Retired Racing Greyhounds
Meet the "45-mph Couch Potatoes"
Who would think that dogs capable of racing at 45 miles per hour actually make a calm and loving family pet, once they retire from the track?
When I first learned about greyhound rescue and decided to adopt one of my own, it was the beginning of a love affair with the breed. Although he was raised as "livestock" at the track, my ex-racer soon learned to love another, gentler, slower way of life... and I was forever hooked on retired racing greyhounds as companion animals.
Since then, although I've also had other breeds of dogs in my life as well, my great joy has been to foster, train and share my home with these beautiful, gentle, endlessly fascinating long-legged hounds.
Photographs by the author, unless otherwise noted.
Greyhounds as Pets
45-mph Couch Potatoes
Greyhounds are the fastest dogs on earth, capable of reaching up to 45 miles per hour in just three strides! They can sustain speeds of 30 mph for as much as a mile, but they run in short bursts - a race lasts little more than half a minute, and a typical "grey play" time is no more than a few minutes, typically. These are not "hyper" or extremely active dogs, contrary to popular myth -- in fact, just the opposite is true!
Although they do love to stretch their long legs with a good run, greyhounds often actually need less exercise than most large dog breeds. There are sprinters, not long-distance runners, so a 20-minute walk each day will usually do them fine, with the occasional rip-roaring play session. In fact, many owners will tell you that their retired racers become quite lazy, once their racing days are done! They truly enjoy snoozing on a soft bed or mat for most of the day, and many retired racers live very happily in city apartments and suburbs as well as in country homes.
Obviously, all dogs are individuals within a breed, so you will find a few higher-energy hounds among the couch potatoes, especially when they're young. I have one of each type, right now - a cute and feisty little female who loves to go on long hikes with me, and a big super-gentle male to cuddle up with on the couch. Perfect!
Off the Track
Best Books on Adopting a Greyhound
It is strongly recommended, before you adopt any dog, to read up on the breed to learn more about its nature and requirements, to make sure this particular type of dog will be a good fit for your family's lifestyle. Here are the books I suggest - you don't need to read them all, but do pick one to read (and discuss with your family and veterinarian) before applying to adopt an ex-racer.
Don't be misled by the title, the "for Dummies" series is often very good indeed, and for many greyhound adoption groups - including the one I volunteer with - this is the most-referred book to help new pet greyhound owners learn about the breed and common challenges in helping an ex-racer become a companion animal.
Another very good book, if you're studying up on the greyhound breed (with specific reference to the retired racing greyhound) is this older one by Cynthia Branigan. Some of the information about the racing industry has changed since the book was first published a decade back, but it stands up well in practical information about the dog breed, adoption, and care.
Greyhound Breed Information
As members of the Sighthound family of dog breeds, greyhounds are characterized by their lean and muscular build, deep chests, and powerful hindquarters.
The neck is long and muscular, carrying a long-nosed elegant head. The rosette ears are normally carried flat against the head but they can stand at attention to indicate interest or alarm. Long tails are carried low and slightly curved. Greyhounds are lean by nature, with very low body fat, and at first may seem undernourished to people who are not accustomed to seeing these athletic dogs in a home setting.
The American Kennel Club breed standard gives the size range for AKC "show" greyhounds as 65 - 70 pounds for dogs (males) and 60 - 65 pounds for bitches (females). Racers are judged on their speed and spirit, not their appearance, however, so there is a greater range of sizes among racers registered with the National Greyhound Association (NGA) racing industry organization than there is with the AKC strains.
It's not uncommon to see a large male with a lean racing weight of 80 pounds, for example, though I've had two who were so big-boned that they easily carried a retirement weight of 95 without being an ounce overweight, while the very small female I have right now is still only 58 lbs though two years since she last raced. Similarly, a greyhound's height at the shoulder can range from 25 to 30 inches or so. Basically, whatever size of dog (from medium, to large, to extra-large) you prefer, there's probably an ex-racer of just that size, ready to be adopted!
Born to Run
All the Colours of Grey
Greyhound ancestors living in the wild did not need to rely on colouring for camouflage, as their great speed let them catch prey and escape from predators. Domesticated, the breed has been bred traditionally for qualities of health, speed, and endurance above all - not necessarily for their appearance, as is the case with many companion dogs.
As a result, the greyhound's short-haired coat may be almost any colour or combination of colours - not just grey!
