Do Retired Racing Greyhounds Make Good Pets?
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz September, 27 2021
Greyhounds are a fascinating breed of dog that belong to the sighthound family, meaning they have been selectively bred to hunt prey primarily by sight and the ability to outrun their prey. They are thought to be one of the oldest breeds of dog, dating back to the time of Ancient Egypt (Thompson, 2003; Coile, 2015). Their excellent running and hunting ability led to the formation of hare coursing competitions, in which dogs chase a live rabbit. This later evolved into the modern-day competitive sport of greyhound racing. This article will explore greyhound racing and life after the track for these special dogs.
What Is Greyhound Racing?
Greyhound racing is a competitive racing sport in which dogs run around a circular or oval track, similar to horse racing. Dogs chase a lure (often a fluffy, artificial hare) powered by an electric motor. This entices dogs out of the starting boxes, around the track, and across the finish line (Thompson, 2003). Greyhounds can reach speeds of over 40 miles an hour thanks to their special build and unique rotary gallop (Granatosky, 2019; Bertram and Gutmann 2009; Usherwood and Wilson 2005). When racing, the greyhound is in the air 75% of the time (Granatosky, 2019). Similar to horse racing, in many parts of the world including the United States, gambling is a big part of the event. Greyhound racing remains a controversial sport and has been banned in some countries and more than 40 states in the United States (Markwell et al., 2017).
What Is The Average Career Length Of Racing Greyhounds?
A healthy, well performing greyhound may race until 5 years of age (Elliott et al., 2010), however research shows that the average racing career is between 206 to 647 days on average (Palmer et al., 2020). Injured or poor performing dogs may be euthanized or retire early. Common injuries include muscle tears or sprains, lacerations, or bone fractures (Palmer et al., 2021).
What Happens To Greyhounds When They Are Too Old To Race?
Healthy, well-performing dogs may be retained for breeding, or put up for adoption. To improve the welfare of racing greyhounds there are many adoption programs which have partnered with greyhound racing organizations to help place retired dogs into family homes. Some well-known programs include Greyhounds as Pets in Australia and New Zealand and the Retired Greyhound Trust in the United Kingdom. There are over 200 greyhound adoption facilities operating in the United States. Typically, these programs perform behavioral assessments to help match dogs with the most appropriate homes. Areas tested may include acceptance to handling, whether they display resource guarding, response to new situations, and prey drive towards small dogs or cats.
Do Retired Greyhounds Make Good Pets?
Once greyhounds make the transition from the track into a home, they typically perform extremely well as pets. In a survey of new retired greyhound adoptees, 91.1% of owners were “very satisfied” with their dog’s role as a companion animal (Elliott et al., 2010). The following are traits generally associated with the greyhound breed:
- Short and easy to care for coat with low shedding
- Greyhounds are usually quiet dogs that rarely bark
- They are known for having docile temperaments
- They are playful and can love to run (Boneham, 2008)
- Listed as the least aggressive out of 33 common dog breeds (Duffy et al., 2008)
- Coats have low amount of oil making them smell clean (Davis, 2004; Victor, 2010)
- Greyhounds are generally low energy and enjoy relaxation
Retired greyhounds are generally well socialized and well-bred and tend to have lower incidences of behavioral problems than the average shelter dog making them great candidates for household pets (Elliott et al., 2010). Of retired greyhounds that are returned to adoption organizations, the reasons noted were separation anxiety, noisiness, aggression towards children, and problems getting along with existing pets in the home (Elliott et al., 2010). It should be noted thought that the 1-month post-adoptive return rate was 3.3% which is lower than that reported by other shelter dog organizations (Elliott et al., 2010).
Do Greyhounds Have Special Requirements?
As with any breed of dog, greyhounds have some specific care requirements due to their physical and behavioral nature. Since their coats are short and they have very little body fat, they are likely to feel cold during the winter in cold climates (Rice, 2001). Greyhounds should be provided with a jacket or sweater to help regulate their body temperature when the weather gets chilly. Likewise, their short coats and bony features can cause them to feel uncomfortable on hard surfaces. These dogs will appreciate soft dog beds throughout the home to snuggle up in and to prevent sores from forming on their joints. Additionally, since greyhounds are sighthounds, they tend to have higher than average prey drives. This trait is what motivates them to chase the lure around the racetrack, but it could be misplaced towards small dogs, cats, children, or other small, fast moving creatures inside or outside the home. Therefore, greyhounds should always be secured well, either by a tall fence or on a leash to keep them from running off after prey and getting lost or potentially injured. If properly introduced, many greyhounds can successfully share homes with cats and other small animals. Finally, some retired greyhounds may be more likely to be fearful of new people (Duffy et al., 2008). These dogs may require some confidence building exercises and exposure to calm, friendly people to improve their quality of life and to prevent any aggression from developing.
Do Retired Greyhounds Need To Run?
While greyhounds are known for their running ability, they prefer to run for relatively short bursts. When they are not running, most are quite content lounging around. The breed has earned them the title of being “the world’s fastest couch potato” (Coile, 1998). They will still require frequent walks and play time, but they do not need to spend any more time running compared to the average dog. These traits make them well suited for pet life as they can adapt to an active lifestyle as well as a comfy life at home.
How Long Do Retired Greyhounds Live?
Due to how valuable greyhounds’ health is to the racing industry, their breeding has been well controlled and typically only healthy dogs are bred. As a result, greyhounds have a life expectancy of 12 years on average, which is much longer than comparable large breed dogs (Victor, 2010). In a study investigating the population structure and rates of inbreeding of common dog breeds, researchers found that most breeds are extremely inbred, with the exception of greyhounds (Calboli et al., 2008). As a result of this careful breeding, greyhounds have an extremely low prevalence of genetic diseases. Most notably, hip dysplasia which affects many large breed dogs is extremely rare amongst greyhounds (Lord et al., 2007).
In summary, adoption agencies that help place retired racing greyhounds into homes greatly improve the welfare of these dogs. People adopting retired greyhounds can expect a healthy, well-bred dog with favorable traits such as calm, quiet personalities with easy to care for coats. Just like any other dog breed, greyhounds will require training, exercise, and regular care. When provided with room to burn off energy and stretch their legs, along with plenty of warm soft areas to snuggle up in, retired racing greyhounds make excellent companions that have longer than average life expectancies.
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