10 Greyhound Myths

POPULAR GREYHOUND MYTHOLOGY—THE TOP TEN POPULAR GREYHOUND MYTHS, EXPOSED, EXPLAINED, AND DEBUNKED

Having been a participant in various greyhound-related discussion venues on social media, for almost as long as it has been ongoing, I’ve come to a conclusion.

Nothing has been more problematic for the new or would-be greyhound adopter, than the litany of disinformation and greyhound mythology that exists within the popular culture. Greyhound mythology permeates all forms of media, and particularly, social media.

The counter-intuitive and false narratives that abound throughout greyhound-related social and mainstream media, have become an impediment to the adopter’s capacity to understand, intuit and to cope with a plethora of perfectly normal and manageable greyhound behaviors. Perhaps even more unfortunately, this mythology has become an inhibition to understanding, embracing and advocating for the essence of the greyhound breed itself, as a unique, high-functioning, genetically-diverse, yet especially vulnerable population.

So in the spirit of debunking the many fallacies and myths about greyhounds (myths that have been popularized by those who are as far removed from the everyday lives of those greyhounds, as you and I are from everyday life in the halls of Camelot), I’ve decided to compile a Top Ten list of greyhound myths that are likely to confuse adopters. So let’s get started–critical thinking caps placed on heads, turned to “activate”.

MYTH # 10.

“GREYHOUNDS ARE THE ONLY BREED MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE”

While this is a very romantic, alluring notion, thanks to a liberal translation by good ol’ King James, it simply isn’t the case. Now, there were long-limbed, aerodynamic sight hounds in the Middle East that may have lain at Pharaoh’s feet, and which would have been the inspiration for their inclusion in the Bible story–but they weren’t Greyhounds.

Modern investigations into the canine genome and DNA, have shown us that Greyhounds, aside from their canine connection to wolves, are unrelated to the ancient Saharan breeds, like the Saluki and the Afghan Hound.

Greyhounds, genetically, are the foundation breed of a “clade” or family of canines, that includes the Saint Bernard, Belgian Malinois, Irish Setter, and Whippet, among others, originating within the sphere of Celtic culture and influence. The greyhounds we know today, are almost certainly descended from the dogs of the Celts, a culture which flourished in central Europe, from Austria, to northern Spain, to the British Isles, from 1200 BC to the time of the Roman conquests. See Martin Roper’s excellent article, entitled “Everything You Know Is Wrong”, which expands upon these relatively recent revelations.

MYTH # 9.

“GREYHOUNDS WEAR MUZZLES BECAUSE THEY ARE VICIOUS AND/OR OF UNRELIABLE TEMPERAMENT”

This myth was promoted and popularized by political activists who were working to outlaw the coursing of live jackrabbits by greyhounds, or other sight hounds. In the 1980s, this was a well-orchestrated movement that received quite a bit of media attention, and was even successful in some locales. Unfortunately, the greyhound and his reputation were casualties of the attendant, activist propaganda. It mischaracterized the greyhound as having been “trained to kill” and made “bloodthirsty”, through performance of what had been its original and traditional function in America, as a controller of crop-destructive vermin. The unwitting public, naturally, assumed that greyhounds could not, therefore, be trustworthy pets.

At the time, many greyhounds were briefly exposed to the coursing of live game, before being exposed to training for formal competition chasing artificial lures. None of this had any effect upon the greyhound’s nature, temperament or disposition, and they were then, as they are now, good-natured dogs, who are ordinarily quite biddable and easy to handle and manage. They wear muzzles to prevent mouthing or nipping injuries when at play–or when socializing with one another in large groups, where minor disputes might otherwise escalate into major ones.

MYTH # 8.

“GREYHOUNDS ARE NATURALLY LAZY”

We all know the popular stereotype of the greyhound as a “45 mile-per-hour couch potato”. Unfortunately, due to the insidious nature of the popular mythology, this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for many retired greyhounds.

Canines, as a species, have been widely observed, whether in domestication or in the wild, to sleep anywhere from 12-16 hours a day. This is perfectly normal behavior for a canine, and particularly when they are actively training for, or competing in any running sport, as greyhounds do. Greyhounds don’t develop and maintain their rippling, bulging, powerful muscles by being kept in state of suspended animation. When training and competing, they lead very busy and active lives, and thrive on the attention and activity—as well as the downtime.

