For thousands of years, Greyhounds have been bred to hunt by outrunning their prey. They were not intended to be solitary hunters, but to work with other dogs. Switching from hunting to racing has kept this aspect of their personality very much alive.
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About the Greyhound
The fastest breed of dog, Greyhounds can reach a top speed of 45 miles per hour and can average more than 30 miles per hour for distances up to one mile. Selective breeding has given the Greyhound an athlete’s body with the grace of a dancer.
At the same time, the need to anticipate the evasive maneuvers of their prey has endowed the Greyhound with a high degree of intelligence.
The Greyhound has a long neck and head, with a barely noticeable stop, or bridge to his nose. The ears are small and usually folded flat back against the neck. The ears may stand semi- or fully erect when the Greyhound is attentive. This is called a “rose ear.”
The back is long and muscular with an arch over the loin. The deep chest and narrow waist give the Greyhound its distinctive silhouette. The legs are long and powerful. The feet are small and compact, with well-knuckled toes. The tail is long and curved.
The coat of a Greyhound is short and smooth and is the result of crossing Greyhounds with Bulldogs in the mid-1700s. Greyhounds come in an endless variety of colors, including white, fawn (tan), cream, red (rust), black, blue (grey), many shades of brindle, and with patches of these colors on white.
There is virtually no body fat. In general, Greyhounds are very clean and do not require a lot of grooming.
A show Greyhound typically stands between 26 and 30 inches and the shoulder and weighs 60 to 85 pounds. Bitches average around 10 to 15 pounds less than dogs. The average lifespan is twelve to fourteen years.
Track Greyhounds are often between 25 and 29 inches and 50 to 80 pounds. The AKC standard specifies 65-70lbs for males, 60-65 for females as ideal.
The Greyhound is a quiet and docile animal when not racing. While they can be somewhat aloof in the presence of strangers, more often they are generally friendly to most people. They are very affectionate toward those they know and trust.
The Greyhound is recognized by all major kennel clubs around the world, as well as by various national racing clubs such as the National Greyhound Association (NGA) and the American Greyhound Council.
Greyhounds are one of the oldest breeds of dogs and appear in art and literature throughout history. In ancient Egypt, Greyhounds were mummified and buried along with their owners, and tombs were often decorated with Greyhound figures.
A hieroglyph of a dog very much resembling the modern breeds Greyhound, Saluki, and Sloughi can be found in the writings of ancient Egypt. Alexander the Great had a Greyhound named Peritas.
The Greyhound is mentioned in the Old Testament (Proverbs 30:29-31), Homer (Odyssey, where the only one to recognize Odysseus upon his return was his Greyhound, Argus), Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales), and Shakespeare (Henry V and Merry Wives of Windsor). Greek and Roman gods and goddesses were often portrayed with Greyhounds.
As Clarke, in The Greyhound states:
But, ancient as the Greyhound is, it would be stretching the truth to claim that the Arabian hounds depicted on the ancestral tombs of ancient Egyptians were identical to the Greyhounds we know today.
In their conformation, in their grace and pace, in the poetry of their motion, yes, but not in the style of coat they wore! In fact, there is a reason to believe that the Arabian Greyhound may well have resembled a Saluki — but for all, still a dog of the Greyhound family.
There are many differing explanations for the origin of the term Greyhound. One writer suggests that the original Greyhound stock was mostly grey in color. Another says the term derives from the Old English “grei,” meaning “dog,” and “hundr,” meaning “hunter.”
Another explanation is that it is derived from “gre” or “gradus,” meaning “the first rank among dogs.” Finally, it has been suggested that the term derives from Greekhound since the hound reached England through the Greeks.
Greyhounds have long been associated with royalty. In fact, from the 11th to the 14th century, English law decreed that no “mean person” was allowed to keep a Greyhound. A penalty for breaking this law was death!
Characteristics and Temperament
Greyhounds have a very gentle and quiet disposition. They are very pack oriented dogs and will quickly adopt human masters into their “pack.”
