About Greyhounds

This section covers background information about Greyhounds that may be of interest. 

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- Greyhounds
- What's a Greyhound?
- What's a Lurcher?
- Why chose a Greyhound?
- Where do our dogs come from?
- Greyhound welfare
- The adoption procedure
- Identifying your greyhound
- Ear tattoos
- Illegal drug abuse
- Show Greyhounds

Greyhounds

One of the oldest breeds of dog, the greyhound has sadly fallen from its aristocratic connections to be the victim of callous exploitation, discarded on a whim. Companion of kings to unwanted outcast, his speed and working ability have been his downfall. There are many excellent owners and trainers who keep their retired dogs, but there are probably more greyhounds than any other single pure breed in dog pounds and rescue kennels throughout the country. This is because they are bred in their thousands for the chance of a few winners. Ultimately, many of them are losers - those who won't race, those who injure themselves in the process and those who race well, but eventually become too old to win.

Within the UK, Greyhound Rescue is organised as an informal association of local groups of varying sizes. These groups operate in different ways depending on the perceived need in their particular area. Despite the overwhelming need of help for ear marked ex-racing greyhounds, most local groups tend not to differentiate, recognising that 'a greyhound is a greyhound' whether tattooed or not. The surfeit of greyhounds is one of the factors accounting for the vast number of unwanted lurchers (greyhound crosses). Whenever possible, local Greyhound Rescue groups will take on some of these pathetically neglected dogs as well.

The following information may help you in reaching a decision which is so important, not only for you, but for the dog, out there somewhere, who may have a chance of life and happiness through you reaching that decision.

What's a Greyhound?

The word greyhound is derived from the Saxon 'greu' - running dog. Mentioned in the book of Proverbs, prized possession of kings forthousands of years, the greyhound is both an efficient hunter and a gentle, affectionate companion.

The modern image of the breed has changed dramatically since greyhound track racing began in the UK in 1926. Each year, 10,000 - 12,000 greyhounds are bred in Britain, and approximately 8,000 dogs are imported from Eire to race on British tracks. This results in an annual 'fall-out' of approximately 10,000 dogs aged between 2 and 5 years, comprising retired racing dogs and younger dogs who never 'made the grade'.

A greyhound stands at anything between approximately 22 - 31 inches at the shoulder, has a short, smooth coat of any colour ranging from white to black, some with markings of a different colour and some brindle (striped). He is a sighthound (which means that he will be interested in anything he can see up to half a mile away), whose instinct has been enhanced by his racing training. This means that owning one brings with it a special responsibility. But as most greyhound people will tell you, the advantages of sharing your life with one of these wonderful dogs far outweigh the disadvantages.

Show greyhounds have a slightly different conformation from the racing dog, being on the whole, larger and with 'flatter' sides.

A fit greyhound usually enjoys donning a racing jacket and muzzle to compete on the track. He is happier still to be able to run free in safe open countryside... but never happier when, after his daily exrcise, he can just sleep on the sofa with all four feet in the air!

What's a Lurcher?

The purists will be fairly specific in their description of a lurcher and there are a number of books on the subject by experts such as Brian Plummer.

For the purpose of 'rescue', a lurcher is a cross breed that has some greyhound in its parentage. This makes him small if there is whippet or Bedlington terrier, or any size up to very large if there is some wolfhound in him. He, also, can be any colour and can be smooth, rough or broken-coated.

He has most of the characteristics of a greyhound; in addition he usually knows that he can jump, whereas most greyhounds, although they have the potential, don't think they can!

These dogs usually have the same wonderful nature as greyhounds; sadly, through ignorance, many people get one as a pup, do not train it properly, then 'dump' it because it doesn't know how to behave and becomes a liability. The strange anomaly is that lurchers are frequently stolen from gardens, cars and even locked kennels - many of these end up as strays in another part of the country. Every animal sanctuary in the country has lurchers needing homes.

Why choose a Greyhound?

  • Lovely gentle temperament.
  • Middle aged dogs are suitable for active elderly persons - quiet around the house and don't get under the feet.
  • Not demanding of vast amounts of exercise - about 2 half-hour walks a day can suffice.
  • Medium feeding - no more than a labrador.
  • Short coat (not too hairy around the house).
  • Healthy disposition being of natural breeding.
  • Biddable (trainable with patience) and easily handled.

Where do our dogs come from?

Small all-breed rescue groups who feel they cannot find suitable homes. Dog pounds, dog rescue kennels, some following bereavement or changed domestic circumstances.

