Caring for your Greyhound

This section covers general issues that you may encounter when rehoming a Greyhound. See the FAQ section for some 'real life' issues as well. 

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- Getting to know your dog
- Avoiding separation anxiety
  - Acclimatising a suitable dog to be left on a regular basis
- Feeding
- Collars
- Teeth
- Cats and small dogs
  - A Strained Romance (a lovely short story to give you hope!)
- Exercise
- Bedding
- Children
- Feet
- Injuries
- Skin
- Theft

Getting to know your dog

Some rescue greyhounds are very depressed at first and may appear to you to be very uninteresting. Your dog may just be content to 'plod' along beside you for a walk - and then just sleep. It is one of the great joys of owning a greyhound to watch his character develop as he gets to know you and the family - and to understand that he has a place in the daily routine.

Others are lively and friendly straight away - and will love to be with you and share in all that you are doing and everywhere that you go. The greatest danger for these is the possibility of developing 'separation anxiety'. It is one of the most important aspects of adopting a greyhound (or any rescue dog) that you establish from the very first day, that he can be left on his own for varying periods of time.

Avoiding separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most common reasons for the adoption of a 'rescue' dog to fail. If you are having a couple of days set aside to settle your new dog, make sure that you use it to his best advantage. Use it to establish a routine for him. 

If possible, take him into your home in the morning, rather than later in the day and have ready the place where he will sleep. 

No matter how much you are thrilled to have your dog, be sparing with attention initially. There will be all the time in the world to lavish affection on him once he has gained confidence in his new surroundings and has learned who his 'pack leader' is and what his boundaries are. 

Take him for a walk, give him a small feed and take him out to spend a penny, keeping him on the lead in the garden for a couple of days. Then show him to his bed, perhaps with a biscuit, then leave him and shut the door. Do the same a couple more times during the day and by night time he will have some idea what he is expected to do. If he whines or scratches, resist the temptation to go in to him (unless he is extremely distressed). Try a few times staying out of the room and, when he whines, bump the bottom of the door with you hand and say 'No'. 

Save any 'treats' for when he has done something you require of him - he will soon learn to associate the actions. Never chastise roughly (your tone of voice should be enough to make him realise that you are not pleased), or more than a few seconds after he has done something you would prefer that he didn't. He will not associate your anger with his action a few minutes ago. 

Unless it is to always be the 'norm', it is not advisable to let him sleep in the bedroom to start with - no matter what you intend once he is well and truely settled. If he spends all the hours of the night in your company, he is going to miss you even more when you have to go out during the day. You then have a fretful dog, who can't be left without causing a problem. 

If your new dog already has a separation anxiety problem, the answer lies in an indoor kennel and your adopting group should be able to put you in touch with someone who will hire one out. It is essential that you understand how best to use one - it must never be seen to be a punishment, rather a place for your dog to retreat to for a bit of peace and quiet and a treat. John Fisher's book "Why Does My Dog?" has an excellent chapter on the use of indoor kennels and, used properly, they are invaluable for anxious dogs, sick dogs, keeping dogs and toddlers apart and over friendly dogs off non-doggy visitors' laps, without banishing the dog to the kitchen or garden! 

Acclimatising a suitable dog to be left on a regular basis 

If you need to leave him on a regular basis, to go to work for instance, it's important that you discuss this with your rehoming group when starting the adoption process so that they can select a suitable dog for you. Obviously the process below only applies to a fit, healthy dog (not a puppy). 

It is important to start setting his expectations as soon as possible. Leave him on his own for a little while from day 1, gradually acclimatising him to longer seperations. This teaches him to trust that you will come back. Leave him without fuss, treats or looking at him. Just go quickly and quietly. Similarly when coming back do not acknowledge him for a few minutes. This tells him that its normal for you to go out. 

It's easiest to do this over a few days holiday, perhaps plus some half days. During this process even if you don't need to go anywhere you must still leave the house, if only to drive half a mile down the road and read a novel in the car! 

Day 1 - leave him for half an hour.
Day 2 - 1 hour. 
Day 3 - 2 hours. 
Day 4 - 4 hours. 
Day 5 - 6 hours. 

You can extend this process making it more gradual if you have time, or if you think he might be struggling with it.