Eighteen "official colours" are recognized by the American Greyhound Track Operators (AGTO). These are black, black & white, black brindle, blue, blue brindle, brindle, dark brindle, fawn, fawn brindle, light brindle, light red fawn, red, red & white, red brindle, red fawn, white & black, and white & brindle ticked. But that's just the broad strokes - more than three times that number of colors are listed by Greyhound-Data, an international database site for pedigree and race records information.
Oddly enough, grey (called "blue") is most rare -- only one in about 500,000 greyhounds are actually grey in colour!
Looking for a Long Term Commitment? - A retired greyhound could be the love of your life...
The Greyhound Project produced a series of PSAs a few years back to promote the cause of ex-racing greyhound adoption. Cal, the black greyhound who is "looking for a long term commitment" in this spot, was adopted soon after filming. But there are thousands more retired racers just like Cal who are waiting to find their forever homes. To find an adoption group near you, please visit The Greyhound Project at www.adopt-a-greyhound.org.
Obedience Training for Greyhounds
and other "hard-to-train" dog breeds
I'm a huge fan of clicker training for retired racing greyhounds and other rescue or shelter dogs. It seems to build confidence in the dog as he learns to solve problems, make choices about his behaviour, and "learn to learn" - all the while, creating a strong bond between dog and handler.
To find a clicker trainer in your area, check with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) if you're in the United States, or with the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers (CAPPDT) if you're in Canada. In other countries, your best bet is to look for someone who has been through either the Canis Clickertraining Academy or Karen Pryor's clicker training program.
If there is no clicker training facility in your area, don't worry, you can still learn to use this gentle, positive, science-based method. There are many excellent books and online training programs that can help you learn to teach your own dog good manners.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of rather poor advice out there, as well - choose carefully, and step quickly away from any training that uses the old-fashioned "leash jerk" or similar "corrections" based on the outdated "dominance" theory. Be aware that the harsh old-time type of training methods can be downright dangerous for both you and your greyhound, and it won't create the kind of strong bond that you will develop with your pet by using more positive training methods.
When choosing a dog training method to follow, ask yourself, "Is this something I would do to my small child?" If the answer is NO, find yourself a new trainer or training program.
In general, positive, reward-based dog training is the approach advocated by most greyhound rescues and adoption groups, as the kindest and most effective approach to re- training your ex-racer to be a companion animal.
How to Teach a Greyhound to Wear Boots
Lots of people say that their dogs "don't like" wearing paw protectors -- they kick them off, or simply refuse to let their owner put the boots on their feet in the first place, wiggling and pulling the feet away.
Fortunately, with a bit of patience -- and some good dog treats! -- you can train a greyhound to wear winter boots quite easily, especially if you choose to clicker train your greyhound.
The key is not to rush the process, so you and your pup don't get all stressed out, and to make the boot-wearing experience a pleasant and rewarding one for your greyhound. When he learns to associate the boots with getting treats or with going outside to play, before long he'll be cool with sporting footwear.
Are Ex-Racing Greyhounds Good With Kids? - You might be surprised by the answer - Have a look!
Greyhounds fresh off the track have not generally had a lot of experience with children, if any at all, so they will need to be introduced properly to these quick-moving, squealing, shouting little humans. On balance, however, racing greyhounds are used to being handled by strangers and most are surprisingly calm "zen" dogs who make the transition to family life well, with training and supervision as you'd give any dog and kids. A lot depends on the age and personality of the child, too!
In the video below, a 3-year-old retired greyhound and a 3-year-old girl get to know each other. The dog has learned his "Leave It" command, and is able to take treats very gently, and only when they're offered to him. The little girl, in turn, is learning how to interact safely and gently with a large dog.
As with any breed of dog, some individual retired racing greyhounds are better with children than others - and of course kids and dogs need to be supervised AT ALL TIMES, no matter what breed of dog it is. Retired racing greyhounds will typically have had very little experience with children, in their life at the track, so may be skittish, scared, uncertain, or just overly playful with your little ones at first. In general, "if the child is good with the greyhound, the greyhound will be good with the child."
Certainly, you'll want to do some good solid training right from Day One with your new pet, to make sure the child and the dog both understand the "rules of engagement" -- for the happiness and safety of everyone. The adoption groups I've worked with, and our local SPCA shelter, follow the DogGone Safe bite-prevention program and often do presentations in local schools, based on their excellent "Be a Tree" program, flashcards to teach dog body language, and other resources.
