Greyhounds are built for speed. The 2006 edition of the Guinness Book of Records records the highest speed at which any greyhound has been timed at (in 1994) as 41.83 miles per hour.
Greyhounds are one of the fastest animals on land1 and have a very deep chest for enlarged heart and lung capacity, a flexible spine, very powerful hind quarters, long legs and a long tail. They have narrow heads, and the whole body is streamlined to cut down on wind resistance. They are short-coated, smooth, shiny and silky to feel, and they can grow to around 25-29 inches tall at the shoulder.
Originally bred as hunters, they are part of the 'sighthound' group, and hunt by sight, not scent. They can't see as well over long distances as humans, but they can spot movements that humans will miss, as (along with their impressive speed) they have specifically been bred over thousands of years for this ability.
Sighthounds have a very strong prey instinct; they will want to chase anything that moves fast or erratically. As the second fastest animal in the world, they can catch anything they put their mind to that doesn't use other means to escape, and they can (and do) injure and kill small animals.
As a sighthound, a greyhound will pay more attention to the things she sees than other dogs - they will see small movements, or relate certain movements, to the things you do next. This means that they may seem to read your mind as they suddenly leap out of their basket just before you get up to feed them. They aren't reading your mind, they've seen you put your book down, or turn off the television and have associated that action with the 'reward' of feeding. For this reason, when training your greyhound (or any other sighthound), be careful not to inadvertently teach them the wrong thing with your body language.
Due to their working lives, they have a lifespan of around 10 to 15 years.
Greyhounds are very lazy dogs that don't waste energy. They rarely bark and are good with children, are gentle and affectionate, and very intelligent. They will not waste energy they may need later, so owners may find they live with a couch potato who moves with the speed of a snail for most of the time, and a highly energetic dog once out in the open.
A Brief History
Greyhounds originally come from the deserts of the Middle East, and are one of the oldest breeds around. Originally bred to hunt, they can catch and pull their prey down without stopping.
Paintings and murals dating back 4000 years include dogs very similar to the greyhound today, and the greyhound is mentioned in some versions of the Bible.
Greyhounds were rated first among dogs by the Egyptians, and early Arabian nations placed the birth of a greyhound above the birth of a daughter (although below the birth of a son). They were often killed and mummified when their owners died. Tutankhamun, Amenhotep II, Thutmose III, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra VII were just a few of the Egyptian rulers who are documented to have had greyhound-type dogs.
Greyhounds had arrived in Europe and England by around the 6th Century, and became a symbol for wealth. In the 11th Century, gentlemen only were allowed to own and hunt with greyhounds on certain land and forests, and the punishment for killing a greyhound was the same as for murder. The forest laws of 1014, 'No mean person can keep any greyhounds' - which meant that any commoner keeping one risked having their dog maimed so it could not hunt - stayed in place until Queen Elizabeth I abolished them and initiated the formal rules of coursing - the sport of Queens.
Coursing involves releasing a hare or rabbit in the centre of a field, and one or two greyhounds from the edge, and watching nature take its course. Greyhounds are very agile, despite the concentration they seem to need to arrange their long legs when lying or sitting. Coursing allowed a dog's speed and agility to be judged. Hare coursing is currently prohibited under the Hunting Act 2004.
Greyhounds were introduced to the USA much later (in the 1800s) when they were brought in to help control the jackrabbit population.
Greyhound racing is a very recent invention. In 1912 the mechanical lure was invented in the USA, which allowed greyhound racing to really take off as they could now run on an oval track - the first track was built in Oklahoma in 1918. Racing came to the UK in 1926.
Not even 100 years later, the future of greyhound racing is unsure. Over the past century the 'industry' of greyhound racing has led to hundreds of thousands of dogs being put down - 9000 dogs are left unwanted every year in the UK alone. Retired, injured, or simply not fast enough, dogs faithfully giving their best to their owners and trainers were considered not worth keeping if they could not make money.
Those with racing careers are generally well looked after, fit and happy dogs. Kennel conditions are good as owners look after their investments. However, the dogs cannot race past five years old, and so the early years care they get may not be the sort necessary for a dog with a potential lifespan of three times that. For instance the feed they are given is suitable for their current lifestyle, but in the long term causes bad teeth as it is soft.
As more people have become aware of the fate of these beautiful dogs, many retired greyhounds are now rehomed.
The Retired Racing Greyhound
Taking on an ex-racing greyhound needs careful thought. Thousands of years of hunting instincts, added to the intense training a young racing greyhound gets means that their prey instinct is very strong - these animals are predators. Around 20% of dogs may never be safe with small animals and cannot be rehomed in a family with other pets. However, around 10% have a low prey instinct and don't really care. The remaining 70% can be trained to live with cats, rabbits, or anything else they have to share a home with, but they will still want to chase squirrels, rabbits and cats outside the home. If your dog has a strong prey instinct you might never be able to take her off the lead.