Any dog, greyhound or otherwise, can become lethargic, lazy and/or even depressed, without adequate mental and physical stimulation and sensory engagement. I’m afraid that far too many “45 mile-per-hour couch potatoes” are being “made”, nowadays, for they are certainly not born into being static sofa adornments.

Greyhounds thrive on activity, like walking, galloping, swimming, or even training for sports, such as lure coursing, flyball or agility competition. While not every adopter has the inclination or ability to participate in organized, amateur competitions with their greyhounds, most adopters can and should provide at least a fair amount of healthful recreation and exercise for their pet greyhounds, if only to begin and nurture the bonding process. It should go without mentioning, that a reasonably fit and active greyhound will be healthier, and experience a better quality of life, than an entirely out-of-shape, sedentary one.

MYTH # 7.

“MY SHY GREYHOUND MUST HAVE BEEN ABUSED”

As time goes by, we seem to learn more and more about how many facets of ourselves, our personalities, and our nature, are often somewhat a matter of inheritance, or of genetic predisposition. Greyhound breeders have long known that things like disposition, temperament, and other aspects of greyhound nature, are highly heritable, and greatly influenced by a greyhound’s own ancestry.

Likewise, breeders of dogs whose main “job” is to be a cute, friendly and loving companion, or a family pet, realize these same things. Just as greyhound breeders do, they select their breeding stock with the intent of either amplifying the most desirable aspects of the breed’s nature, or modifying the less desirable ones. The difference being, of course, the greyhounds aren’t bred to be companions or pets.

Greyhounds are bred to perform a function.

There have been many painfully shy and reactive greyhounds who were never abused, but who excelled at their function, and who went on to produce greyhounds who were just as excellent and influential as they were–and just as shy–sometimes, even more so. “Like tends to beget like”—Chapter 1, Verse 1, in the breeder’s manual, concerning any domesticated animal.

It is not necessary for a greyhound to possess an outgoing, gregarious nature in order to be a superior performance dog, or a prolific producer. In fact, that never even enters the equation for a breeder of performance greyhounds.

Highly accomplished, productive, and hugely influential greyhounds, like Westy Whizzer, Unruly and Representation, to mention only a few, were known to have been unusually shy and withdrawn individuals. Yet it is almost impossible, today, to find an American greyhound pedigree in which they and their descendants do not figure prominently, or in which they have not had significant input and impact.

So there are some strains and families of greyhounds who tend toward being “hot-blooded”, skittish and/or mercurially reactive, and to a greater or lesser degree, shy, introverted, and sometimes, even withdrawn.

While greyhounds of this sort eventually become accustomed to their human familiars, and will behave quite normally among them, they can become extremely upset and fearful when faced with a change of venue, where they are confronted with often intimidating novelties at every turn, including strange humans.

Such is the case for many of these types, going from the kennel to the adoptive environment. They require structure and punctuality to their routine, and patience on the part of their new owners, when introducing them to strange people, objects, environments and situations. They will eventually bond with their new human(s), as long as they are not repeatedly confronted with a sensory or stress overload– and expected to cope with that all at once.

MYTH # 6.

“GREYHOUNDS ARE ‘FORCED’ TO RUN”

Greyhounds are bred to run, and to run at exceptionally high rates of speed. This desire and need to run, and the love of running, is etched on their DNA. They have, after all, been bred to run and compete with one another for thousands of years. Speed has always excited man, and it isn’t too hard to envision even ancient, tribal societies, designing competitions among their game-coursing dogs, to test their speed, agility and mettle.

Since the 18th century, greyhounds have been bred to compete in formal coursing competitions. In the early part of the 20th century, the focus of greyhound breeders gradually changed from coursing, to the breeding of greyhounds who were willing and able to chase a motorized, artificial lure around an oval-shaped track.

In either case, breeding greyhounds who possessed the desire and ability to run and compete with one another was paramount in the minds of breeders.

Today, our modern greyhounds are so steeped in the genetics of their high-functioning ancestors, they are virtually born knowing how to chase, and with the desire to compete while chasing. They don’t have to be taught any of that. It comes as naturally to them as barking does to a terrier.