Demand always exceeds the spaces available. We would dearly love to help everyone, but this is impossible, so we assist when we can by giving advice on advertising and rehoming.

We get all ages, from puppies to 10 year olds. Some bear emotional scars from their ordeal and need a very special home. Happily, greyhounds are very resilient (they need to be) and will still come through wagging their tails when found in the most deplorable condition. It is a very humbling experience to think that they will trust humans and give us another chance to make amends.

Greyhound welfare

The Home Office acknowledges the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC) as the registration, judicial and disciplinary body for the 30+ major racecourses in the UK. Greyhounds racing on NGRC tracks are identified by an ear tattoo, must be registered with the NGRC and kennelled with a registered NGRC trainer or owner/trainer. 

Many owners make provision for their dogs for life and will take them to live at home when their racing days are over. The Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT), formed in 1974 to assist owners who were in genuine difficulty, constantly reminds owners that their greyhound is their own responsibility. The RGT homes a small proportion of the dogs registered to race under NGRC rules and now encourages all NGRC tracks to have their own 'home finding' schemes. They cannot assist dogs that have not been registered with the NGRC. The person running the 'home finding' scheme can be contacted via the racing manager at any given track. There is no record of the number of racing dogs that are humanely destroyed or sold through track sales to various destinations, including areas with independent tracks. 

In addition to the NGRC tracks, there are over fifty Independent tracks, (commonly known as 'flapping tracks') where racing is licenced with the local authority, but the tracks are not bound by NGRC rules. Neither is there a requirement for a veterinary surgeon to be present. The tracks are owned by private individuals or business consortia. Greyhounds racing on these tracks are almost always tattooed, but can live at home with the owner. 

Racing greyhounds, unlike other breeds registered with the Kennel Club, do not have the benefit of a nationally organised or financially supported rescue work. In addition to the large charities such as National Canine Defence League (NCDL), Battersea Dogs' Home, Wood Green, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) etc, which take as many strays and unwanted dogs as accommodation allows, there are now several 'greyhound rescue' groups operating in different areas of the country.

The adoption procedure

Normally you will have answered one of our advertisements, been given our telephone number by a friend or welfare society, perhaps met us on our stand at a show, or even seen us here on our web site. We will arrange a home visit to discuss the sort of dog you want and the one that we could happily match to you and your family. 

We will be pleased to answer your questions and we can put you in touch with people who have had dogs from us so that you can discuss and share their experience gained from ownership. There are special responsibilities attached to owning a sighthound, but this is more than balanced by the unique character of these gentle, loving and elegant dogs. 

There is a simple set of papers to be signed plus an adoption fee. Our greyhounds will be vaccinated and wormed. Bitches are spayed and dogs are usually neutered. Puppies and bitches in season are neutered as soon as practicable. In cases of cruelty or sickness, we will have paid for full veterinary treatment. 

What we ask you to do/not to do 

Walk your greyhound on the lead initially, so that he has chance (for his safety and your peace of mind) to bond with you and to get to know his home territory. Depending on how much is known about his history, your adopting group will give advice as to the likelihood of him being able to enjoy 'off-the-lead' exercise. 

If and/or when he is ready, this 'off the lead' exercise MUST be in an area where he has been with you before and one that is large enough to safely allow him to run. There should be no livestock in sight, and he must be muzzled until you are sure that he will not pursue or frighten other smaller animals. Please remember responsibility towards livestock - dogs can be shot for just being loose in the same field. 

We advise that, if possible, you attend a Dog Training Club, first discussing the matter with the club leader, as you may wish to simply use this as a socialising exercise if your dog has only lived with other greyhounds. 

Please get an identification disc engraved with your telephone number immediately, preferably before you get the dog. 

Any 'teething troubles' can usually be sorted out over the telephone or with a visit. We ask new owners to keep in close touch over the first weeks for the peace of mind of all! 

RESCUE DOGS ARE NEVER TO BE PASSED ON TO ANOTHER OWNER. 

IF PROBLEMS OCCUR THAT WE CANNOT SOLVE, THE DOG MUST BE RETURNED DIRECTLY TO GREYHOUND RESCUE. 

We prefer dogs to live and sleep inside the home. 

A dog that has been in kennels will usually take only a short time to house train if you are firm but gentle. Please be patient - SOME OF THEM ARE CLEAN FROM DAY ONE. 

Our dogs are not to be raced or exploited for gain in any way - they are only available to homes as pets. 