If there are young kids in your life and you're thinking of adopting a dog of any breed, do take a look at www.doggonesafe.com for lots of good advice.
Retired racing greyhound... serious about sleeping!
Greyhound Health & Fitness - Reliable Sources of Medical Information for Greyhound Owners and Their Veterinarians
- Greyhound Health and Wellness Program (GHWP) - Ohio State University
With the increasing popularity of retired racing Greyhounds, veterinarians are likely to evaluate dogs of this breed more frequently in their practice. The Ohio State University-Greyhound Health and Wellness Program (GHWP) is currently working on sev
- International Greyhound Research Database
The searchable International Greyhound Database of published scientific papers on greyhound health is maintained by the American Greyhound Council. The editors of the database are veterinarians Dr. Linda Blythe and Dr. Morrie Craig, both of whom are
- Making Sense of Blood Work in Greyhounds
Due to the way the Greyhound breed has developed over thousands of years, there are some key differences between greyhounds and other dogs in their physical make-up, and what's a "normal" blood test result for another breed may not be typical levels
- My Greyhound Has Epilepsy
I've just adopted a 7- year- old retired racing greyhound who has seizures. Buster has idiopathic epilepsy with grand mal seizures that can be managed to some extent with medications but for which there is no cure. Here is my article about the expe
Dog Gates - Keep Your Greyhounds Safe on the Porch
We built a set of easy-to-open dog gates to close off our veranda/porch, to make life a bit easier when we're all hanging out on the porch on a summer evening, or when I've got a few greyhound friends over for a playdate or a long weekend stay. Even the best-trained dog can be tempted to dash off the deck if a neighborhood cat happens to run by - so, better safe than sorry! The gates match in well with the porch railing, much more attractive than a typical pet gate or baby gate and they're designed to close off a wider space than a typical doorway, as the opening where the steps go down to the driveway is wide enough for two people or more.
How many greyhounds can you count in this video?
Are there 4... 5... 6 dogs...?
Want to Adopt a Retired Greyhound?
Adoptions are most often arranged through a local non-profit adoption group that works directly with tracks and racing kennels to match up newly retired greyhounds with their new homes and families.
These adoption agencies also serve as a great social circle and network of experience, advice, and support to new adopters in helping a greyhound make the transition from life at the track.
International List of Greyhound Adoption Groups
The Adoption Agency Directory from The Greyhound Project, Inc. lists a huge number of greyhound adoption groups in every corner of the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe including groups in Belgium, England, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Wales.
My Playful Pooch
Shadow Puppet Greyhound
This shadow puppet greyhound idea came from an old book that I found on Project Gutenberg a couple of years ago - Hand Shadows To Be Thrown Upon The Wall by Henry Bursill, originally published in 1859.
I had forgotten all about it until we had a power outage during the winter, when the neighbour's grandkids were over visiting, and we were trying to find fun things for all the generations to do together with only the light of a couple of candles and camping lamps!
Greyhound Craft Projects - DIY Greyhound Crafts
Free or very inexpensive craft patterns are here to help you celebrate the beautiful greyhound in your life!
- Life-Sized Stuffed Hound Dog Pattern
Free sewing pattern to make a life-sized stuffed hound dog... in case your greyhound needs a furry friend!
- Life Size Greyhound PDF Crochet Pattern
Here's another pattern to make your own greyhound -- this time, a crochet project and the hound is really, really big! Available on Etsy for only $6.00 (price as of June 2013). A portion of every purchase is donated to benefit Greyhound Adoption. (Th
- Greyhound Crochet Purse
Crochet a casual greyhound bag to carry your pet essentials around in - or maybe even your own gear. The Greyhound Purse Crochet Pattern comes as a PDF file for instant download. Available on Etsy for $4.00 (price as of June 2013).
- Free Greyhound Santa Craft Pattern
Santa Greyhound is an adorable holiday table decoration, made of polymer clay (like Sculpey or Fimo) and bits of leftover fabric and craft materials. The free instructions are courtesy of Greyhound Manor Crafts, a nonprofit group that promotes greyho
Sew Your Own Greyhound Coat, Martingale Collar, and Dog Boots - Free Sewing Patterns and Instructions
Skinny dogs need protection from the weather, but regular dog clothing doesn't quite fit a greyhound... Hound owners who know some basic sewing skills often really enjoy the chance to pamper their greyhounds by making custom dog coats and other apparel to keep the dogs warm in winter!