The job of a professional breeder or trainer is to provide ample opportunity for the young and developing greyhound, to hone and sharpen his natural-born skills. As with any other athlete, repetition is the key to the ultimate refinement of one’s innate abilities. Practice makes perfect.

There is simply no way to poke, prod or otherwise “force” a greyhound to chase after a prey effigy, if that greyhound doesn’t want to do so. He runs on his own, and makes the decision to participate in or carry on with the chase all by himself. The vast and overwhelming majority of greyhounds are more than willing and eager, but very occasionally, one will emerge who lacks the desire to partake of the chase. He either takes no part in the chase, or quits the chase soon after it begins. It’s as simple as that. No one can, nor would they be so inclined as to try and “force” them. How could you? At that point, it’s out of your hands, and entirely up to the greyhound.

Incidentally, the sofas of America and nearby Canada are literally teeming with young greyhounds who didn’t quite have the skills to successfully compete, or were simply not inclined to do so.

MYTH # 5.

“GREYHOUNDS LACK ‘SOCIALIZATION’ ”

I doubt that there is any population of dogs, who are more well-schooled in canine social graces, or more fluent in canine body language, stress signaling, and comprehension of such things. The reason for this is simple. Greyhounds are kept with their dams for much longer than most puppies, and their “pack” remains intact, even after they are separated from their dams–usually at about 16 weeks, sometimes a bit earlier, sometimes later–depending upon how much their dam can tolerate. She teaches them pack manners and deportment, as well as monitoring their interactions with one another.

Later on, when serious training begins, the litter will be introduced to a larger pack or colony, where their early social training will stand them in good stead, as they integrate with the others in the pack/colony. It is critically important to their success, for greyhounds to co-exist within that pack or colony, peacefully and without stress. Managed properly, they do this splendidly, precisely because they are so well-socialized, perceptive, and fluent in communicating with one another.

As adoptees in retirement, when greyhounds experience difficulties with strange dogs, it is often because those dogs lack the refinement of social skills, and the fluency in canine communication that the greyhound already possesses–and is used to encountering in other greyhounds.

Greyhounds, raised to be performing athletes, are handled at very early stages. It is imperative that a greyhound be amenable to and comfortable with being groomed or checked for injury, and mannerly when on lead, if the trainer is to maintain any type of efficiency and order in the kennel. Or when taken to perform, that the greyhound is accepting of inspection and handling by relative strangers.

What greyhounds lack, and what is sometimes confused with “socialization”, is habituation—that is, habituation to strange environments and less structured or unstructured lifestyles. Greyhounds are highly-socialized creatures of habit. Fortunately, they have the intelligence and adaptability to adjust to a radical life change, well beyond their formative stages, provided their humans are correctly informed, prepared, patient, empathetic, and willing to meet them halfway.

MYTH # 4.

“MY GREYHOUND MUST HAVE BEEN NEGLECTED, BECAUSE HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY WITH TOYS”

From the moment they learn to walk, greyhounds spend their lives playing with one another. They run themselves ragged, frolicking, chasing one another, wrestling and play-fighting. They get into all sorts of mischief, and can quickly exhaust their human familiars with their boundless energy, competing with one another for attention and affection.

Greyhounds are creatures of the chase. Their favored “play” consists of chasing and catching things that appear to run away from them. So, when the adopter presents the greyhound with an inanimate object that he is expected to play with, often the greyhound shows no interest in it. This, of course, if we understand what motivates greyhounds, is entirely predictable.

Now, if the adopter were to make a simple “lure pole”, which is only an old broomstick with a stuffed animal or rag attached to one end by a short rope–the greyhound would be jumping out of his skin to chase, catch, and play with it, as the person extended the lure pole and walked briskly away from the dog, in long circles.

Still and all, most breeders and some trainers do provide their greyhounds with inanimate “toys”, which are sometimes shredded to bits in nanoseconds, or in tugs-of-war, or flung around in an attempt to entice them to try and escape. or simply forgotten about and ignored.

