An ancient breed, the Greyhound is a type of sighthound originally bred for the duty of coursing game. The majority of modern Greyhounds have left this purpose behind and are primarily bred for racetrack use. Beginning in the late 20th century, however, the Greyhound experienced a resurgence in popularity as both a pedigree show dog and family companion. Much of their recent rise in fame can be attributed to a movement beginning in the 1980’s or 1990’s that instead of being destroyed, retired or failed racers be given a second chance in a forever home away from the track. The large numbers of dogs coming off the track and into homes allowed the public the opportunity to see them for the intelligent, loving and devoted pets they are, not just as racing dogs. They Greyhound is the third fastest land animal on earth, second only to the Cheetah and Pronghorn Antelope; this breed is capable of reaching speeds in excess of 40 mph in just under six strides from a standing start traveling at almost 20 meters per second. The Greyhound also has more documented history than any other breed. The relationship between Greyhounds and men has been chronicled through the ages in one form or another since nearly the beginning of recorded history. In spite of this, and in spite of the volumes of historical documents, tapestries, paintings, folklore and temple walls to reference this breed its true origins are still a thing of mystery.
So what is the exact origin of the Greyhound? No one is really sure, although this breed is most commonly referenced as being of Egyptian decent dating back to 2200 B.C through Egyptian tomb paintings that portray dogs that look very much like the modern greyhound, or the fact that dogs described with Greyhound like traits were used in hunting and kept as companions in ancient Egypt. Many Egyptians during this period considered the birth of this type of hound second in importance only to the birth of a son. Members of the Egyptian upper class even had their favorite hounds mummified and buried with them in their tombs.
These depictions of smooth-coated sighthounds on tomb walls were more than likely depictions of either the Saluki or the Sloughi of the time, both of which are also sight hounds and when compared to a modern day greyhound the physical similarities would make it appear that they are the likely antecedents of it. This miss-attribution of a Greyhound, Sloughi, Saluki parental genetic relationship is probably one of the main reasons that the true origin of the Greyhound is so shrouded in mystery.
What we do know through modern day science and DNA testing conducted in 2004 is that the modern day Greyhound is more closely related to herding dogs than it is to the Saluki or the Sloughi as published in the Science Journal, volume 304, pp. 1160–1164 May 21, 2004 and titled "Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog".
“A fourth cluster was observed, which included several breeds used as herding dogs: Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, Collie, and Shetland Sheepdog. The Irish Wolfhound, Greyhound, Borzoi, and Saint Bernard were also frequently assigned to this cluster. Although historical records do not suggest that these dogs were ever used to herd livestock, our results suggest that these breeds are either progenitors to or descendants of herding types. The breeds in this remaining cluster are primarily of relatively recent European origins.”
The DNA evidence provided above leads us to the conclusion that Greyhounds originated in Europe, which coincides with historical literature from Europe by Grattius, a Roman poet of the age of Augustus. He was the author of a Cynegetica, a poem on hunting, around the time of 8 A.D. In it he makes reference to a breed of dog known as “Vertraha” a Celtic Arrian word that has been translated to mean greyhound.
“But if in any way a light sort of hunting captivates you, if your taste is to hunt the timid antelope or to follow the intricate tracks of the smaller hare, then you should choose Petronian dogs (such is their reputation) and swift Sycambrians and the Vertraha colored with yellow spots — swifter than thought or a winged bird it runs, pressing hard on the beasts it has found, though less likely to find them when they lie hidden; this last is the well-assured glory of the Petronians.”
There is also a reference to greyhounds made by Publius Ovidius Naso who lived between 43 BC – 18AD in what was to be his finest work the “Metamorphoses and Heroines of Publius Ovidius Naso”. In it he uses metaphors that compare the traits of a Greyhound, with the God Apollo and his pursuit of Daphne, after Cupid in revenge for an insult, wounds Apollo with one of his golden arrows and inflames his heart with love for Daphne, the daughter of the river Peneus. However he wounds Daphne, with a leaden arrow, which causes her to feel a strong feeling of dislike toward him.
“Her flight increased her beauty. But the youthful god, to eager to lose his time in empty compliments, and urged by love, pursues his steps with a quickened pace. As when a greyhound has spied a hare in the open plain, and with redoubled speed pursues his prey, she with equal speed eludes his steps: the one just ready to fasten, hopes every moment to secure his hold, and, with extended jaws, presses upon her heels; the other in doubt whether already seized, escapes from his very bite, and starts from his mouth as it touches her. Such was the god, and such the flying nymph.”