Identifying your Greyhound

English bred greyhounds (for racing) will have a tattoo in one ear, usually consisting of three letters and a figure. The figure denotes the number of pups in the litter; if this number is more than eight, another letter will be used. 

The Greyhound Stud Book at Newmarket (01638 667381) holds records of breeders and owners, but staff are usually only able to give out the Date of Whelp an Racing Name. 

Irish bred dogs usually have two letters in the right ear and three letters in the left. The Irish Coursing Club (00353 5222611) holds records of breeders, original owners and racing details if the dog has raced in Ireland. When enquiring, it is necessary to give the 2 letter ear first. Staff usually only give out the Date of Whelp and Racing Name, although you can enquire about sending a fee to obtain breed history. 

When you have the Racing Name/date of whelp, you can ring the Greyhound Trust (020 8335 3016) or the NGRC (020 7267 9256) to ask if the dog is registered (i.e. has run on an NGRC track in the UK) and where he ran. If he has, and once you know which track he last ran at, you can ring the Racing Office of that track and you can often (though not always) get some of his racing history. 

If he has not raced on an NGRC track, you will probably not get any further. Dogs running on the Independent tracks (flapping tracks - which are legal and licensed to a Local Authority) can run under any name that the owner cares to give, though the tracks mostly do keep a record of the earmarks of dogs that run at any given meeting. 

In a few cases when dogs have raced in the UK and Ireland, the tattoos are a mixture of Irish and English marks. 

Ear Tattoos

English bred greyhounds (for racing) will have a tattoo in one ear, usually consisting of three letters and a figure in the right ear.  The figure denotes the number of pups in the litter; if this number is more than eight, another letter will be used.   The approximate age of the dog can be read from these tattoos. 


It is important first to contact your adopting group before delving into your dog's history, as the origin of your dog may be sensitive.


Once your adopting group has given you the all clear to check out these details, the English and Irish Stud Books hold information on the name and whelping date, but should not reveal the name of the registered owner.

Stud Book details can be found on the Greyhound Data website.

If he has not raced on an NGRC track, you will probably not get any further.  Dogs running on the Independent tracks (flapping tracks - which are legal and licensed to a Local Authority) can run under any name that the owner cares to give, though the tracks mostly do keep a record of the ear m

arks of dogs that run at any given meeting.

In a few cases when dogs have raced in the UK and Ireland, the tattoos are a mixture of Irish and English marks.


The following letters and number are not used in earmarks: C, F, G, O, W and 5.


Year/Letter Reference - English


Tattoos in one ear only - Three letters + one number e.g. ABC 1


Litters over eight pups - Three letters + one letter e.g. ABC A


First letter indicates year of whelp:-


First letter roughly indicates year of whelp, but often overlaps into the next year. 

However, the letters do not run for a set number of months.


There is unlikely 

to be confusion between very young and very old dogs, but it is advisable t

o check either of these with the Stud Book after discussion with your 

adopting group.

Illegal drug abuse

Greyhounds like any athlete suffer from injuries such as those already been described. These can be treated by using many methods such as rest, modern technology as well as drugs. It is the use of drugs by the greyhound athlete that I will now discuss. 

Both therapeutic and non-therapeutic drugs are used widely in the greyhound racing industry. A therapeutic drug is a drug that is used to cure and generally contribute to the greyhounds well being. Non-therapeutic drugs are used to either enhance performance or to remove the symptoms of illness or injury. 

All greyhound athletes deserve the optimum therapy by vets and trainers to maintain health and fitness. There are many legitimate medications that can be used in this therapy. These drugs may be therapeutic if used in the correct manner but can also be non-therapeutic if used incorrectly for performance enhancing. 

The National Greyhound Racing Club uses the services of the Horse Racing Forensic Laboratory Ltd. They carry out a standard screening programme to identify Prohibited Substances according to the International Agreement of Racing Authorities. Prohibited substances according to this Agreement includes substances capable at any time of acting on one or more of the mammalian body systems. Greyhounds are required to race drug free so drug testing programmes have been instituted to protect the welfare of racing animals, to protect the credibility of the racing industry and to ensure a level play field for participating owners and trainers. 

Medications used therapeutically include antibiotics, worming medications, preanesthetic agents, local anaesthetics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatorys, corticosteriods, antidiarrheal medications, bronchodilators, antihistamines, antitussives, diuretics and tropical medication. All of these drugs can be administered legally to an injured greyhound but to be able to race these drugs have to have passed through the body. These therapeutic drugs mind may be used for non-therapeutically to enhance the greyhounds performance. 

