A Short Introduction
One of the oldest breeds of dog, greyhounds have been used as hunters for thousands of years. There are images of greyhounds dating back to ancient Egypt, and the breed has often been valued over others for their speed and elegance. In medieval England commoners were not allowed to own greyhounds and killing a greyhound was equal to murder. During Elizabeth I’s reign, formal rules for coursing were introduced, as sport for the nobility where dogs were measured against each other chasing a hare or rabbit released in a field. Greyhound racing is a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced in the USA at the beginning of the twentieth century. The use of mechanical lures and an oval track allowed the popular but exclusive sport of coursing to become a mass spectator event. Due in main to the problem of thousands of dogs left unwanted after their racing careers, or if found unsuitable for racing, opposition to the sport has grown in recent decades, and it has declined in popularity with many tracks closing. A large network of re-homing associations has grown up around the sport, to allow racers to end their days as house pets.
The greyhound is built for speed, with massive lungs and heart (a dog’s heart is the size of a grown man’s and delivers blood at twice the rate), a sleek body and head, short silky fur, and sinewy legs that can withstand a downward pressure of 150kg when galloping around a corner. They can reach speeds of up to 45mph, the second fastest land mammal after the cheetah. (Yes, they are faster than horses!) However, like the cheetah, they are sprinters, and cannot sustain speeds over long distances. Hence they have a reputation for being couch potatoes. Like big cats, their instinct is to conserve energy for the hunt, so if there is nothing to chase greyhounds are extremely quiet and gentle, spending long periods of time snoozing. Greyhounds do not need any more exercise than dogs a similar size. Greyhounds grow to 25-29 inches at the shoulder, weighing 25-40kg, and have a life-span of 10-15 years.
They are part of the sighthound family, and thus primarily rely on their sight when hunting. They can spot movement at distance of half a mile or more. Greyhounds chase anything furry that moves fast, and most dogs, although not all, have an incredibly strong prey instinct. This makes them a special case when it comes to off-lead walking and recall training. Caution should also be exercised around smaller dogs. In cases of doubt greyhounds should be muzzled, something they tolerate well as they wear muzzles as racers. However, greyhounds are not hard to train once they have got to know you (although this may take a little time with a retired racer) as they are loyal and eager to please.
Greyhounds are fairly easy to care for. They have a short, non-greasy coat that only requires occasional grooming, although they do shed a couple of times a year. Since greyhound coats are sparse and not waterproof and they have virtually no body fat, they need to live indoors and have to be coated if their environment is not warm. They often have dietary special needs, as their stomachs can be sensitive, and they don’t find putting on weight easy. Saying that, most greyhounds will try to eat anything and everything.
Greyhounds do not bark much and make terrible guard-dogs. They show virtually no aggression to humans, and they don’t tend to jump or lick very much, which makes them good with children and old people, although their size and innate strength has to be kept in mind. Many greyhounds are not very playful, since they have spent their lives as working dogs, but some re-visit their puppy-hood if encouraged. Although some greyhounds are shyer than others, and all are fairly reserved with strangers compared to other breeds, they are very relaxed dogs most of the time, especially when they get to know their environment.
They make perfect companions, that easily adapt to life in a home, they are are clean and gentle indoors, elegant when resting and quite a sight when running.
If you are considering adopting a greyhound and live in the UK, the best place to contact is The Retired Greyhound Trust.