Inanimate objects, with the exception of the sofa, are not always of much interest to greyhounds. They like to chase things that are in motion. For a greyhound, they are not a critical life value of which they are cruelly deprived. Greyhounds get ample opportunity, every day, to play with one another, or to play at chasing a lure. For them, it’s all fun and games.

It should also be mentioned that there is no medically recognized malady such as “Stair Deprivation Syndrome”, afflicting greyhounds to the extent that there is any loss in the quality of their lives. They are simply unfamiliar with stairs, and they require time and practice to learn to negotiate staircases. Greyhounds who reside in single story homes are not known to suffer any ill effects from having been deprived of stairs.

Likewise, veterinary medicine does not recognize “Glass Door Deficiency” as a mitigating factor to the greyhounds’ ultimate happiness and contentment. Greyhounds encounter glass doors all the time in their pre-adoption environs, and they are not the only breed or animal that sometimes fails to recognize that a glass door is between them and wherever they are headed. Glass doors can be illuminated for animals by simply affixing some duct tape, in an X-pattern, to the glass itself.

MYTH # 3

“GREYHOUNDS ARE FED CONTAMINATED MEAT”

The beef which greyhounds and many rare and priceless zoo carnivores are fed, and which is processed into commercial dog food, is beef that is deemed “not fit for human consumption”. Greyhounds, as we know, are not human, and if a foodstuff is determined to be unfit for human consumption, that does not imply or mean that it isn’t perfectly fit for canine (or other animal) consumption. The beef greyhounds are fed, is most often sourced from non-productive or aged dairy cows, from cows who have met with misadventure or injury, or from cows who are dying of natural, incurable causes. Exactly the sort of animals most predators prey upon, left to their own devices. Despite what you may have read or heard, there is no American food inspection department or bureau that grades meat by letters and/or numbers.

Per the fact-checkers at Snopes…

”…in the USA meat is not graded on a scale represented by letters, so one would never see crates of meat labeled Grade D (or any other letter grade).
In order to protect the public from food borne illnesses, meat products (a group which includes beef, pork, lamb, and veal) sold in the U.S. are inspected by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to ensure that they meet U.S. food safety standards for safety, wholesomeness, and accuracy in labeling in accordance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). However, the FSIS does not “grade” meat as part of the standard inspection process: inspection is strictly a pass/fail system, and meat products either pass or are rejected as unfit. There is no such thing as “Grade D but edible” or “pet food only” grades of meat”.

Canines are known carrion eaters, and can handle a much higher bacteria load in their diet than we humans can. Their digestive systems are a marvel of adaptation and efficiency. For example, all manner of pet dogs have been well known to bury or hide their fresh meat bones for periods of time that render them foul and putrid smelling—or what we would likely term “rotten”–and then, to find, chew and ingest them, days or even weeks later, to no ill effect.

In my career as a greyhound trainer, I never encountered a greyhound with chronic digestive issues. Such an affliction would render any greyhound unable to perform and compete. Nevertheless, we read every day, on social media’s greyhound related pages, of adopted greyhounds who have chronic diarrhea, and who are fed all manner of extremely expensive custom, “designer” kibbles, none of which seem to rectify the problem.

The only greyhounds I have ever known who suffer chronic intestinal catharses are pet greyhounds–who are not fed the beef with which greyhounds are raised, grown and maintained, prior to and during their performance careers.

Greyhound breeders and trainers have had hundreds of years to experiment with various diets, and to judge, via objective performance results, which foodstuffs yield the best results, and maintain the greyhounds in the absolute best health and condition, with uncomplicated digestion and elimination habits. They all seem to agree, in the intensely competitive performance marketplace, that the much-maligned, lean, red, minced beef viscera, deemed “not fit for human consumption” is the best choice as a staple food.

The trendy and popular BARF (bones and raw foods) diet, which many breeders and owners of pet and performance/working dogs of other breeds have lionized and swear by, is simply an improvisation upon the basic greyhound diet.

“Raw feeding” has proven to be a panacea for many retired greyhounds who have simply not been able to adjust to or cope with an all kibble diet. Raw feeding is what greyhounds have been used to all their lives, and for countless generations of greyhounds that preceded them–which has resulted in a breed that is quite well adapted to this sort of diet.