Most ex-racers are between two and five years old, and their true potential may not show for some time. Due to their early training, they will walk well on a lead, and will be sociable with other dogs as they will have always lived other dogs.
Registered dogs have ear tattoos and would have been registered with the National Greyhound Racing Club at whelping or consequently if the dog has been imported. It can be possible to trace the history of the dog through its tattoo, depending on which charity your greyhound came from.
Some Things to Remember
Your new dog may have only ever seen her own food - therefore all food must belong to her. Do not leave food unattended, or anywhere an inquisitive dog can nose it out. She will learn quickly, as long as you are consistent, but as the greyhound is large enough to rest her head on most dining room tables, be prepared to guard your dinner for a few weeks.
They may drink water infrequently, but in large quantities. This is because once they are removed from their kennels for a race, they are not allowed to drink. Having deep chests mean that greyhounds can suffer from bloat (twisting of the stomach), which can be caused by eating or drinking one hour either side of exercise, so they are kept away from water. Your dog may want to catch up late in the day.
She may pant a lot when you first take her home - flatulence may also be a problem. This is a sign of nerves, so don't worry too much. As she settles in, and begins to get used to her new life both panting and flatulence should die down.
Your dog is bred to chase; she is bred for speed; she is bred to kill. If she catches a small animal, she could injure or possibly kill it. Most rescue centres supply muzzles with their greyhounds. This isn't because your dog is nasty, so don't leave it off when you can see how sweet she is. Leave it on her if you intend to let her off the lead, just in case. As her neck is thicker than her head, be careful fitting her for a collar - the rescue centre will advise you. It should be fitted just below her ears so that she cannot back out of it.
She isn't bred for stamina, but she will cope with long walks. Stairs may be an issue - it's likely that she hasn't been up or down them before, so teach her carefully if you need her to climb them. Having lived in kennels, she will be used to being quiet for long periods, so will be happy and peaceful around the house.
She may have no obedience training, including no house training. Dogs are naturally clean animals, so she will learn quickly. Racers are taken out regularly for walks and exercise, so she may be used to waiting to go outside. It may take a while to learn what motivates your dog - treats are something she might have never had, nor toys, nor frequent praise and affection. Take it slowly, win her trust, and she will become a faithful companion.
She will be used to travelling as greyhounds are driven from track to track, and will be used to other dogs - having lived with them all her life. She will also stand quietly while being groomed, having her claws clipped or her ears or feet inspected.
Day to Day Living
When feeding, raise water and food bowls off the floor. She will be more comfortable than trying to bend her neck down to the floor, her legs are too long! Don't feed her an hour either side of exercise.
Her bedding can be as elaborate as you can afford and have room for, or it can be as simple as a single duvet folded in half. Greyhounds have thin skin and thin fur, so need something soft to lie on.
20 minutes twice a day is sufficient exercise, if somewhat boring. The greyhound is a sprinter so short bursts of exercise is the norm. She will keep up with you if you decide that you want to take her for longer walks.
Some greyhounds may never be suitable to exercise off lead but try walking her for a couple of hours first to take the edge off her energy, take a couple of extra adults and in a field with no rabbits, squirrels or ducks she may be able to have a run. Due to the inbuilt nature of the sighthound, recall can be an issue even with dogs that are normally okay off-lead. If she spots something interesting, there may be nothing you can do to tempt her attention back to you.
Some greyhounds like cuddly toys. If you don't have young children around, do try her with one. She may pick up dusters, blankets, washing off the radiator or hand towels and take them back to her bed. She is unlikely to chew them, she just likes them close to her. If you have young children, avoid cuddly toys.
She has hardly any fat on her bones, so is likely to need a coat when out of doors in the winter. It's possible she will not be warm enough in an unheated house if it is very cold. Check her ears, if they are cold, so is your greyhound. If you can persuade her, she may be happy to wear a jumper overnight, although be careful - twisting and turning in her bed could 'ruck up' the jumper, or tangle it around her legs.
Hold the lead by putting your hand through the loop and grasping it. This is what leads are designed for, but many dogs won't need this much control. Greyhounds do - if they spot something and want to run, the lead may be pulled from your hand if not looped.
Young children shouldn't really walk greyhounds, as they are too strong, but it may be that you want an older child to hang on to the dog for a moment. If children are holding the dog, teach them to hold the lead loosely and to release it if the dog runs after wildlife. Better lose your dog than have your child pulled over.
Watch for wear and tear on leads and collars - they must be secure or you may lose your greyhound. If you have your dog microchipped, it is likely to travel as greyhounds don't have much fat.