In the above the Latin for the line referencing the Greyhound is “ut canis in vacuo leporem cum Gallicus arvo vidit, et hic praedam pedibus petit, ille salutem;” which when translated literally is “As when a Gallic dog has seen a hare in an empty field, and this one seeks prey with its feet”
The name Canis Gallicus is derived from the above and later defined in translations as a dog that does not run by scent, but by sight, and generally in a line so direct that if trees or other objects be in his way, he is apt to run against them.
The next reference of note regarding greyhounds comes from Arrian (the younger Xenophon) titled Arrian on coursing: The Cynegeticus of the younger Xenophon dating to 124 A.D. This document which is a coursing guide, or a guide to hunting rabbits using dogs, makes reference to a swift Celtic breed of dog called “Vertragi” the probable antecedent of the Modern Greyhound, which would place the true origin of the Greyhound somewhere in Eastern Europe or Eurasia.
Vertragi, canes celeres, or dogs that hunted by sight alone, were not known to the ancient Greeks previous to that time as Arrian points out by stating that the Elder Xenophon, the son of Gryllus who lived centuries before him in the time of 430 – 354 BC and who had also written a Cynegeticus or hunting guide, was ignorant of Celtic hounds in the following passage
“In my opinion no proof is required that Xenophon was ignorant of the Celtic Breed of dogs, beyond this: That the nations inhabiting that district of Europe were unknown, except the parts of Italy occupied by the Greeks, and those with whom they had commercial intercourse by sea.
And that he was unacquainted with any other breed of dogs, resembling the Celtic in point of swiftness, is evident from these words: "whatever hares," he says, "are caught by dogs, become their prey, contrary to the natural shape of the animal, or accidently" Now, if he had been acquainted with the Celtic breed, I think he would have made the very same remark on the dogs; "whatever hares the dogs do not catch at speed, they fail of catching in contradiction of their shape, or from some accidental circumstance
For assuredly when greyhounds are in good condition, and of high courage, no hare can escape them; unless the country present some obstacles, either a covert to conceal her, or a hollow deep pit to break off the course, or a ditch to favor her escape while out of sight of the dogs."
This ignorance, in my opinion, is to be attributed the length of his instructions on driving the hare into nets, and if she pass them, pursuing and recovering her by scent, till she be taken, at last, completely tired out. But he has nowhere said that either fleet dogs altogether supersede the necessity of a sportsman having nets, or of his hunting by scent after the hare has escaped them. Indeed he has described only the mode of hunting which is practiced by Carians and Cretans”
When we examine the above it does make sense in that at the time of the Elder Xenophon, the Ancient Greek geographers of the time only knew of two other nations besides themselves, so that they likely never had the opportunity to see a Greyhound.
In reference to the second paragraph it would be easier to understand if we stated it in the following way.
“It should be evident that he was unacquainted with any breed of dog that possessed the speed of the Greyhound, by his own words in which he states “In spite of the fact that the hare is built for speed and the dogs is not, in a contest of speed you would expect the hare to win, yet the dogs do catch them unless some other circumstance prevents it”. However I think that if he had known the Greyhound he would have said the opposite in regards to their abilities. That the body shape of the dog lends them to speed far in excess of that of the hare, and whatever hare a dog fails to catch at speed is a failure on the part of the dog that contradicts this fact, unless some other circumstance such as terrain interferes with the chase. "
Hence the inference of Arrian that the elder Xenophon was unacquainted with greyhounds which are made for speed is a fair deduction. While the specific Greek name of Graius or Grecian which some modern scholars claim to be the origin of the modern name Greyhound is said to have originated in Ancient Greece prior to Arrian. Arrian himself disproved this by stating the Elder Xenophon was not only not acquainted with the Celtic breed of dog Vertragi but that no dogs of similar qualities were known to him when he wrote his Cynegeticus on Hunting between 430 – 354 BC.
Arrian then goes further by describing the beauty of a Greyhound when coursing and laments to fond memories of his own Greyhound “Horme”
“But the swift-footed Celtic hounds are called in the Celtic tongue "Vertragi" not deriving their name from any particular nation, like the Creta, Carian, or Spartan Dogs… In figure, the most high-bred are a prodigy of beauty; their eyes, their hair, their color, and bodily shape throughout. Such brilliancy of gloss is there about the spottiness of the parti-colored, and in those of uniform color such glistening over the sameness of tint, as to afford a most delightful spectacle to an amateur of coursing.”
“For I have myself bred up a hound whose eyes are the greyest of the grey; a swift, hard-working, courageous, sound-footed dog, and, in his prime a match, at any time, for four hares. He is, moreover, (for while I am writing, he is yet alive), most gentle, and kindly-affectioned; nor was I ever master of any Dog who showed such fondness for myself and my brother sportsman, Megillus. For when not actually engaged in coursing, he is never away from one or other of us.