To allow different Greyhounds to hunt and race together, aggressiveness towards other dogs and people has been nearly eliminated from the breed.
Many do retain a strong prey drive (which is a component to their racing) and are sometimes unsuitable for houses with other small pets such as cats or rabbits.
Their sensitivity and intelligence make them quick learners and good candidates for obedience training.
Greyhounds are often tolerant of children, especially if they have been raised with them. Being non-aggressive, a Greyhound will generally walk away from a worrisome child, rather than growl or snap.
However, even the gentle Greyhound has its limits, and should not be subjected to continuous harassment.
Although Greyhounds are the fastest breed of dog, they achieve their incredible speed in one all-out sprint and do not have a lot of endurance. A Greyhound is quite content to be a “couch potato” and spend most of the day sleeping.
Since they don’t have a lot of endurance, a Greyhound actually requires less exercise time than most dogs.
Greyhounds are the prototypical sighthound, a group of hounds that pursue their prey by sight rather than scent. As with all sighthounds, Greyhounds have a very strongly developed chase instinct. In spite of this, it is possible for Greyhounds to peacefully coexist with other pets, including cats, dogs, and even rabbits.
Cohabitation will be easier if the other pets do not run away. Even after you’ve trained the Greyhound to not chase the family indoor cat, this does not mean that it won’t chase the neighbor’s cat, or even the family cat outdoors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Greyhounds shed a lot?
It seems to vary a lot from dog to dog. Some will shed an appreciable amount, others hardly at all. “Appreciable” means that when you use a curry comb, you can get loose hair off the dog.
There is some thought (and anecdotal evidence) that lighter colored Greyhounds shed more than dark ones do! However, bear in mind that even a so-called “heavily shedding” Greyhound would shed a lot less than say, a Dalmatian or a German Shepherd Dog.
I’ve heard they aren’t good with children. Is this true?
Many breed description books will list the Greyhound as being too “highstrung” to tolerate children. This is false. Most Greyhounds have a very calm disposition, and many of them are good with children, especially if they are raised around well-mannered children.
In general, any dog, of any breed, that has not been raised around children or has an unknown background, must be watched carefully. In any case, all interaction between dogs and children, no matter how trustworthy either is, should be supervised by an adult.
Don’t they need a lot of exercise?
They need less exercise than you would think. Greyhounds are primarily a sprinting breed, rather than an endurance one. They are happy with several good runs a week — and will lie on your couch all the rest of the time!
What are the differences between track (NGA) and show (AKC) Greyhounds?
In general, track Greyhounds are a little smaller (shorter and less heavy) than the show ones. Track Greyhounds are more heavily muscled in the rear and their necks and heads are not as slenderly exaggerated as the show Greyhounds’ are. Those are the physical differences.
There tend to be some behavioral differences, but these are due to the upbringing that each receives rather than actual differences. It’s thought that there are some health differences.
Track Greyhounds are thought to live longer (because of superior cardio-vascular condition); on the other hand, they are thought to be more prone to bone cancer, possibly as a result of extra stress from heavy racing. However, these are solely speculation.
Why do I see many people muzzling their Greyhounds at get-togethers?
Their racing instinct is based on a well-developed prey drive. When you have a group of greyhounds together, especially strange ones, it is advisable to muzzle them to prevent accidental bites. Greyhounds are not dog aggressive, but when excited may nip at others.
Don’t let the muzzles lull you into a false sense of security. You must still monitor a group of muzzled Greyhounds since it’s possible to catch ears through a muzzle and so on.
Do note that muzzling is not always required; it’s simply a sensible precaution if you are dealing with a large group of Greyhounds.
Can Greyhounds swim?
Many people believe that because of their structure and low body fat that they cannot swim. This is untrue. Some Greyhounds are excellent swimmers and others are not. Supervise your Greyhound’s entry into the water until you are certain he can swim.
Special Medical Problems
Greyhounds’ livers metabolize toxins out of their bloodstream more slowly than other dogs of comparable size, so it is possible for harmful concentrations of these toxins to develop. Also, the breed has a very low percentage of body fat in proportion to its size.
