Retired Racing Greyhounds As Pets, Training Tips And Videos
Meet the “45-mph Couch Potatoes”
Who would think that dogs capable of racing at 45 miles per hour actually make a calm and loving family pet, once they retire from the track?
When I first learned about greyhound rescue and decided to adopt one of my own, it was the beginning of a love affair with the breed. Although he was raised as “livestock” at the track, my ex-racer soon learned to love another, gentler, slower way of life… and I was forever hooked on retired racing greyhounds as companion animals.
Since then, although I’ve also had other breeds of dogs in my life as well, my great joy has been to foster, train and share my home with these beautiful, gentle, endlessly fascinating long-legged hounds.
Greyhounds as Pets
45-mph Couch Potatoes
Greyhounds are the fastest dogs on earth, capable of reaching up to 45 miles per hour in just three strides! They can sustain speeds of 30 mph for as much as a mile, but they run in short bursts – a race lasts little more than half a minute, and a typical “grey play” time is no more than a few minutes, typically. These are not “hyper” or extremely active dogs, contrary to popular myth — in fact, just the opposite is true!
Although they do love to stretch their long legs with a good run, greyhounds often actually need less exercise than most large dog breeds. There are sprinters, not long-distance runners, so a 20-minute walk each day will usually do them fine, with the occasional rip-roaring play session. In fact, many owners will tell you that their retired racers become quite lazy, once their racing days are done! They truly enjoy snoozing on a soft bed or mat for most of the day, and many retired racers live very happily in city apartments and suburbs as well as in country homes.
Obviously, all dogs are individuals within a breed, so you will find a few higher-energy hounds among the couch potatoes, especially when they’re young. I have one of each type, right now – a cute and feisty little female who loves to go on long hikes with me, and a big super-gentle male to cuddle up with on the couch. Perfect!
Greyhound Breed Information
As members of the Sighthound family of dog breeds, greyhounds are characterized by their lean and muscular build, deep chests, and powerful hindquarters.
The neck is long and muscular, carrying a long-nosed elegant head. The rosette ears are normally carried flat against the head but they can stand at attention to indicate interest or alarm. Long tails are carried low and slightly curved. Greyhounds are lean by nature, with very low body fat, and at first may seem undernourished to people who are not accustomed to seeing these athletic dogs in a home setting.
The American Kennel Club breed standard gives the size range for AKC “show” greyhounds as 65 – 70 pounds for dogs (males) and 60 – 65 pounds for bitches (females). Racers are judged on their speed and spirit, not their appearance, however, so there is a greater range of sizes among racers registered with the National Greyhound Association (NGA) racing industry organization than there is with the AKC strains.
It’s not uncommon to see a large male with a lean racing weight of 80 pounds, for example, though I’ve had two who were so big-boned that they easily carried a retirement weight of 95 without being an ounce overweight, while the very small female I have right now is still only 58 lbs though two years since she last raced. Similarly, a greyhound’s height at the shoulder can range from 25 to 30 inches or so. Basically, whatever size of a dog (from medium, to large, to extra-large) you prefer, there’s probably an ex-racer of just that size, ready to be adopted!
All the Colours of Grey
Greyhound ancestors living in the wild did not need to rely on coloring for camouflage, as their great speed let them catch prey and escape from predators. Domesticated, the breed has been bred traditionally for qualities of health, speed, and endurance above all – not necessarily for their appearance, as is the case with many companion dogs.
As a result, the greyhound’s short-haired coat may be almost any color or combination of colors – not just grey!
Eighteen “official colors” are recognized by the American Greyhound Track Operators(AGTO). These are black, black & white, black brindle, blue, blue brindle, brindle, dark brindle, fawn, fawn brindle, light brindle, light red fawn, red, red & white, red brindle, red fawn, white & black, and white & brindle ticked. But that’s just the broad strokes – more than three times that the number of colors is listed by Greyhound-Data, an international database site for pedigree and race records information.
Oddly enough, grey (called “blue”) is most rare — only one in about 500,000 greyhounds are actually grey in color!
Obedience Training for Greyhounds
and other “hard-to-train” dog breeds
I’m a huge fan of clicker training for retired racing greyhounds and other rescue or shelter dogs. It seems to build confidence in the dog as he learns to solve problems, make choices about his behaviour, and “learn to learn” – all the while, creating a strong bond between dog and handler.
To find a clicker trainer in your area, check with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) if you’re in the United States, or with the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers (CAPPDT) if you’re in Canada. In other countries, your best bet is to look for someone who has been through either the Canis Clickertraining Academy or Karen Pryor’s clicker training program.
If there is no clicker training facility in your area, don’t worry, you can still learn to use this gentle, positive, science-based method. There are many excellent books and online training programs that can help you learn to teach your own dog good manners.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of rather poor advice out there, as well – choose carefully, and step quickly away from any training that uses the old-fashioned “leash jerk” or similar “corrections” based on the outdated “dominance” theory. Be aware that the harsh old-time type of training methods can be downright dangerous for both you and your greyhound, and it won’t create the kind of strong bond that you will develop with your pet by using more positive training methods.
When choosing a dog training method to follow, ask yourself, “Is this something I would do to my small child?” If the answer is NO, find yourself a new trainer or training program.
In general, positive, reward-based dog training is the approach advocated by most greyhound rescues and adoption groups, as the kindest and most effective approach to re- training your ex-racer to be a companion animal.
How to Teach a Greyhound to Wear Boots
Lots of people say that their dogs “don’t like” wearing paw protectors — they kick them off, or simply refuse to let their owner put the boots on their feet in the first place, wiggling and pulling the feet away.
Fortunately, with a bit of patience — and some good dog treats! — you can train a greyhound to wear winter boots quite easily, especially if you choose to clicker train your greyhound.
The key is not to rush the process, so you and your pup don’t get all stressed out, and to make the boot-wearing experience a pleasant and rewarding one for your greyhound. When he learns to associate the boots with getting treats or with going outside to play, before long he’ll be cool with sporting footwear.
Are Retired Racing Greyhounds Good With Kids?
Have a look!
As with any breed of dog, some individual retired racing greyhounds are better with children than others – and of course kids and dogs need to be supervised AT ALL TIMES, no matter what breed of dog it is. Retired racing greyhounds will typically have had very little experience with children, in their life at the track, so may be skittish, scared, uncertain, or just overly playful with your little ones at first. In general, “if the child is good with the greyhound, the greyhound will be good with the child.”
Certainly, you’ll want to do some good solid training right from Day One with your new pet, to make sure the child and the dog both understand the “rules of engagement” — for the happiness and safety of everyone. The adoption groups I’ve worked with, and our local SPCA shelter, follow the DogGone Safe bite-prevention program and often do presentations in local schools, based on their excellent “Be a Tree” program, flashcards to teach dog body language, and other resources.
Yes, You Can Teach a Greyhound to Sit!
Want to Adopt a Retired Greyhound?
Adoptions are most often arranged through a local non-profit adoption group that works directly with tracks and racing kennels to match up newly retired greyhounds with their new homes and families.
These adoption agencies also serve as a great social circle and network of experience, advice, and support to new adopters in helping a greyhound make the transition from life at the track.
International List of Greyhound Adoption Groups
The Adoption Agency Directory from The Greyhound Project, Inc. lists a huge number of greyhound adoption groups in every corner of the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe including groups in Belgium, England, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Wales.