Feeding

This is one of the most difficult areas to advise on - many people already know how and what they want to feed their dog based on past experience. The huge range of food products on the market make the choice even more difficult. Greyhounds have fairly sensitive stomachs (though you may not believe this if you have a confirmed 'bin-raider'!) and some of the top quality tinned foods are too rich for them. It is generally accepted that they benefit from a small breakfast (ie cereal and some weak tea), in addition to the main meal of the day. The time will vary depending on your circumstances and routine.

Collars

You will probably have purchased a smart, wide greyhound collar for your new dog - he will in any case need to have something on which to place his identification disc. But always remember that greyhounds can have muscular necks and comparatively small heads - and some of them are past masters at backing out through their collars. This may not be apparent for many weeks, but if it is going to happen, it will surely be in a moment of great excitement - (or a moment of panic for a very nervous dog) - when to have your dog loose places him or some other person or animal in grave danger.

When walking him, make sure that his collar is tight enough - or use a 'combi' collar, or a harness, until you know him well. 'Combi' collars are made of braid with a small adjustable chain link which, when properly adjusted, will tighten up and not slip over his head if he suddenly 'backs-out'. He should not wear one when unattended and because they are comparatively narrow, they should never be used with an extending lead; 'take-off' speed is such that they could cause serious injury to the neck. Metal check chains must never be used. If you are unable to purchase a 'combi' collar locally, contact Margaret Bowles (South Gloucestershire, UK - 01453 822977).

Teeth

The condition of his teeth will often depend on his age and on the type of establishment that has kennelled your greyhound. Successful dogs in racing kennels will have had the all the vitamins and minerals they need to ensure peak condition and fitness.

Most 'rescued' dogs are found to have badly coated teeth, with sore or infected gums that need veterinary attention. Once the infection has been treated, the teeth will often improve dramatically. 'Chews' will help also, and when he has gained confidence in you, he will allow you to gently brush his teeth. Many greyhounds are so accustomed to being handled, that they will stand or lie quietly for any such attention.

There will, however, always be a few dogs who will need an anaesthetic for dental care, either because they dislike such handling or because of the degree of scaling.

Cats and small dogs

Not only greyhounds chase cats - so do some collies, Jack Russells and mongrels. Its just that it is instinctive for a greyhound to chase something that runs - and they are usually that bit quicker than other breeds! 

But many greyhounds settle with cats and with poultry and it is one of the most important issues to deal with when you first adopt a dog. Your adoption group will have discussed this with you and will have seen how your dog reacts so that you are prepared. Always be aware that, although your dog may be completely safe with his own family cat - or even rabbit, off territory he may view anything that runs as fair game, so be prepared until you know him well. 

An article called A Strained Romance, written by an experienced greyhound owner, may help those people who are patient and committed enough to spend time solving the problem. 

A Strained Romance 

Lethal Ethel hated cats. Her greyhound hatred was not a private bottled up emotion, bubbling and straining deep down like some Vesuvian cauldron, unseen to the world. No, Ethel's hatred was embarrassingly public. On our evening walks she screamed, shrieked and slavered it to the rooftops of Churchdown. Cats would wait for Ethel on their first-floor window sills, secure in their elevated havens, and when she failed to notice one, all that was needed was a tantalizing twitch of a tortoiseshell tail. Ethel wa triggered, and lead straining, six feet in the air, she turned the convulsive backward somersaults that they all loved. They purred and applauded with little padded paws. 

I tuned a keen ear to the click of a Yale lock and kept eyes strictly forward as abuse was regularly hurled at our accelerating seemingly innocent departing shoulders. 

"Ethel, is it any wonder they all hate greyhounds? Do me a favour; just pretend to be a lady now and then!" 

We changed walks every night, hoping that they might forget us. But no, a flash of moggie never failed. It was only a matter of time before the law came calling. We were a definite social menace! 

We moved. The years passed. Ethel mellowed; the world no longer seemed to challenge her self-endowed peerage. Summer '95 was a second dry one. The sun battered the hillside, the grass yellowed and the earth crazed, cracked and cratered. 