But while I am at home he remains within, by my side, accompanies me on going abroad, follows me to the gymnasium and while I am taking exercise, sits down by my side. On my return he runs before me, often looking back to see whether I had turned anywhere off the road; and as soon as he catches sight of me, showing symptoms of joy, and again trotting on before me.
If I am going out on any government business, he remains with my friend, and does exactly the same towards him. He is the constant companion of which ever may be sick; and if he has not seen either of us for only a short time, he jumps up repeatedly by way of salutations, and barks with joy, as a greeting to us.
At meals he pats us first with one foot and then with the other, to put us in mind that he is to have his share of food. He has also many tones of speech, more than I ever knew in any other dog--pointing out, in his own language whatever he wants. Having been beaten, when a puppy, with a whip, if anyone, even at this day, does but mention a whip, he will come up to the speaker cowering and begging, applying his mouth to the man as to kiss him, and jumping up, will hang on his neck, and not let him go until he has appeased his angry threats. Now really I do not think that I should be ashamed to write even the name of this dog; that it may be left to posterity, that Xenophon the Athenian had a greyhound called Horme, of the greatest speed and intelligence, and altogether supremely excellent.”
Now that we have established the origins of the Greyhound as being a Celtic breed that originated somewhere in Eastern Europe or Eurasia, lets dispel some common Greyhound myths that would give them an earlier origin. It has already been covered that the dogs featured in Egyptian art and literature were more than likely the antecedents or progenitors of the Saluki or Sloughi and not Greyhounds, so there is no need to recover that territory. However there are other myths surrounding the origin of the Greyhound.
Many claim that “Argus” the dog of Odysseus from The Odyssey, written by Homer in 800 BC, is a Greyhound. The story goes that Odysseus was away from home for 20 years fighting the Trojans and trying to get back home against the opposition of the god Poseidon. When he returns home he disguises himself to find out what has occurred in his palace during his absence. It is said that only his faithful dog “Argus” who is neglected and sleeping atop a pile of dung recognizes him and having fulfilled his destiny of faith by laying his eyes upon his master once more, he released a final wimper and died.
The Odyssey begins ten years after the end of the ten-year Trojan War, which would place it in the 12th or 11th century BC, or at roughly 1174 BC since the commonly accepted dates for the Trojan War are 1194-1184 BC as given by Eratosthenes. Aside from the fact that Greyhounds did not exist at this point in time, the home of Odysseus is located in Ithica a small island in the Ionian Sea, of Greece, with an area of 45 square miles that is at least 1000 miles away from the furthest known Celtic inhabitance.
That around 325 BC, a Greyhound named Peritas reportedly accompanied the Macedonian monarch Alexander the Great on his military campaigns.
It is more likely that Peritas was a Molossian dog – an ancient breed from which today’s modern Mastiffs are said to have descended. While we can’t be absolutely sure of his breed, the Molossians were famous for their mastiffs, not greyhounds.
Diana (the Roman version of Artemis) was the goddess of the hunt, being associated with wild animals and woodland, she was said to have hunted with hounds. In the popular Roman story, of Procris and Lelaps, Diana gives a greyhound named Lelaps to her good friend Procris. Procris then takes him hunting, and before long Procris spots a hare and pursues it. As Lelaps is about to catch the hare the Gods then turn Lelaps and the hare into to marble, as the gods didn't want the hare to be caught.
It is again more likely that Lelaps was the antecedent to the Molossian or Mastiff breed. As stated by Nicander (quoted by Pollux, Onomasticon, XXXIX) The Molossian is to be a descendant of a dog (Lelaps, "Whirlwind" or "Tempest") forged in bronze by Hephaestus and given to Zeus. Nothing could escape it, just as nothing could catch the Teumessian fox. For this reason, both were turned to stone so that the one might not catch the uncatchable and the other not escape the inescapable.
The Story of Artemis and Actaeon
This story dates to around 460 BC which is again well prior to the existence of the Greyhound. There is nothing written in regards to this story that ever points to any specific breed of dog.
The biblical reference of the Greyhound in Proverbs 30:29 which per the King James Version which reads :
The second “thing” discussed is a “greyhound.” The exact identity of this creature is actually unknown, as it does not appear to be a dog. The Hebrew, however, translates this to, “loins, hips.” This suggests this it is not a creature at all, but rather a symbol of something that is ready for running.
