Saturday, May 3, 2008

Growing Up Greyhound

The greyhound is an interesting and adaptable breed. I am not sure how the temperment of the AKC variety compares to the racing variety (especially since they are generally raised differently), but I'm really amazed by the racing greyhound's ability to be social, adaptable, and easy going.

Since I compete in various dog sports, I have lots of friends with a variety of dog breeds. Most of these dogs are acquired as puppies and people who compete with their dogs tend to heavily emphasize socializing. Socializing is a process of exposing the puppy at a very young age to as many different kinds of people (white, black, male, female, short, tall, fat, children, hats, beards, glasses, and so on), as many different situations (indoors, outdoors, noises, crowds, variety of floorings, etc.) and as many different dogs and even other animals as possible. Socializing helps to ensure that your puppy grows up to be a happy, friendly, well adjusted adult dog. However, racing greyhounds receive little if any formal socialization.

Reagan, for example, lived her first 10 months of life like most other racing greyhounds. She was living with her littermates in a sandy, chain link enclosed run. Through the fence, she had seen different people and vehicles come and go. She had seen feral cats and possibly a neighbor's dog. Her nails had never been clipped. I am not sure how much she was handled (and I'm sure it varies from farm to farm), but it may have been only to be wormed or vaccinated. She had never worn a collar and certainly couldn't walk on a leash yet. All in all, it was a fairly calm and consistant existence.............. at least until Kate and I showed up :-).

With no formal puppy socialization, Reagan has been friendly and accepting of all the dogs and people she has met. She never fought wearing a muzzle. She has crated and traveled by car and van with no problems from day 1. She has been curious about all of the new places she has been to. Her only fault is that certain noises do concern her........ something that could have been avoided with careful, early exposure. Nonetheless, Reagan, Katie, Travis, and many other greyhounds are as equally well adjusted (maybe even better in some cases) as many of the adult dogs carefully socialized as puppies. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about my neighbor's little white dog. Buddy is a prime example of what can happen to dogs when they are not socialized. His entire life has been spent in a fenced backyard on Oakmont Drive. Sometimes he barks at us. Sometimes he greets us through the fence. I would bet that a fun trip to PetsMart or a park would be mental overload for Buddy. He will probably eventually hate riding in a car (if not already) because it only results in a trip to the vet. Due to the lack of exposure, Buddy is likely to approach strange things with caution or fear simply because he has not seen them before. There are greyhounds with personalities like Buddy and often people are quick to assume that they were abused, but in fact most are not. They simply were born approaching the world with caution and nothing was done to counter it when they were puppies. Simple as that. Then you have the opposite extreme... i.e. Travis. Travis approaches everything with extreme curiousity, confidence, and fearlessness. I don't believe he has ever feared anything and its likely that he will leave this world without a fearful experience (can you imagine if you could live life like that!). He simply lets go of bad experiences or more importantly doesn't consider them bad experiences. And he was just born that way.

Most greyhounds fall into the middle-of-the-road category between Buddy and Travis. Many will have a quirk or 2, but in reality the racing greyhound is generally born friendly and well adjusted. Why? My guess is that winning racing greyhounds are those who typically handle life with ease. Most probably rest well, travel with little stress, and handle new people, new greyhounds, and new situations easily. Yes, there are "freak" exceptions. We all know a few shy or spooky greyhounds and a few of them probably won some races, but all in all, a kennel full of easy going greyhounds are going to be quicker to care for, less likely to cause trouble, and more profitable. These greyhounds race well because they don't waste all of their energy stressing out. Eventually, these winning greyhounds enter the breeding program and go on to produce more adaptable, middle-of-the-road greyhounds. So I believe its simply in the genes. Racing greyhounds were born to be this way.

Lastly, there is one thing to keep in mind. Because greyhounds are born the way they are, a lot of adopters take these qualities for granted and assume things they shouldn't. Remember that the majority of a racing greyhound's social interactions come from other greyhounds and the canine species doesn't communicate like humans do. We tend to be verbal, direct, make eye contact, and are very affectionate and touch feely. Dogs do not hug. They communicate mostly with body language. While most greyhounds indulge us and eventually grow fond of our primate like behavior, others just do not get it. Its not smart to assume your greyhound will accept kisses on the forehead, hugs, or cuddling initially. If not pleased with your bad manners (from a dog's perspective), a greyhound is likely to scold you like another dog and growl or even snap at you. Do I hug and kiss my greyhounds? Absolutely, but not right away.

The same goes for high value items. A racing greyhound has not had chew bones or toys before. Yes, you should be able to claim those items from your dog, but you shouldn't assume you can do so without establishing any authority...... something a lot of pet owners are not very good at today.

So when you encounter a problem with your greyhound, you may be able to figure out why if you consider what it is like growing up greyhound and tackle it from your greyhound's perspective.

Left to Right - My little Reagan (13 months), Kathy Rakestraw's Blaze (4 months), and John and Laura Parker's Guinness (7 months).