the charity's plans are for the coming year.

You can listen to the interview below, or for more interviews check out my audioboo channel:

The RGT is a national charity which, as its name suggests,  helps rehome retired racing greyhounds once their racing days are over. The RGT rehomes hounds through its network of around 70 branches, all of which are staffed by volunteers.  The cost of rehoming hounds doesn't come cheap and although the racing industry makes a contribution to the RGT, the charity still needs to supplement this to help rehome all the dogs in its care.

Some of the ways the charity does this are through events such as the Great Greyhound Gathering (you can read my blog post about last year's Gathering here) or the Greyhound Extravaganza.

This year, the Greyhound Extravaganza is taking place on Sunday 27 May at the Animal Health Trust, nr Newmarket. It promises to be a 'greyt' day out for humans and hounds alike.  Unfortunately, it's a tad too far for me, Mina, Stevie and Jasper however, all is not lost as we have the Great Greyhound Gathering in September to look forward to.

The Great Greyhound Gathering is happening on Saturday 15 September at Nottingham Racecourse.  This is a little nearer for us, so is an event we'll definitely be attending.

The Great Greyhound Gathering, or GGG as its known, is a fabulous day for greyhound fans and is not to be missed. 

15 August 2011

It's a dog's life - A look at greyhound racing kennels (Pt I)

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love my greyhounds and generally anything that is greyhound related too.  However, there is one greyhound area that really polarises opinion – greyhound racing. 

I’ve heard all the horror stories and read some of them too in the national press but as with anything in life, I wanted to make my own mind up and see for myself. 

It’s not often a ‘civvy’ gets to see behind the scenes of greyhound racing however, my university studies presented with me an opportunity to do just that. As part of my degree I have to undertake a good chunk of dog related work experience: 56 hours to be precise.  I’d thought quite carefully about what experience I wanted to gain and kept coming back to what had inspired me to pursue a canine career in the first place– greyhounds.

Jasper snoozing away
It’s fair to say I’ve only really dealt with greyhounds after their racing careers and I have often wondered what has shaped the behaviour of the snoozing hound at my feet.  I want to be able to help retired greyhounds adapt to their new lives after their racing careers and felt the only way to do this is to see first-hand how they’re nurtured, raised and trained.

Whenever I told anyone that I was planning to do my work experience at racing kennels, I was constantly warned of how “tough and distressing” it would be, how “soul-less” racing kennels were, how I wouldn’t last and how upsetting I would find it.  I decided I would make up my own mind and carefully researched greyhound trainers in the area.

During my research I came across a female trainer, who along with running kennels, runs a schooling facility, with a purpose built schooling track. The trainer, Jane Houfton, places great emphasis on the welfare and training of the greyhounds in her care and after an initial meeting in April, my work experience was agreed.

Life in a racing kennel
Following all the warnings people had given me about racing kennels, I half expected the them to be a mix of Alcatraz meets Colditz – cold, grey and faceless with uncaring staff.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
The real Alcatraz NOT a racing kennel

The Kennels were set up exactly like many boarding kennels although, as the case in the UK, greyhounds are kennelled in pairs.  Each kennel consists of an indoor sleeping area, with a raised bed and plenty of bedding, and an outside run.  Contrary to popular myth, the greyhounds were not confined to their sleeping areas for 22 hours out of 24.

What really struck me was the dedication of the staff and the evident love and affection for the greyhounds in their care.  All the hounds received regular, positive human contact and plenty of affection from kennel hands.  I didn’t witness any incidents of rough or callous handling – quite the contrary. 

Cleaning, feeding, caring for and schooling over 100 greyhounds is no mean feat and for someone who’s normally based in an office – like me – it’s hard, physical and demanding work.

