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Working with ex-racing greyhounds

Whether you’re a dog behaviourist, trainer, walker or canine professional in any other capacity, the odds are that you’ll have worked with at least a few ex-racing greyhounds. Dogs considered surplus to the requirements of the racing industry are plentiful in rescue centres, and rescue greyhounds are very popular family pets. Whilst the behaviour and needs of every dog should be evaluated individually, being aware of the breed traits and early experiences of ex-racing greyhounds will help you to tailor your approach to get the best out of these gentle dogs.

In terms of early life experience, most ex-racers have very little in comparison to your average pet dog! The majority arrive in rescue around the age of 4-6 years old, having lived all of their life in a kennel environment. Very few of them have spent any time living inside as a pet, or going for regular walks out in public areas. Understandably, they can find a lot of “normal” experiences and environments quite worrying or overstimulating at first! Slow and positive introductions to everyday experiences are key when helping an ex-racer settle into their first pet home. Be aware that greyhounds often tend to supress behaviour – quietly tolerating things which they find stressful or frightening. Looking out for overt signs that they are actively enjoying themselves/feeling comfortable is absolutely key, as their signs of discomfort can often be quite subtle!

Dog-dog interactions are another area where ex-racers might need some extra support. Although usually extremely social with other sighthounds, a lot of ex-racing greyhounds have had little-to-no socialisation with other breeds of dog. Many of them can find other breeds frightening or over-exciting at first, and must be given opportunities to learn about them at their own pace. Small breed dogs can be particularly challenging for some ex-racers; they may not immediately recognise them as conspecifics, and may show a predatory response towards them. 

Often, gradual and careful exposure to smaller breeds can be enough to change this perception. If not, techniques including scent exchanges, observational learning (watching another greyhound interact socially with a small dog) and desensitization/counter-conditioning can be employed. Although greyhounds are incredibly adaptable and almost all ex-racers will eventually be able to interact socially with smaller breeds, some will always need extra caution around them. Remember that racing greyhounds are still being selectively bred for a working role – both in terms of the behavioural traits which make them suitable for racing (such as a high chase motivation) and the physical attributes to back those traits up!

Since many racing greyhounds haven’t had access to all of the resources they will have in a pet home (such as toys, chews and of course the all-important sofa!) they may value these items extremely highly at first, and therefore be very worried about losing them. Whilst we actually see a surprisingly low amount of serious resource guarding issues in ex-racers, managing introductions to these resources carefully and positively as the dog settles into home life is always advisable. Working on swapping resources from the start, and reinforcing a positive “off” cue for furniture are great ways to avoid friction around each dog’s new favourite things!

Finally, when working with ex-racers we should always be aware of the potential for underlying pain. Many dogs come out of the industry as a direct result of a known physical injury, following a fall or collision on the track. However, even those that don’t are often found to be experiencing some level of underlying pain; whether from an old break, stiff joints or even just tight muscles. Poor dental hygiene and corns are also common in ex-racers. Since behaviour problems are so often caused or exacerbated by underlying physical pain, this should always be the first port of call when addressing any behavioural issues in an ex-racing dog.

Ex-racing greyhounds in general tend to be really sweet, good-natured dogs who adapt amazingly well to pet life. By being aware of some of the challenges they may face when making to move from working dog to beloved family member, we can help to make that transition as stress-free as possible for them.


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