For example local anaesthetics are used therapeutically in vet practises for minor surgery, once on the race track these drugs can be used non-therapeutically, procaine is an example of a local anaesthetic and central stimulant this can be used to mask lameness allowing for an injured greyhound to race. This would arise welfare issues as the greyhound is not at prime fitness and is forced to race. 

Another example of a therapeutic drug being used non-therapeutically is Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO); this is an effective pain relieving anti-inflammatory agent. If used on the racetrack again swelling and injuries can be masked allowing an unfit dog to race. This is a problem as the drugs mask the pain from the dog so the animal can be pushed to its limit, which will have devastation effects on the injury already sustained. 

Information obtained from the primary drug-testing lab in Denver showed that drug use in greyhound racing is small in that area. In 2001 a total of 16,678 samples were submitted to the lab for testing to comply with the rules of racing. Of these samples from both horse and greyhound racing 46 horse samples tested and 12 greyhound samples tested positive. Of these 12 samples 4 samples showed the use of caffeine, theophylline and theobromine. 1 showed the use of Dimethyl Sufoxide (DMSO), 1 showed the use of Salicylic acid and 6 showed the use of Trimethoprim. These drugs are all used therapeutically with exception to caffeine. DMSO reduces inflammation, Salicylic acid is a aspirin and thrimethoprim treats respiratory and urinary tract infections. Although the levels of drug use is low, testing does not occur on every dog at every race so many others may have slipped through with drugs within their system. 

It was very difficult to find information on the use of non-therapeutic drugs used in this industry as people were unwilling to help as they may be subjected to claims of illegal uses. The information found is based on the horse and human athlete although each drug listed has been seen in the greyhound industry. 

Non-therapeutic drugs used by greyhound trainers include substances such as caffeine, amphetamines, EPO which is a human hormone, Prozac, Viagra, anabolic steroids, testosterone which is a muscle building hormone, chlorbutanol and phenobarbitone. All of these drugs are legal but have little use in the dog world other than to enhance performance. 

Caffeine is a well-known drug found in coffee, tea and cans of fizzy drinks. It has been found that caffeine enhances the athletic performance in dogs. Research published by Lambert et al, 1982 showed that if dogs were given 600mg of caffeine by mouth 1 hour before racing 360 yards, the caffeine would be detected in the urine up to 32 hours with the peak levels being between 1-5 hours after dosing. This shows that even an easily accessible drug can be within the system for a long time. The reasons for feeding the dogs caffeine was unclear but by looking at the effects of caffeine on humans it became clear why caffeine enhances performance. Short term effects of caffeine is increase in alertness, heart rate, concentration and a decrease in sleepiness so in theory a dog that will run faster. 

EPO is usually used to treat anaemia associated with HIV infections. EPO is a natural hormone secreted by the kidneys that acts on bone marrow to stimulate the production of red blood cells. By administrating this to a dog I would image that the same would occur allowing more oxygen to be taken to the muscle therefore allowing the animal to race for longer without getting tried or excessive build up of lactic acid. 

In the 1970s chlorbutanol and phenobarbitone were used in many doping cases at the racetrack with chlorbutanol being used in 34% of cases and phenobarbitone in 45% of cases. Through researching into these drugs detection procedures were found and these drugs became harder to use without detection, therefore some trainers had to move to other substances that would be harder to track. This is shown by the use of Viagra the anti-impotence pill, the Irish Greyhound Board has just added this pill to there prohibited substance list when rumours began that trainers were using this drug to enhance performance. Viagra is thought to raise the dogs blood pressure and increase its heart rate leading to quicker times in the early stages of a race. 

Mr KH [individual named], a greyhound trainer admitted to doping his greyhound for 35 years using a cocktail of ritinol, dexedrine which is an amphetamine and caffeine to make them bolt from the starting box. So it can be seen that these drugs have been used on the racetrack. 

Illegal drugs have also been reported to be used on the race track. Cocaine is the most widely talked about but I could find information on the effect it has on the dogs, although speed will probably be increased. 

Susan McCulloch 

Susan is a student at Moulton College, Northamptonshire studying for a BSc in Animal Welfare and Management. As part of her course she produced this project greyhound racing. 

Show Greyhounds

The Show Greyhound Club have very few problems with welfare. The numbers of dogs are small, and the members usually know most of them. One of the members will help if an owner or a dog is in difficulty. The Club has more recently become much more sympathetic to the plight of other greyhounds and is supportive and generous to some of the groups dedicated to helping them.