During the famine of the Middle Ages, Greyhounds nearly became extinct. Were it not for the clergymen that saved them and began to breed them for the nobility the breed would have likely been lost. This is also the reason that Greyhounds came to be known as the dogs of the aristocracy.
In the tenth century, it was King Howel of Wales that made the killing of a greyhound punishable by death. In 1014, as the Gallic and Celtic tribes Migrated to England they brought Greyhounds with them. Also in 1014 King Canute (A Dane) of England established the Forest Laws which reserved large areas of the country for hunting by the nobility. It was during this time that only nobility were allowed to own a Greyhound and any commoner caught owning a greyhound would be severely punished and the toes of the dog would be cut off to prevent it from running. This mutilation of the Greyhound was to prevent commoners from attempting to hunt game for food at the expense of the royal sport. It was also during this time that value of a Greyhound exceeded that of a commoner, and the punishment for causing a Greyhounds death was equivalent to the punishment for murder.
In 1072 William the Conqueror introduced even more stringent forest laws. that made all parts of the forest from animals to the leaves on the trees the property of the King. Anyone found killing or taking any part of the forest would be guilty of taking the King's property and punished severely. This law made it very difficult for those living near the forest since it was now against the law for them to kill animals in the forest for food or to gather sticks for a fire. Commoners still hunted in defiance of the forest laws using greyhounds favoring dogs that were naturally camouflaged so as to make them harder to spot such as: black, red, fawn, and brindle. While Nobles by contrast tended to favor white and spotted dogs that could be easily spotted making the retrieval of game and lost dogs easier. The saying "You could tell a gentleman by his horses and his greyhounds." as it was used by the English aristocracy, was born at this time.
In 1500, Queen Elizabeth finally abolished the Forest Laws and became a fan of the Greyhounds. She then ordered the creation of the first formal set of rules on coursing to be drafted by Lord Norfolk. It was this fascination by Queen Elizabeth with Greyhounds and the misattributed fascination of Cleopatra that led to modern day Greyhound racing being known as the “Sport of Queens.”
In 1570 Dr. Caius wrote notes about the Greyhound and sent them to a Swiss Naturalist named Conrad Gesner, as quoted in "Gazehounds: The Search for the Truth:"
“Of the dog, called the greyhound; in Latin, Leporarius [literally, "hare-hunter"]. Here is another kind of dog which, for his incredible swiftness, is call Leporarius, a greyhound; because the principal service of them dependeth and consisteth in starting and hunting the hare: which dogs likewise are embued with no less strength than lightness in maintenance of game, in serving the chase, in taking the buck, the hare, the doe, the fox, and other beasts of semblable kind ordained for the game of hunting. But more or less, each one according to the measure and proportion of their desire; and as might and ability of their bodies will permit and suffer. For it is a spare and bare kind of dog (of flesh, but not of bone); some are of a greater sort and some lesser; some are smooth skinned and some are curled. The bigger therefore are appointed to hunt the bigger beasts, and the smaller serve to hunt the smaller accordingly. “
By 1776, Greyhounds used for both hunting and sport, had become the fashionable dog of England.. It was during this time that The Earl of Orford created the first public coursing club; the Swaffham Coursing Society, before this time, they had all been private clubs. Coursing was originally practiced between 2 Greyhounds, in an open field, chasing a hare, which was given a 100 yard advantage. The Greyhound had also evolved into two types by this time, A larger, rougher deerhound, that was used for hunting big game and a smaller type that was used for hunting hare and other small game.
Lord Orford had an obsession with producing the perfect greyhound, and bred many failures and crosses in pursuit of this goal. He bred Greyhounds with, Lurchers, Italian Greyhounds as well as the Bulldog which then looked more like the modern day Terrier. He also tried breeding Greyhounds with Afghan Hounds and this too, was considered a failure.
It was during the 1800’s that farmers migrating west in order to settle the fertile lands of American's Midwest found raising crops in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas came with one big problem, jackrabbits. With numbers and appetites capable of destroying the farmers cash crops and stealing their livelihood, it became clear that a solution needed to be found. It was at this time that the idea of using Greyhounds to control the rabbit population was suggested by immigrants from Ireland and England that had came west on the railroad as workers and settlers, and recalled the Greyhounds of their homeland.
