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Fighting or Playing?
Aggression in Greyhounds
By Judy Kody Paulsen
(Excerpt from Summer 2005 issue of GCNM News)

All dogs play….or do they? Do some not know how? Racing Greyhounds have been taught to compete all their lives. Completely neutralizing the behavior racers develop as a result of their training can be challenging, if not impossible. The consequences of ignoring this fact can be disastrous. Accepting this fact is the responsibility of every adopter.

Greyhounds are not aggressive by nature, but ex-racers have been exposed to a type of “programming” no other domestic canine has. Typical play among other dog breeds may not be compatible with the mindset of an ex-racer who might attempt to capture anything fast-moving or perhaps challenge another dog they may perceive as a competitor.

Often, adopters assume that once a retired racer has coexisted with other animals in the home setting, they will lose the desire to compete. This assumption has produced catastrophic results when Greyhound play or prey drive escalates into violent interaction. At the track, racing Greyhounds are always muzzled when they are in a group – whether they are racing or just enjoying one of their brief turn-outs at the kennel – no exceptions are made while in the track or kennel environment.

Observing play between animals is one of the greatest rewards of having companion animals; however, in the case of ex-racers, play must be supervised closely. Play that involves sparring, chasing, snapping, and biting can be especially damaging to Greyhounds because of their thin hair and skin. In some cases, depending on the history of the dogs, play may have to be discouraged altogether. Dogs who’ve shown a tendency to become aggressive need other outlets for their energy. Humans must become “playmates” for their Greyhounds when evidence of accelerated rough play among the dogs is repeatedly observed.

A routine of extended walks and/or one-on-one (human/dog) play without other dogs present may have to be substituted for lounging while watching your dogs roughhouse with one another. A Greyhound that shows anxiety or aggression while humans play with another dog should be segregated in an area where he/she cannot be stimulated by the sights or sounds of the play.

Allowing an aggressive dog to interact with the other animals of the household is recommended, but only under calm, controlled circumstances as in walking on leash or participating in quiet time among family members (animal and human).

Never allow a Greyhound with aggressive tendencies to be present when children (or adults) are wrestling or interacting in any way that can incite nervousness or aggression in the dog. Children running and screaming are especially vulnerable to the innate and induced chasing tendencies of an ex-racer.

If there have been persistent signs of aggression in a Greyhound, that dog may need to be crated or otherwise segregated when humans are not present.

Certain sounds can fuel the prey-drive of racing Greyhounds. A voice over a PA system (similar to that of the announcer at dog races as the racers are released from the boxes to chase the lure); a high-pitched squeaking or squealing (resembling the sound of a mechanical lure screeching through the metal guide around the track); roaring, screaming crowds or applause – all can produce tension in a racing (or ex-racing) Greyhound.

Some adopters feel that denying a Greyhound the freedom of running and playing with other dogs is cruel. Previous experiences humans have had with other companion dogs may leave an impression that a game of fetch or tug-of-war is a dog’s preference for interaction with their humans. To a racing Greyhound, the mere presence of a human is likely their choice of interaction as this is something to which they’ve only had limited exposure while at the track.

Remember, it’s our responsibility to control the environment in which our dogs interact and to establish guidelines to which all family members must adhere. Once you’ve made the decision to adopt a retired racer, you need to accept that they are much more susceptible to injury, and special precautions must be taken to provide a secure, safe environment for them.

Having an ex-racer as a companion is a most rewarding experience, but frequent visits to the veterinarian for wound repair get expensive, not to mention the mental toll it takes on the humans and the physical toll on the dog. Greyhounds are regal and affectionate dogs and make wonderful companions, but it’s up to us to acknowledge the sacrifices necessary when having a fragile canine athlete that’s been bred and trained to compete. Relax, enjoy your Greyhounds; but keep them out of harm’s way.


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