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Shyness, Fearfulness and Induced Phobias in Greyhounds
by Judy Kody Paulsen
(Excerpt from Fall 2004 issue of GCNM News)

(The following article has been written from my experience and observations with dog rescues I have done over the years; mostly retired racing Greyhounds. I do not presume to be an expert in the field of animal behavior – I only possess a profound interest in the nuanced attempts of our animal friends to communicate with us through their behavior.)

Most everyone has seen a dog that appears to have suffered unthinkable abuses. Anyone with a heart and a soft spot for animals would likely imagine beatings or cruelty beyond comprehension when observing a dog trembling or retreating in fear at the sight of a human being. But not all shy or fearful dogs have been abused or neglected.

Just as in human beings, there are some dogs that have the genetic makeup which predisposes them to shy or fearful behavior. Dogs with this innate shyness can be especially challenging to convert. Extreme personality transformations – from introverted to gregarious – are not as likely or predictable in these dogs as in those whose shyness is circumstantial.

Inadequate and infrequent handling of puppies at a very young age can also bring about an especially persistent type of shyness that can be difficult to reverse. Many Greyhound farms are populated with hundreds of dogs and little time can be spent with individual dogs when trainers evaluate them for performance standards. This lack of human attention coupled with socializing only among other Greyhounds can produce a dog that relies strongly on the presence of other dogs when placed into an adoptive home. These dogs and many Greyhounds in general will tend to prefer the company of other Greyhounds, at least initially, since that’s all they’ve likely ever seen during their racing careers.

Some dogs who’ve been victims of cruel treatment will develop distrust for humans; conversely, there are some animals who will develop an intense bond with a human who has repeatedly abused them. This has been demonstrated with various training methods which are inarguably cruel and inhumane. An animal may respond to physical abuse in the way a wolf pup submits to the alpha dog in a pack and is loyal and obedient regardless of the pain inflicted.

Racing Greyhounds’ lives are structured around the same routine everyday. Most racers are immune to the frenetic activity surrounding training and racing, however the more timid dogs may be adversely affected by various routines racers must learn to tolerate. At training farms the dogs are captured at the end of practice races in a maneuver requiring a human to lunge forth at the dog. Some dogs adapt readily to this procedure, however a timid dog may become intensely fearful of any movement resembling this action.

It is not uncommon to see retired racers who have a baseball-cap phobia. Many workers at training farms and tracks wear this type of hat. If dogs associate rough handling or any negative experience with a human wearing a baseball cap, it is possible they will be reluctant to be handled or approached by anyone wearing similar headgear until they can overcome this phobia. Positive experiences with humans in baseball caps eventually instill confidence in these Greyhounds.

A dog that has been abused or neglected can often be rehabilitated to an acceptable level of sociability, depending on the degree and type of abuse endured. A dog that is merely depressed or confused due to sudden changes in environment or guardianship is often easily converted back to its original social behavior (assuming it was a social animal to begin with). Retired racing Greyhounds who exhibit outgoing personalities while at the racing kennel will occasionally become extremely shy or fearful when removed from the care of a trainer with whom they bonded. Engaging in playful antics when with a trainer they trust at the track, they may become withdrawn and antisocial when transferred into an adoptive home. Some of this behavior can be attributed to the fact that these dogs have always been in an environment full of activity and other Greyhounds. Difficulty in adapting to a completely new atmosphere devoid of other Greyhounds and familiar routines can induce fear or shyness in vulnerable Greyhounds.

Greyhounds who are known to be shy or unexpectedly become withdrawn when placed into adoptive homes need time and patience to overcome their fear. Loud, raucous behavior by family members and friends should be discouraged initially when in the presence of a timid or fearful Greyhound.

Often, our first response to a fearful dog is to speak directly to him in a soft, soothing tone, hoping this will allay the fear that we pose a threat. The best course of action to pursue is to ignore the dog and let it determine when it’s ready to start socializing. Allowing the dog to constantly retreat to an isolated area will slow the process of socializing. During family together-time, closing off doors to bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. is effective in bringing the dog closer without forcing physical contact. To help alleviate anxiety in an apprehensive dog, keep conversations and TVs at a low volume until his nervousness subsides. Children (and adults) should be discouraged from approaching the dog face to face. When the opportunity presents itself – if the dog is near and is aware of your presence – a gentle touch to the back or sides will begin to impart the message you can be trusted. Over time, increased physical contact of a gentle nature will reward you with a loyal companion who was once fearful or shy.


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