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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Sam Clark, Animal Photography
Nicknamed the 40-mph-couch potato, Greyhounds are quiet, gentle, affectionate dogs who can fit into almost any home. They love a cushy sofa and they are satisfied with a 20-minute walk.
A description written in 1486 is a poetic notion of just how a Greyhound should look:
“A Greyhound should be headed like a snake and necked like a drake, backed like a beam, sided like a bream, footed like a cat and tailed like a rat.”
Under the racy exterior of the Greyhound is something that would surprise almost anyone: beneath those long, sleek, utterly iconic lines is the soul of what rescue groups call the “40 mph couch potato.” The path these fast dogs prefer is the one that leads to the softest spot on the most comfortable piece of furniture. Despite their large size, Greyhounds are quiet, gentle, affectionate dogs who can fit into almost any lifestyle, from a condo in the city to the largest suburban or country home.
The Greyhound is an easy care dog. His smooth coat comes in a near-infinite range of colors and patterns. He does shed, but his grooming needs are minimal. All that he needs is a quick weekly brushing, a bath when he gets into something, regular nail trimming, and ear cleaning.
Although a small number of Greyhounds are bred for the show ring, the majority of pets in America are former racing dogs. In fact, there are currently more ex-racers in homes than there are dogs still racing (approximately 120,000 Greyhounds live in homes, compared to 55,000 Greyhounds on the track).
Most families interested in a Greyhound will adopt a retired racetrack dog. There are very few non-racing Greyhounds bred in the United States and a very large supply of ex-racers in need of homes.
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Greyhounds are thought to be among the most ancient of breeds and DNA seems to support that assertion. What’s known is that dogs like Greyhounds have existed for millennia, were written about by the Roman poet Ovid, and can be seen depicted in an illustrated tapestry from the 9th century CE. Greyhounds are mentioned by name in Britain’s Canute Laws, which date to 1016 and states that “no meane person may keepe any greihounds, but freemen may keepe greihounds.” The catch was that the freemen were required to live 10 miles or more from the forest, or the Greyhounds were required by law to be maimed so that they couldn’t hunt the king’s game.
Greyhound-like dogs have been known in many countries over the centuries and have changed little with the passage of time. The 16th-century Spanish explorers brought Greyhounds with them to the New World. Baron Friedrich von Steuben (who you may remember as the Prussian military officer who helped George Washington whip the Continental Army into shape) was always accompanied by a large Greyhound named Azor.
Greyhounds were among the earliest breeds to be exhibited in dog shows in both Britain and the United States. At the first Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877, 18 Greyhounds were entered. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1885. Today the Greyhound ranks 139th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Greyhounds are incredibly loving dogs, as well as graceful and quiet ones. Their favorite activity is no activity at all. They love to drape themselves over the nearest soft surface – such as the living room sofa – and give adoring looks from their dark eyes. At that point, your natural reaction will be to sit down next to your dog, rub his tummy, and whisper sweet encouragement into his ear. That's exactly what he had in mind.
Greyhounds are, by nature, good housemates. They're quiet, clean, and, while not great at formal or competitive obedience, very tractable dogs with natural good manners. Puppies need the same training all young dogs need, but adult dogs usually only need to understand what's expected of them, and be given the time and gentle guidance to get used to it.
The single trait that surprises people most about Greyhounds is their low level of activity. Adult Greyhounds -- including dogs with racing backgrounds -- are very happy with leash walks, and might even have to be prodded into getting enough exercise in older age. They enjoy the outdoors and some of them become their new owners' best jogging buddies, but don't let concerns about not being able to give an ex-racer enough exercise dissuade you from adopting.
Young Greyhounds and puppies need a lot of exercise, but they need it in safe places. The urge to chase is strong, and that impulse will likely to override any amount of training a young dog has had. It’s safest never to let a Greyhound off-leash in unfenced areas. This is true of dogs from both show and race lines.
If some toy dogs are said to be "big dogs in little dog bodies," the Greyhound is, in some ways, the opposite. He's a tall but slender dog and weighs anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds if he's from racing lines; show-bred dogs are often much larger. But his gentle manners and somewhat lazy nature make him a quiet presence in the house. In some ways, living with a Greyhound is like living with a giant cat. He is, nonetheless, a big dog, both strong and fast, so make sure you're able to hold and restrain him if he sees something that triggers his instinct to chase.
Track Greyhounds are sometimes unpredictable with dogs that look very different, which is understandable, since they've often never seen a different type of dog. If you have dogs of other breeds or cats, discuss your situation carefully with the Greyhound adoption group and make sure to choose a suitable dog.
Track-bred Greyhounds have many experiences that serve them well as companions after their racing careers are over. They are used to being crated, transported, and spending time around strangers. They're rarely nervous or unstable. And the best Greyhound adoption groups help their dogs overcome any initial fearfulness about new experiences before making them available to a new home.
Some Greyhounds from a track background have never been alone. They're usually fine if there are other dogs at home, but they can suffer from separation anxiety while their owners are away. Discuss this carefully with the adoption group, and make sure the hound you adopt will fit your lifestyle... or just adopt two!