There is, on the average, only 16% fat in a Greyhound’s body weight versus about 35% fat in body weight for a comparably sized dog of another breed.
Greyhounds are very sensitive to certain medications, including anesthesia. Before allowing your Greyhound to undergo any surgery, make sure that your vet is aware of the special anesthesia requirements for Greyhounds.
In particular, barbituates are to be avoided. Do not be afraid to ask questions of your vet; not all are aware of a Greyhound’s special anesthesia requirements. Rodger I. Barr, DVM, has written an article on the safe method of anesthesia for sighthounds.
Flea collars, and long-lasting pesticides such as Hartz Blockade, can also be harmful or even fatal to Greyhound.
Any product which releases flea killing chemicals into the bloodstream of the dog should be avoided, as should those applied monthly to the length of the dog’s spine or a spot on the base of the dog’s neck (i.e., Rabon, Bayon, ProSpot, Ex-Spot, etc.). Products containing Pyrethrins are generally safe to use on Greyhounds and given their very short coat, flea combs are especially effective.
Other safe products are Rotenone and d-Limonene. The Rotenone is often sold in the gardening sections of feed stores, but it is organic and directions for treating pets for fleas are included in the “approved uses”.
Several companies make d-Limonene dips, sprays, and shampoos. D-Limonene is derived from citrus fruits and is a fairly safe organic pesticide. Additionally, the human shampoo Pert Plus kills fleas on the dogs, although it has little or no residual effect.
Lather, wait a few minutes and then rinse.
Care also needs to be taken when deworming a Greyhound, as they are extremely sensitive to anything with an organophosphate base.
Some relatively safe choices for worming Greyhounds: For hookworm or roundworm infestations: pyrantel pamoate. This is the active ingredient in these non-prescription wormers: Evict, Nemex, Nemex2; and in the prescription wormer Strongid-T. For tapeworm: Droncit tablets.
Droncit injections are also effective, but some dogs find them very painful. For whipworms, hookworms, and tapeworms: Panacur. However, keep in mind that adverse reactions can happen with any individual animal to any particular medication.
As with other deep-chested breeds, Greyhounds are prone to bloat, or torsion. Bloat is a life threating disease where the stomach flips over. Immediate medical attention is required to avoid death.
Preventive measures include avoiding exercise just before and for an hour or two after eating; avoiding ingestion of large amounts of water immediately after eating dry kibble.
Symptoms include a distended abdomen, repeated unproductive vomiting, pacing, and restlessness. It can kill quickly, an immediate trip to the vet is in order. You may wish to discuss bloat with your vet, to set up in advance what to do should it happen to your dog.
Your vet may also suggest other things you can do while driving to the vet’s for emergency care to improve your dog’s chances for survival.
Considerations for the ex-racer
Because racing Greyhounds are kenneled with a large number of other dogs in a highly transient population, you will probably have to make sure your dog is checked for worms and tick-borne diseases such as Ehrlichia and Babesia.
A greyhound in racing condition will probably lose muscle and put on some extra fat once retired. While they should not become overweight, few dogs remain at racing weight, often gaining about 5 pounds in their retirement. This is to be expected.
It’s not actually known whether Greyhounds are actually more predisposed toward bone cancer than other breeds, but there are enough anecdotal stories to warrant keeping an eye on your Greyhound for this, especially a former racer. The first symptoms involve lameness in the leg.
This is common in large dogs especially over bony prominences like elbows. It is usually seen in dogs housed on hard flooring. A hygroma is a fluid-filled bursa which forms to protect the skin from pressure necrosis from the bone underneath.
They can get inflamed or even ulcerate. They tend to look more alarming than they are; your vet can advise you of the best course to take.
Many Greyhounds appear to have low-normal levels of thyroid. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include hair loss (on rear and neck, usually bilateral and typically through thinning), darkening or thickening of the skin, and lethargy.
Sometimes irritableness and/or wheezing are indicators. Untreated, hypothyroidism can have serious long term effects.