Breakfast is served!
The greyhounds’ needs are top priority and the first job of the day is letting them out after their night’s sleep and giving them breakfast.  So, at 7.30am on a weekday (8am on Saturdays – hounds need a lie-in too) breakfast is served!  Breakfast is a blend of dried dog foods (a bit like doggy muesli), which is covered by special milk compound.  Working as a team, the kennel hands start with breakfast service.  Outside each kennel two bowls are put down, the next person goes down and puts in scoop of the muesli, followed by next person who covers this with the milk.
Tonto & Ranger look forward to breakfast

Then we start feeding the hounds.  There are three kennel blocks and each block is provided with their breakfast service in turn.  The kennels are opened up and dogs are fed on a one in one out basis - one eats in the outside run/paddock area to their kennel and the other in the sleeping area.  Once they have all eaten, bowls are cleared and the dogs are let out into their kennel’s paddock area.
Then we start over on the next kennel block, and once that’s completed the third and final block.  At the same time this is happening, the pups are being fed and taken into the exercise paddocks.

The kennels

Once all the hounds have been fed, it’s poop, scoop and clean on a massive scale!  All kennels are cleared of poop and any dirty bedding.  This is back-breaking work (and rather smelly too).

Unlike the well practised kennel hands, I couldn’t seem to master the art of just being to scoop and flick the poop onto the shovel (well, not unless I wanted to flick it over myself) and had to use a scraper to help.  Once all poop had been cleared away, sleeping areas and the outside run were brushed, disinfected and hosed down and beds were topped up with clean, fresh bedding.

Once all 60 kennels have been cleaned the humans get a chance for a coffee break and a bite to eat.

Grooming and health checks
After coffee break, it’s time to groom the hounds, check their health and weight and give them any treatments.  How many pet dog owners can truthfully say they thoroughly check their dogs on a daily basis? At the kennels, every dog is weighed on a daily basis and their weight recorded.  For racing dogs their weight can only vary within 1kg of their last race weight.

Dogs are groomed, teeth are brushed and any worming or flea treatments are also given.  For any dogs that may have an injury, these are also treated. An ultra sound machine is used on any sore muscles (I tried it too and it really helped my back) and for any hounds that may have a cut or laceration there is an amazing laser machine which helps to promote healing.

During this time, many of the dogs are also exercised in the grassed paddock areas.

Once treatments have been completed it’s soon time for lunch – but this time the humans get to eat before the hounds! Once the human lunch break is over, it’s time for the hounds’ lunchtime service.  The food is weighed according to individual dog’s needs and put into a bowl with the dog’s name on it and the feeding routine begins again.  Each dog is fed a specific amount depending on a combination of their weight, age, whether they’re racing or retired and their specific nutritional needs.

After lunch, poop scooping takes place again and the hounds are free to run in their outside run/paddock areas.

Treats and walkies
Over a weekend many racing owners come and visit their dog(s), bringing them treats and taking them out for walks.  Owners are actively encouraged to come and visit their dogs and I met several, very dedicated owners who religiously visit their dogs on Saturdays and Sundays and, when their racing careers are over, take them home with them to live out their retirement on a sofa.

Challenging my perceptions
I realise I’ve only had a snapshot of what life is like for a greyhound in a racing kennel but I have to say, although it challenges my perceptions of the life my pet ex-racing greyhounds have, it is a different life but not necessarily a bad one.

So, is life in a racing kennel bleak?  In my opinion – no.  Yes, it is different to that of many pet dogs (my own hounds included) but contrast it to the millions of pet dogs that are left alone at home for hours at a time whilst their owner goes to work, with no-one or anything for company; or the working dogs that are kept in outside kennels and not allowed in the home; or even the breeds that struggle to adapt to modern family life as it’s not what they’ve been bred for.  Which dog has the better life?

In my next blog post I’m going to look at how the greyhounds are schooled and trained for racing and my final post in this series will look at what happens behind the scenes at a greyhound track. 

I hope that by sharing my experience it will provide a balanced view of such an emotive subject.  Please do feel free to comment and share your views*...I look forward to reading them.

*Please keep responses polite.  Everyone is entitled to their views.  Any abusive posts will not be tolerated and will be removed.

PS You can read my previous posts on my work experience here:

It's a dog's life - A 'school' for greyhounds (Pt II)
It's a dog's life - The other side of the greyhound track (Pt III)
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