Tuesday, May 13, 2014

4 Surprising Things about Retired Racing Greyhounds

Used by Permission: wikimedia, wikipedia/commons
While volunteering in greyhound adoption for about four years, part of my job was working meet and greets in pet stores with my dogs, Ajax and Capri.  People loved to be able to see and pet a real live racing greyhound, and they frequently asked the same questions.  Today I’d like to give you a mini-meet and greet experience by talking about the four most surprising things about greyhounds.

The number one question I get is “You need many acres of land for them to run in, right?” 

True, they can run up to 45 mph and hit that speed after only three strides.  They are the Maserati of the dog world.  Like cheetahs, greyhounds run with a double-suspension gallop.  That means that all four feet are off the ground at two points in each stride:  first when with the legs extended front and back, and second when the legs are gathered under the body. 

But the truth is that they are a Maserati with a five-ounce gas tank.  A greyhound race is a high-speed sprint that lasts for 30 seconds… and they race twice a week.  The rest of the time they do their second-favorite thing which is to lie around and sleep.  So that gives you a clue about their exercise requirements.  You don’t even need a large yard for them to run in.  Many take retirement very seriously and don’t actually care to run.  Retired racers can easily be kept happy with one twenty minute leash walk each day. 

A variation of this question is “Aren’t they high strung?” The answer is absolutely not.  Greyhounds are by nature very calm and mellow, curious and friendly.  Someone once asked me at a meet and greet if our dogs were sedated because they were sprawled all over the floor snoozing.  Setting aside the fact that I’d never sedate any animal, let alone my own babies, I did enjoy telling him “No, this is truly how they are.”  Greyhounds are about as high strung as a pond.  Wherever they are, they tend to ooze down to the lowest geographical level.  We call them 45-mph couch potatoes.

The next question I get a lot is whether they bark at all.  They certainly can and do, but they tend to be very quiet animals.  Greyhounds communicate with their people with whimpers and whines more than barks.  Personally I like that because when my dogs bark, I know it’s something really important.  Greyhounds are so quiet that we are always welcomed as large gatherings into communities like Gettysburg, Myrtle Beach and Dewey Beach.  Bystanders at these social events marvel at how you can get a hundred dogs together in a small space and there’s almost no barking. 

One vocalization that is universally loved by greyhound owners is what we call “rooing”.  A roo is kind of a high-pitched howl.  Nobody is sure what it means, but it seems to be some kind of mild complaint.  When my dogs do it at home, the message seems to be “breakfast is over, walk us already!”  It seems to be very social.  So we usually celebrate the end of every large social event by getting all of our dogs to roo en masse for a couple minutes.
Used by Permission: Flickr Creative Commons

The third thing I hear a lot at meet and greets is comments about how soft they are.  Unlike other short-haired breeds, greyhounds have exceptionally soft skin and fur.  Capri feels like satin and my boy Ajax is upholstered in the finest velvet.  It makes them a joy to touch, which is perfect because most greyhounds love to be petted.  They don’t have oily skin and very little undercoat, so they rarely have any body odor and tend not to trigger people’s allergies.  And as you can see from the photos, they come in every color of the doggy rainbow. 
The problem with having soft skin is that it tears easily which makes playing with other dogs a challenge.  To protect the dog and our wallets, we recommend that greys wear a basket muzzle when they’re confined together.  A basket muzzle is protective equipment like a hockey mask, it’s not a punishment.  And as you can see, this type of muzzle doesn’t restrict the dog’s mouth in any way so he can pant and yawn and even eat and drink if he needs to. 

The last thing that surprises people is something that I find very endearing:  greyhounds have very expressive, almost magical ears.  Most other dog breeds pin their ears back when they’re afraid or angry.  Greyhounds keep their ears folded back when they’re relaxed.  This does confuse people, and I’ve been asked many times why my dogs are sad.  No one knows for sure why the natural position for the ears is folded back, but it does serve to keep the wind out of their ears when they’re going 45 mph.  The magical part is that they have full voluntary control of those ears and can raise and lower them at will.  You can tell how interesting something is by how upright the dog’s ears are.  I find it very charming that my dogs’ ears bloom like roses.

So now you know that retired greyhounds are calm, quiet, soft and charming!  They have many more interesting characteristics as well, so the next time you see a greyhound out and about; don’t hesitate to ask his owner questions or for permission to pet him.  There’s nothing that greyhound people love more than talking about their dogs!

Sharon Conger served on the board of a Virginia greyhound adoption organization for three years before turning her efforts to galgo rescue.  Still active as an occasional volunteer for Blue Ridge Greyhound Adoption, she now serves as treasurer for Scooby North America.  Besides bookkeeping for SNA, she works fundraising booths at east coast adoption events, assists with online fundraising, and does everything she can to encourage people to adopt greyhounds of all shapes and sizes.

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