The mice came. They poured into the fissures like whip-tailed Bagginses. They chatted to each other across mini-ravines in broad daylight. They carted in mice furniture, mice provisions and bred mice children. They were here to stay! 

Wendy wouldn't go out through the back door. She imagined mice scaling towers, tappings from mice ballista and mice grapnels tinkling against the window panes. 

"We must have cats!" 

"But we've never had cats" 

"They kill mice don't they? We have mice. We must have cats!" 

I thought, "This has never happened before. Cats in a greyhound household. Too close to home!" Somehow I felt that I was betraying the noble breed. But it was either cats or no dinners. 

The cats arrived. The convulsing hessian sack was unceremoniously tipped up and shaken, and a furry tortoiseshell starburst exploded. The farmer departed muttering, "Most folks do use the rainwater butt." 

Ethel screamed and slavered, and was promptly locked in the shed. 

The cats killed mice. Little furry corpse-presents were deposited in prominent positions. 

"Well done, Martha! Thank you, Maisie! Mummy loves you. Come for cuddles." 

"Purr-purr." 

Ethel shrieked and slavered and was again locked in the shed, a twice daily walk on a lead the only gesture, freedom now fast becoming a dimming memory. 

"The cats serve a practical purpose! Tell me what contribution Ethel makes. Go and talk to her severely. You claim to have an empathy with greyhounds. The cats stay!"

We sat head to head in the dark woodshed. I talked. Ethel listened. I introduced her to the cats again, on a lead. She shrieked, leaped in the air and turned a backward somersault. The cats applauded. 

I prayed. 

A vision came of a vet's waiting room; a wall poster displayed to dispel boredom and declare to the world the efficacy of some worming powder or flea spray. 

On it, my salvation; a dozen sketches of dogs, each explaining some apparent quirk in their domesticated life. The lamp post ceremony. The fox excrement rolling. In short, we may tame the canine breed, but deep down nature's instincts survive and can never be buried. 

That's it! Forget this modern human social problem. Back to the wild! 

"Ethel, come here! Who's in charge of this set-up?" 

"I am, boss. I can scream louder than anybody." 

"Right, Ethel, get your own supper. See you tomorrow." 

"Who's top dog, Ethel?" 

"I thought it was me, boss, but I can't open tins like you can. I guess you're in charge." 

"Fine. I'm called the pack leader. You're number two - equal. Give me a cuddle to seal it." 

"Why equal, boss?" 

"I'll show you. Maisie, Martha! Come here. Who feeds you?" 

"Purr-purr!" 

"Right, I'm called the pack leader, and you are number two, equal with the dog! That makes both of you reliant on me. I look after you all. No pecking order needed. Life's simple. Savvy?" 

Ethel's lip curls in disbelief, but no shrieks. No somersaults. "Equal second - with a cat! I don't believe it. But then, he does have the tin opener!" 

Daily ritual. Cuddle dog, watched by cats. Cuddle cats, watched by dog. Dog smells catty pullover. Cats smell doggy pullover. Closer. Closer. Cuddle. Cat smells dog. Cuddle. Dog smells cat. 

Days later. 

Cuddles dog. Collar held tight, dog licks cat. More cuddles. Cat purrs. 

"O.K., boss, I suppose they have to live too, but they never ran at Wembley, did they?" 

"I know, Ethel, but then, you never caught a mouse!" 

The method has worked for several dogs since. Don't isolate the cats from the dog, and do hold the dog tightly. Admiration and affection for both equally, in each other's presence. Closer and closer . . . 

Ethel now licks and grooms the cats as they lie on their backs. They share food bowls and lie in each other's beds. The cats come for morning doggy walks. Ethel leads the way. Of course. 

Graham Middleton 

Exercise

Greyhounds are sprinting dogs, so do not need to walk for miles every day. It is no hardship to him to be exercised on a lead, it is what a racing dog has been used to. But he does need to 'let off steam' and have a sprint. Depending on your dog's history, he may never be safe to run free, whereas others may be safe to be let off the lead after a few weeks. 

When you do, be sure that it is in an area that he is familiar with and be certain that there is nothing in view that he may be interested to go and investigate. The speed at which he will run will truely alarm you initially and as he runs away from you, you will have the feeling that you may never see him again! Unless something is in the distance for him to chase, you will find that he will circuit and return to you - usually looking very pleased with himself and seeking your approval. You will be so relieved that he has turned round - that you will give it wholeheartedly!!!