After their arrival in America, they became the favorite breed of General Custer, who was well known at the time for his interest in dogs. Elizabeth Custer his wife wrote several volumes about her life with General George A. Custer. In her first volume she describes Bryon, the General's Greyhound:
"We had a superb greyhound called Bryon, that was devoted to the General, and after successful chase it was rewarded with many a demonstration of affection. He was the most lordly dog I think I ever saw, powerful with deep chest, and carrying his head in a royal way. When he started for a run, with his nostrils distended and his delicate ears laid back on his noble head: each bound sent him flying through the air. He hardly touched the elastic cushions of his feet to earth, before he again was spread out like a dark straight thread. This gathering and leaping must be seen, to realize how marvelous is the rapidity and how the motion seems flying, almost, as the ground is scorned except as a sort of spring bound. He trotted back to the General, if he happened to be in advance, with the rabbit in his mouth, and, holding back his proud head, delivered the game only to his chief. The tribute that a woman pays to beauty in any form, I gave to Bryon, but I never cared much for him."
Not long after in 1912, a functional mechanical lure was invented by Mr. O.P. Smith. This marked the beginning of track racing for Greyhounds and in 1920; he constructed the first crude Greyhound track in Emoryville, California. He was joined in this business venture by a man named George Sawyer, and they began to experiment with tracks in various locations before finally finding success in a track built in Hialeah in Florida. In 1927, Mr. Smith died a millionare having seen his idea spread through out the United States and into Great Britain. Between 1926 and 1930 over 60 dog tracks were opened, in addition to the seven in existence in 1925.
As the breeds popularity grew, Ford Motor company featured a Greyhound radiator cap on the 1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe Sedan, this model sedan also had the dubious distinction of becoming the “Death Car” of Bonnie and Clyde. The Greyhound radiator cap is clearly visible in police photographs of the scene.
In the 1940s, Greyhound racing exploded, as the Greyhounds began to run at night under the lights. In the US tracks sprang up everywhere, most were to be short lived, or would be shut down the next day by the local authorities. Owners of racing Greyhounds often had to travel from track to track expecting big purses only to find that the track had been closed or had failed to live up to its expectations. In 1985 Carson Alexander wrote “over the next years we were turned into gypsies.”
In describing his journey after his stepfather bought Greyhounds he wrote, “Down the two-lane highways all the way to the sunny south, pulling the cumbersome trailer behind, eating endless bologna sandwiches washed down with a Pepsi, became standard…It didn't take long to look at the big wash –tub each night full of red hamburger with canned vegetables and dog meal, to question the statement about a dog's life.”
In 1977 a Greyhound named Downing, one of the most successful Greyhounds ever became a household name after he was featured in Sports Illustrated twice for setting a single-year earnings record with victories in the Hollywood World Classic, the Hollywood Futurity, the Biscayne Irish-American, Wonderland Battle of the Ages, the American Derby and two match races with Rooster Cogburn.
In 1982 The American Greyhound Track Operators Association (AGTOA) secured Purina as a sponsor and rolled out the $100,000 Purina Grand Prix. This intent of this annual event was to attract the top Greyhounds in the nation. However, due to the numerous complaints Purina received from various animal rights groups, it quickly discontinued its sponsorship, and disassociated itself with the event. Greyhound racing has been unable to obtain another national sponsor since the withdrawal of Purina.
Entering the 1990’s Greyhound racing hit hard times, partly the result of animal rights groups exposing the many negative aspects of the industry and partly the result of the rising popularity of other forms of gambling. A number of smaller tracks were forced to close their doors during the 1990s, although Greyhound racing still remains the sixth largest spectator sport in the nation.
As for the name Greyhound, many claim to know its origin, but the truth is that no one knows for sure. In spite of what some may tell you, Greyhound is not a reference to their color, as there in no true “gray” Greyhound. Others believe it stems from the word “gazehound” which is used to describe a dog that hunts by site, and yet others will say it comes from the Latin “Graius” or “Grecian” meaning Greek, the or the word “ gracillius” meaning slender or slim, or perhaps it comes from the old English word “grighund” where it is asserted to mean “great hound".Regardless of where their name actually comes from, Greyhounds are one of the oldest and most unique breeds in the world, recognized for their elegant appearance, grace, gentleness, agility, and speed. These remarkable dogs have been a symbol of pride and respect for many great civilizations.
The Greyhound is first and foremost built for speed, with numerous genetic adaptations bred in over hundreds of years to fulfill that purpose. A tall, lean dog measuring 26-30 inches at the shoulder and weighing 55-70lbs, this breed has the largest heart and the highest percentage of fast-twitch muscle of any breed of dog. Greyhounds have a long flexible neck and spine, keen eyesight that is capable of seeing a moving object a half mile away and a long lean muscular aerodynamically shaped body. The head is long and narrow, fairly wide between the ears with scarcely perceptible stop, the ears should be small, set atop the widest part of the skull and generally folded back, sitting atop the widest part of the skull. The muzzle should be long, tapered, powerful but smooth. The jaws are strong, with the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth and set square to the jaws.