Given the hundreds of processed pet food recalls that we see each year, the traditional greyhound basic diet of meat, meal, water, stewed vegetables and various other additives, begins to make even more sense for greyhounds who are experiencing significant difficulties adjusting to what for them, is an abnormal (and unappealing) diet of pure kibble.

MYTH # 2

“GREYHOUNDS ARE CONFINED TO THEIR CAGES FOR 23 HOURS A DAY”

To begin with, performing greyhounds in the USA, are bedded down in compartments called “crates”, not cages. These crates are no different, other than being larger (by mandate) than most of the crates you can purchase at your local pet emporium. They are identified on the boxes they come in as “crates”, and many adopters use them with great success when they are away from the home, or sleeping.

A crate is the greyhound’s “safe space”, where he cannot be disturbed by the others in the colony, but can still see and hear them and his human caretakers. The open air design allows the greyhound to remain cool in the hot weather, and warm in the cold weather, as kennels are climate-controlled. This open-air design also allows his trainers to maintain visual contact with him, so that they can always see what he is doing, and tell immediately if something is amiss with him, or troubling him.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the more pertinent question is…

“For how many hours of ‘awake time’ each day, are greyhounds confined to their crates?”

The answer to the question is, about 2-4 hours per day, on average, depending upon what the individual greyhound is scheduled to do that day.

As we have already discussed, greyhounds are world-renown, world-class sleepers, who require significant downtime, often as much as 16 hours a day of sleep, to replenish the enormous amounts of energy they expend while training and performing.

Greyhounds lead very busy and active lives as performing athletes. They are usually turned out in large groups, to play, socialize and to take care of nature’s calls, 4-6 times per day, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Their everyday routine might also involve significant time spent training, galloping, walking, swimming, performing, and/or being groomed, massaged, checked for injuries–and even taking whirlpool baths. There are few dull moments.

Again, simple common sense tells us that greyhounds don’t develop and maintain their impressive, dense musculature by spending their awake-time laying around, hangin’ out, playing video games, and eating Doritos.

MYTH #1

“GREYHOUND BREEDERS ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN BREEDING FOR SPEED, SPEED AND MORE SPEED”

If only it were that easy. While speed is a necessary attribute for any successful greyhound who competes in running sports, it is far from the only necessary attribute. Greyhound breeders wrack their brains trying to come up with just the right combination of bloodline, traits, aptitudes and attributes between a prospective sire and dam that they would prefer be passed on to the prospective offspring.

Perhaps the most important attribute a greyhound can possess, maybe even more than pure speed or pace, is what we refer to as “heart”. It’s what sportswriters and pundits call an “intangible”. Heart, in the case of a greyhound, is an all-consuming desire and will to lead the pack in the chase, despite any adversity he/she may encounter. A greyhound who possess brilliant pace or speed, will not succeed in a big way, if he or she does not also possess a great deal of “heart” and desire to lead the pack.

Likewise, a greyhound who can flash incredible speed, will not be very successful if he/she does not also have sufficient stamina to “stay the course”, for however long the event takes.

Having a great degree of natural athleticism is also a requisite for any greyhound to become a successful competitor, in whatever greyhound sport they do participate.

A greyhound who lacks the nerve and courage to hold his line in the chaos of the pack, when turning at high speeds, will never amount to much of a competitor. Similarly, that also applies to a greyhound who lacks the aptitude and skill to weave his/her way through congestion to lead the pack.

So we can see that the breeder has many things to consider, besides speed, when planning a mating.

He not only wants to breed greyhounds who are fast and agile, but who are also smart, brave and tenacious chasers, and who possess the character of the classic greyhound.

All of the above are some of the very reasons greyhounds make such fascinating and unique pets. These desirable aptitudes and attributes, these intangibles, are part of the makeup of all greyhounds, to a greater or lesser degree. A greyhound doesn’t need to have been a world-class competitor to be a fine example of traditional and classical greyhound temperament and disposition. There are many common, blue-collar competitors who give every last measure of their ability, each and every time they are asked to perform.

When they become your pet, they will display those same sterling attributes and qualities, as your life-long, dedicated companion or family member, giving you every last measure of their love and devotion.

And that is why they are so well loved themselves, the world over.

Written by Dennis McKeon
copyright, 2018

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