Until you are sure that he is safe with other small animals, it is only sensible to use a muzzle - your adopting group will advise on the purchase or loan of a suitable one.

Never forget that farmers have the right to shoot any dog found in a field with stock - they do not have to be chasing.

All dogs thrive on a routine, and after he has had his exercise, you will be amazed at the amount of time that your greyhound spends sleeping. He may, occasionally, sleep with his eyes open, so try not to startle him and ensure that children know not to disturb him. It is yet another of the joys of having this type of dog to know that he is so easily satisfied.

Bedding

Greyhounds love their beds - something soft, such as a duvet that they can curl up on/in, but can also lie with legs stretched out straight as they sometimes like to do. If he has been in racing kennels it will be second nature to him to jump up onto his bed, so your best sofa - or someone's bed will do just fine! You will need to teach him gently if this is not allowed - he will not understand if you chastise him for doing what he has been expected to do for the previous few years. 

It is worth remembering that greyhounds sometimes sleep with there eyes open. Some verbal indication that you are about to touch or move a 'resting' dog will avoid startling him. 

Children

Greyhounds usually love children, given the precautions one would sensibly take about not leaving a small child alone with a new dog. 

This, again, is where an indoor kennel can give the dog a place of his own to go. 

Because greyhounds are so good to walk on a lead, it is tempting to let a child take the family dog out - or even to hold the lead whilst you are out walking. Always remember that you have a strong, fast animal who, if he decided to dash across the road after a cat or a squirrel dropping out of a tree, would take a child with him. Until you are very sure of your dog, never allow this risk of a tragedy to occur.Greyhounds usually love children, given the precautions one would sensibly take about not leaving a small child alone with a new dog.

Feet

Your greyhound may appear to have very long nails, which need to be cut. When there has been a degree of neglect, that may be the case. But the 'quick' grows very low down and it is advisable to seek veterinary advice before attempting to cut them yourself. 

Long nails can cause a dog to walk awkwardly, affecting both his comfort and his demeanour whilst exercising. Once the feet have been checked and nails cut if necessary, regular exercise on a hard surface is the best way to keep them healthy. 

A neglected dog may have been kept in a run without any exercise. His pads will then be very soft and may cause him discomfort when you start to take him out. Providing that they are not sore, gentle massage with some surgical spirit will help to harden them initially.

Injuries

Your greyhound may have been taken off the track for many reasons. Apart from 'losing' consistently, the most common reason is through injury.

The centrifugal forces on the sharp bends of the track put enormous strain on the dogs' wrist joints and on the toes. Damage can also be caused by collisions with other dogs, or even with the fence if the dog has been knocked off the track.

Old injuries will not always be obvious and so there is the potential for arthritis in later life. But we are prone to arthritis too, so let us assume that you will have grown so attached to your dog by the time that if it happens you will seek the best advice available to ensure his comfort.

Greyhound Rescue (Gloucestershire South) supplies special collars which are claimed by many owners to relieve a degree of arthritic pain. For details, contact Margaret on glrr@btinternet.com.

Skin

Many rescue dogs have bare patches, especially on the bony prominences if they have been lying on concrete or dirty bedding. Many, too, will have sparse hair on their rumps. Apart from general neglect, this may be the result of bouts of flea allergy or even mange in the past.

With good food and a soft bed your dog's coat will soon improve, but some will always have a tendency to 'bareness' when they moult in the summer months. It is surprising how some dogs improve if they have frequent access to unpolluted sea water, but most of us are not that fortunate. Realistically, there is not a lot one can do - if there was a real cure for this, there would be no bald humans! However, Weleda, a firm that supplies many herbal products, has recently advertised a remedy. 

Theft

Another strange anomaly is that so many greyhounds are unwanted, yet they are one of the breeds at greatest risk of being stolen. Never leave your greyhound tied up outside a shop - or in an insecure car. 

Never leave him in the car in an unshaded spot on even a mild sunny day. The temperature rises quickly - all dogs can die in hot cars and greyhounds will succumb more rapidly than most.