The front legs are straight, lean and fragile in appearance leading to well-knuckled, hare-like feet. The well muscled front shoulders should have thickness and depth to them, set squarely to the Greyhounds deep chest. The body is contoured back from the chest to a thin round waste, with a flexible, muscular slightly arched back. The rear thighs are very muscular in powerful in appearance, with spring like rear legs again leading to strong, well arched, and thickly padded hare-like feet, meaning that the two middle toes are longer than the outside toes, an arrangement that helps the Greyhound grab the ground when accelerating or cornering. The tail is long, thin and whip-like with a slight upward curve toward the end.
When running near top speed Greyhounds utilize a double suspension gallop, which sacrifices endurance for speed, meaning that while Greyhounds are able to use their blistering speed to rapidly overtake their prey, if the chase continues for long the prey may have opportunity to escape as the Greyhound tires.
It is this unique style of locomotion that helps Greyhounds reach speeds in excess of 40mph. By spending nearly 80% of their time off the ground, as the front and rear legs are completely extended and contracted during their stride, they come the closest to flight that any non-flying animal can get. The complete stride from extension to contraction of a running Greyhound will cover over 17 feet of ground and last just under .33 seconds, meaning that they will complete just over 3 complete strides propelling them in excess of 50ft every second.
The coat of a Greyhound is short, and smooth with thin taught skin, and comes in a variety of colors that include, black, white, brindle, particolor, fawn, red or any combination of the above.
Although, the first vision of most people when they think of a Greyhound involves them wearing a muzzle and running at high speed, this is not indicative of their personality as a whole. The Greyhound by nature is a gentle, non aggressive dog. It is however, after centuries of breeding and refinement a dog with high prey drive. The muzzles most commonly associated with the vision of a Greyhound are used to prevent injuries that can be the result of highly excited dogs in prey mode nipping at each other while in the chase. The skin of the typical Greyhound is nearly paper thin and stretched tight over their lean muscular frame, such that nicks or cuts that would be minor on most breeds may require stitches in order to close and heal properly on a Greyhound.
Away from the track as pets, Greyhounds tend to be quiet, gentle, loyal to their owners and are natural couch potatoes. Greyhounds do not require a lot of space, nor do they require daily extended periods of exercise, as they have a tendency to sleep up to 18 hours a day. Playful, loving and animated, with a calm even temperament, Greyhounds tend to make better “apartment dogs” than most smaller, more active breeds.
Greyhounds are a very loving breed, which enjoy the company of humans and other dogs. Although this breed is not typically known as a barker, some do possess a high prey drive such that the sight of small animals or cats can get them very excited. Greyhounds can be a bit peculiar in that they are known to make a “ROOing” or singing noise when happy, this may be combined with what many Greyhound owners affectionately call the Happy Dog Dance. This little I love you demonstration will generally consist of prancing feet, the helicoptering or spinning of the tail in a rapid circular tornado like motion, while possibly spinning in place that tends to resemble a Greyhound version of Snoopy's "Happy, happy, joy, joy!" dance from the cartoon show.
Greyhounds tend to get along very well with larger animals seeming to take the moral high ground by demonstrating an almost indifferent attitude towards them. There are generally few problems with other dogs of similar size, so long as they do not see something that stirs their hunting instincts, or creates a state of over excitement in which they may begin nipping at the other dogs. The problems generally arise when the other dogs retaliate as the thin skin of Greyhounds is prone to serious lacerations. What may amount to a small puncture or cut on another breed may require numerous stitches or staples for a Greyhound.
With other small animals including some small dogs extreme caution should exercised, as centuries of design and breeding have produced a dog with an instinctual drive to hunt smaller prey. The definition of small, however, is generally defined by the personality of the individual dog. Some Greyhounds treat any animal their size or smaller as a “small animal,” while others may draw the line at around 25 lbs, and still others may believe that anything that’s not a greyhound is something to be chased. Some Greyhounds may choose to only chase cats, while others may feel the need to only chase small dogs, while other may chase both, thus it really depends on the individual dog. See the following link for more informaiton on this: Attack at Mishawaka park sends three dogs into emergency surgery
Just because your Greyhound is peaceful and gentle with small animals inside the home, does not mean that you should assume that the same holds true outside the house. Taking a dog outside, can be like taking them into a whole new world where the small dog or cat they were just snuggling with inside becomes something to be hunted. It is up to the owner to ensure that Greyhounds are never left unattended with small animals at any time.