- Free Easy Sewing Pattern for Dog Boots
Jen's all-weather dog boot pattern was designed for a greyhound but also can be sized up or down to fit other breeds of dogs. Easy to sew in fleece fabric with vinyl soles for paw pad protection. The combination of velcro and elastic on the fasteners
- Free Hound Coat Instructions - the Original Greyhound Manor Pattern
This is a "web archive" version of the popular Greyhound Manor Hound Coat instructions, which has since disappeared from the Internet. (What a good thing the "Way Back Machine" saved a copy!) This pattern is easy to make, and the coat is easy to put
- Tutorial - Sew a Cozy (Custom) Canine Coat
Greyhound males are much larger than females and greyhounds come in a good range of sizes within the breed in general, so It can be hard to find a well-fitting greyhound coat pattern. Here's a fantastic free tutorial for how to design a custom dog co
- Tutorial - Upcycled Greyhound Coat from Fleece Vest
In this free Instructables tutorial, learn how to "upcycle" an old fleece vest into a greyhound jacket. Lots of pictures to walk you through it, and I can tell you I've done this one - it works great to make a custom greyhound coat. For a big male gr
- Greyhound Tuxedo - Free Sewing Pattern
Sew your hound a spiffy coat with tuxedo style - free pattern! (My friend used this pattern to make a tuxedo for her greyhound when she was getting married, so the dog could be in her wedding party. Too cute!)
- Miscellaneous Free Sewing Patterns for Dog Coats
This page at DoggieStylish has a list of coat patterns for various sizes of dogs, including links to a couple of the greyhound coat patterns I have already given here, above - but there are also a couple of coats modelled by dalmations that look as i
- How To Make an Adjustable Martingale Dog Collar
DIY instructions (free, with pictures) for how to make a martingale dog collar - and while you're over there at Instructables.com, take a look around at the other tutorials for making various hound collars and martingales. Different people do it a bi
- How To Make An Adjustable Martingale Collar
From the Doggie Stylish blog, here's another step-by-step tutorial with photographs to illustrate it, showing how to DIY a sighthound collar of the webbing-and-hardware martingale type.
- Sew a Dog Collar Cover
Fabric scraps are all you need to make a simple-to-sew dog bandana that slips over the dog's tag collar for special occasions or to dress him up for "meet and greet" events with your greyhound rescue / adoption group. If you'd like to make a kind of
Knitting & Crochet Patterns for Greyhound Clothing - Free Patterns & Low-cost Patterns
- Cable Knit Greyhound Sweater Pattern
Don't be confused by the picture of pugs you'll see on this page! "This dog sweater pattern was designed for a Greyhound..." As written, it's sized to fit 26" long, width 22" - "but can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of larger dogs." Thanks to D
- Side Button Greyhound Sweater Pattern
My knitter friend made this side-button sweater (pattern by Terri Lee Royea) for her two greyhounds, one in the rib pattern, one in Aran style. She found the Aran cables a bit challenging to get the right fit, but the simple rib style was a breeze.
- Quick & Easy Greyhound Dog Sweater Crochet Pattern with Snood
Quick and easy, yet gracefully styled for the Fashionable Greyhound, this crocheted sweater-coat is well suited to the beginner's crochet skills and calls for chunky yarn so it makes up fast. I like how the full folds of the matching snood drapes so
- Crochet Pattern for Greyhound Sweater and Snood
This pattern for a greyhound crocheted sweater and matching snood (ear and neck warmer) is by A & B Originals Designer Crochet and available on Etsy.com for $3, digital delivery.
- Crochet Pattern for Greyhound Vest
This pattern is for a short and simple crochet vest for a greyhound, quite similar to the full-length sweater listed above. PDF pattern, $3 from the A & B Originals Designer Crochet store on Etsy.com
- Greyhound Fisherman Sweater Crochet Pattern
This handsome Fisherman-style sweaters (with matching snood) is by far the best-looking crocheted sweater for greyhounds that I've seen out there, but it's likely to be a bit too challenging for a beginner to tackle. $6 for the pattern PDF on Etsy.co
The Race (Video) - from Greyhound Pets of Atlantic Canada (GPAC)
Watch this beautiful video compilation of photographs of racing greyhounds - at the track and in their "forever homes" - and see if you can't keep a tear from your eye!
In Loving Memory of BB's Fly Catcher (1999-2010) & Kiowa Boyd Barry (2007-2013). Run free, my big beautiful boys.
Last updated on October 14, 2014
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