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder or the adoption representative, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. They see the puppies and dogs daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Greyhound, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
The good news is that Greyhounds are generally healthy. That said, there are a number of conditions that can affect them. Here’s what you need to know.
Some Greyhounds may have an abnormal response to certain anesthetic drugs, or to the stress of hospitalization. If you are concerned about an upcoming procedure involving anesthesia, discuss it with your veterinarian.
Greyhounds are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Gastric torsion strikes suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums, lip licking, inability to purge, and signs of pain. Gastric torsion requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it’s wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Greyhounds suffer from a high rate of bone cancer (osteosarcoma), usually in one of their legs. It's not known exactly why this is, but there may be some genetic component. While bone cancer is almost always fatal, Greyhounds often do very well for some time after the affected leg has been amputated, so don't let human prejudices close your mind to the possibility.
Greyhounds have big hearts and often have minor murmurs. They can also have elevated blood pressure. Some general practitioners are unfamiliar with what is normal for a Greyhound and will suspect heart disease when none is present. If a heart problem is suspected, consider seeing a board-certified veterinary cardiologist for a cardiac ultrasound.
Hip dysplasia is virtually unheard of in Greyhounds, so if your dog is limping, stiff, or reluctant to get up and move around, look for another cause. There are a number of neck and spinal problems that can cause those symptoms, and a good place to get a diagnosis for any persistent muscoloskeletal problem in a Greyhound is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.
Many Greyhounds are treated for diseases they don't have, such as hypothyroidism, due to a lack of familiarity with the breed's normal values on common lab tests. This happens less frequently than in the past because Greyhounds are growing in popularity, but it's still important that Greyhound owners are aware of the issue.
Normal, healthy Greyhounds can have low platelets, low thyroid readings, and lower or higher than normal values on a number of common blood chemistry levels. Make sure your veterinarian is familiar with these anomalies of the Greyhound, and if she isn't, ask her to speak to the pathologist at the veterinary lab the practice uses, or ask her to read "Why is my dog's labwork different from yours?" from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine's Greyhound Health and Wellness Project.
Racing Greyhounds have some health risks not shared with dogs from show breeders, and these risks are not genetic. They often come off the track with very bad dental problems, so if the adoption organization hasn't had the dog's teeth cleaned by a veterinarian (the kind of cleaning done without anesthesia is cosmetic only and will not address the types of dental health problems commonly found in Greyhounds), have this done immediately.
Greyhounds sometimes have bloody, crumbling toenails caused by symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO), a rare disease suspected to be autoimmune in nature. If your Greyhound has problems with this, before treating with antibiotics, foot soaks, and other therapies that are meant to address fungal or bacterial diseases, ask your veterinarian if it's possible that he has SLO. This is a rare diagnosis in most breeds of dog, but pretty common in Greyhounds with toenail problems.
It's also wise to run a complete tick disease panel on an adopted racing Greyhound, as many of these dogs come off the track with current or past infections transmitted by these parasites. They're often adopted into homes in areas that have few or no tick diseases, and vets in those communities may not be familiar with their symptoms and treatment.
Most tick diseases can be treated easily with antibiotics if caught early, so if the dogs were not screened before adoption for infection with organisms such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum (formerly E. equi), Ehrlichia canis, or Borrelia burgdorferi, the pathogen that causes Lyme disease, have the testing done by your veterinarian right away. Your Greyhound should also be tested for exposure to heartworm, although the adoption group will almost certainly have done it already.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
To help protect the breed’s health, the Greyhound Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Greyhounds can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit heart evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and a blood sample for the OFA/CHIC DNA repository.
Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good, or even passing, scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease. But, all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and how they generally die.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Greyhound at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Greyhounds have a short, smooth coat that is simple to groom. Brush it weekly with a hound mitt or rubber curry brush to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils that keep the coat shiny. Greyhounds shed, but regular brushing will help keep the hair off your floor, furniture, and clothing. Bathe as needed. If you do a good job of brushing your Greyhound, he probably won’t need a bath very often.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Be aware that Greyhounds are especially sensitive about having their feet handled and nails trimmed. Do your best not to cut into the quick, the vein that feeds the nail. It’s painful and your Greyhound will remember next time and put up a fight. It’s also important to brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath. Greyhounds -- track dogs in particular -- are known for developing periodontal disease, so brushing and annual veterinary cleanings can help keep dental disease at bay.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
If you decide you’d like to have a Greyhound puppy rather than an adult dog, you will be purchasing one from a show breeder. Show Greyhounds are not numerous, so you may have a wait of six months or more before a puppy is available from the breeder of your choice.
Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids.”
Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Greyhound and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Greyhound Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the GCA’s ethical standards, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to sell puppies only with a written contract.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Greyhound puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show), and, ideally, field titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Greyhound might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Greyhound in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Greyhounds available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Greyhound. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Greyhounds love all Greyhounds. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Greyhound Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Greyhound rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Greyhound home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Greyhound, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Greyhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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