Greyhounds are pack-oriented dogs, as such they can be prone to develop problems with separation anxiety when they are re-homed or their new owners leave them home alone for prolonged periods of time. In most instances the addition of another dog or Greyhound will solve this problem. However, going back to their natural hunter instinct and pack mentality in groups of three or more caution should be exercised when leaving them alone together or with other dogs. The sight of a rabbit, cat or other small animal through the window, the sound of their owner’s car coming up the driveway etc. can put Greyhounds into an aroused state where nipping or fighting may occur. This aroused state or excitement for the hunt that Greyhounds feel can be so intense that it may encourage other dogs in close proximity to join in. In situations such as these the Greyhound may be subject to contact aggression on animals in close proximity which can lead to fights.
In one such case, an individual that regularly provided a foster home for Greyhounds transitioning from racers to pets and at any one time had up to five living in her home decided to take her dogs for a walk. In so doing the dogs became extremely excited, anticipating the outing and chance to explore the world. She left them alone and went to the garage to gather their leashes for the walk, as soon as she entered the garage she heard one of the dogs screaming and rushed back to the living room to find four of the other greyhounds mauling the fifth. Luckily she was able to break up the fight but this fifth Greyhound was severely injured and required extensive medical care.
Grooming a Greyhound is a simple process since they have short thin hair, and lack any undercoat. This leaves them free of the typical doggie odor associated with most other breeds, and has the added benefit of making them a low dander producing breed. They need only occasional baths every few months with a mild dog shampoo such as oatmeal shampoo or baby shampoo. Due to a lack of body fat Greyhounds should always be bathed in warm water to prevent them from getting a chill. As for brushing it should be done once or twice a week, using a soft brush or hound glove to remove any dead hair. Greyhounds are very light shedders, but regular grooming will keep even the small amount they do shed to a minimum.
Although Greyhounds are typically a healthy breed with a lifespan of 10-13 years, they do come with the propensity for some congenital or situational based medical conditions. In the United States the vast majority of Greyhounds living in homes as pets are former race dogs that either failed to perform as expected, washed out due to injury or retired due to age. As a testament to this high attrition rate amongst racers it should be noted that there are approximately 125,000 Greyhounds living comfortably as pets, while there are but 55,000 Greyhounds actively registered as race dogs at any one time. This translates into an attrition rate of 2 out of every 3 Greyhounds failing to make it at the track for one reason or another.
Track Related Injuries:
The reason that this fact is mentioned in the Greyhound health area is that in many cases individuals may find themselves adopting a dog with previously undisclosed track injuries, such as small bone fractures, tendon tears or muscle tears, health problems associated with extended periods of stress, or even the long term effects of prolonged steroid use.
Contrary to what the racing industry preaches it is not at all uncommon to use androgenic anabolic steroids on racers, especially on females where they are used with pseudo legality as a way to keep female Greyhounds from going into heat. The unfortunate side effects can be many and while some side effects such as genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems may be quite evident other health issues related to their use may not show for years. Some of the immediate effects known to be associated with steroid use include Liver Damage, High Cholesterol, Cardiovascular Problems, Stunted Growth , High Blood Pressure, Kidney Problems, Immune System Changes and Sterility in Males and Females. The effect of prolonged exposure to any one of these conditions in later life is really a matter of chance in many cases.
Track life, though much better in recent years in terms of monitoring the type of care received and precautions taken is still hard on the body and in many cases a previous racers body can be a bit broken down. Due to the direction that the dogs race in, and the forces put on the body during turning while in stride the majority of muscle and bone injuries occur on the left or rail side of the dog. Some of the more common track related injuries include:
Damage to the Left Hip Muscle: This adductor muscle is responsible for holding the rear leg in the correct position as the legs are extended and contracted in stride. It tends to damage severely in the lower portion, which causes the upper portion to cramp up during a race, forcing the knee to rotate inwards causing injury the joint.
Left Shoulder: The center portion of the triceps of the left shoulder are prone to cramping, which results in pulling the elbow outwards as the dog runs potentially causing injury to this joint. The center section of the Triceps in this shoulder, due to the direction the dogs run in, is inclined to take more pressure than the same area on the right shoulder. Therefore it is inclined to tighten further while negotiating the turns of the track and this has the effect of pulling the elbow outwards.
Left Foot & Wrist: Due to the Greyhounds naturally high tolerance for pain many small bone injuries go undiagnosed until permanent damage has occurred. In the case of the left foot and wrist it is generally the result of such an undiagnosed problem progressing to the point that it will become so uncomfortable that the Greyhound will rotate the left foot in an attempt to lessen the pain while negotiating a turn, placing extreme stress on, and potentially damaging the elbow as it rotates outwards in relation to the left foot.
The physical ailments above can lead to another track related injury called Track Leg, which is often not the result of a single injury but most often a combination of two or more of the above, it can also be the result of a misalignment of the upper spine, or even chronic compression in and around the lower spine and sciatica.
Track leg: This track related injury is the result of the Greyhound striking the left elbow repeatedly onto the left inner shin while turning in stride, producing a blood and serum filled mass on the left inner shin. Although generally considered to be a minor injury, in some cases it leads to the repeated opening up of a wound on the leg with the long term effects of excess scar tissue and/or tissue and muscle damage to the leg.
Another equally important yet commonly overlooked condition associated with track life is stress and the effects of prolonged stress on the health of Greyhounds. It has been well documented in humans that long term stress can lead to heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of illness or cancer to name a few. Track dogs may find themselves being frequently transported in small kennels from track to track, causing stress, or may find themselves boarded in isolation for long periods of time between races, living a repetitive life of adrenalin rushes followed by utter boredom and isolation, causing extreme stress to such a pack oriented and social breed.
Dr. Jim Gannon, who by many was considered to be the most knowledgeable greyhound veterinarian in the world prior to his passing away on October 4th,2010 wrote an article about the issue titled "Vets Notes: The Effects of Stress on the Greyhound"
When the greyhound is severely stressed either physically, or psychologically, for any length of time, there is a release of the hormone Adrenalin from the inner segment of the Adrenal Glands (called the Adrenal Medulla) which are located on each side of the body adjacent to each kidney. In actual fact, there is a range of Adrenalin Hormones e.g. Nor-Adrenalin and others - which are grouped into a category referred to as the Catecholamines. If this Catecholamine release continued for too long, the greyhound would die from stroke or heart attack caused by the enormous rise in blood pressure resulting from these hormones. However, the body avoids this, by reducing the effect of the Adrenalin and its related hormones, with another hormone known as Hydrocortisone which is produced by the outer coating of the Adrenal Glands (called the Adrenal Cortex). Again, there is a range of Hydrocortisone related hormones grouped into the general category of Corticosteroids - all with similar effects. The main effects of these Corticosteroids are:
To reduce the heat, redness, pain, and swelling of any inflammation, whether it be from bruising or other damage to muscle, bone, or nerve fibres - as seen for example in Track Leg, Metacarpal Periostitis, or even allergic symptoms
To combat the effects of severe or chronic stress within the body by producing a feeling of well-being and relief from anxiety, together with a renewal of energy by raising blood glucose levels from body stores of glycogen.
There is an interesting side effect of prolonged Corticosteroid release in chronically stressed greyhounds, and that is a suppression of other types of hormones that are produced by the Pituitary Gland located at the base of the brain. These include:
The Follicle Stimulating Hormone that aids sperm and egg production and available as Folligon.
Leuteiniing Hormone that aids release of eggs from the ovary and the maturation of freshly generated sperm and available as Chlorulon
Reduced Testosterone produced by the Testicle causing reduced libido
Reduced Thyroid Hormone from the Thyroid Gland resulting in Bald Thigh Syndrome, Anaemia, and a feeling of lethargy.
Non Track Related Health Issues:
As a breed, Greyhounds are a relatively healthy but sensitive breed, probably the most common life threatening condition known to effect Greyhounds is their propensity to develop certain types of cancers such as Osteosarcomas the most common primary bone tumor in dogs, and the most common tumor in Greyhounds.
Cancer in general accounted for 44% of all Greyhound related deaths, and Osteosarcomas specifically accounted for 22% and were the leading cause of death in the breed. At the University of Florida, 10% of all dogs with Osteosarcoma were Greyhounds, and the risk of developing Osteosarcoma was higher in Greyhounds than for any other breed.
Due to the unique physiology and anatomy of Greyhounds, the use of common barbiturate-based anesthesia can lead to death, as Greyhounds unlike most other breeds are unable to metabolize it due to the lower amounts of oxidative enzymes present in their livers. Greyhounds are sensitive to many insecticides, and should not use flea collars, or flea spray unless it is a pyrethrin-based product. Greyhound's should be provided soft bedding or other soft surfaces to lay on as their lean muscular physique makes them prone to develop painful skin sores if forced to sleep on hard surfaces for prolonged periods of time.
Always ensure that you use a veterinarian that is well versed in unique anatomy and physiology of this breed.
Visiting a leading Greyhound health site maintained by Suzanne Stack, DVM, (www.greythealth.com) provides links to research the following additional medical conditions: