In a word, routine! Life at the track is intentionally very routine so that there are few distractions or upsets for the athletes, remember a racing Greyhound is an elite athlete. The trainer handles each dog every day and gets to know each one as an individual. The Greyhounds are used to being handled and bond with their human companions. The dogs are usually fed once a day, in the morning. They eat very high protein diets, usually raw ground meat and other carbohydrates with other supplements that help them maintain their huge muscle mass and energy. They have several daily turnouts in a large exercise pen where they can relieve themselves and play with the other dogs in their kennel. They may be taken out for specific training if they need to improve their skills or rehab from an injury.
Most dogs are raced every two to three days and in between they are resting and rebuilding for the next race. While an average race is only 30 seconds long, the energy the racing Greyhound expends is huge. They can reach speeds of 45 MPH and run the 5/16 mile in 30 seconds. Most racing kennels have between 60 and 80 active dogs, both male and female. While they are resting, they stay in kennels specially made for Greyhounds. The kennels are approximately 31 inches wide by 41 inches deep and 30 inches tall and filled with bedding material that can be changed and kept clean. The dogs are kept separated so there is no accidental breeding, the females usually live in the top kennels and are taught to jump into them. Males usually live in the bottom kennels and never learn to jump. They run on specially prepared surfaces of sand that are kept soft and smooth so they can run as fast as possible without tripping or falling.
The racing Greyhound has seen very little of what we call the everyday world of a pet, they are professional athletes and only see that world until they retire. They have never seen the inside of a house, stairs, children, cats or even any dog except other Greyhounds. For all the racing Greyhound knows, the only animals are Greyhounds and humans.
Most Greyhounds are not aggressive with each other because they have lived in large groups for their entire lives and never develop strong territorial tendencies. They will usually back away from a confrontation. There are always a few dogs that want to be the top-dog and are more aggressive toward other dogs but that is true of every breed, not just Greyhounds. Because they have been handled by humans all their lives and see people as part of their Pack, Greyhounds readily accept people as their superiors and often work hard to be cooperative and likable.
Some Greyhounds are naturally shy and fearful. Most shyness is genetic or the result of poor socialization as puppies in that critical first four months of life. This can be because of their very early experiences as puppies or just their nature. Most of these dogs don’t make it far in racing since being confident and willing to move through a pack of running dogs is essential to win. There is the possibility that the dog had some traumatic experience or abuse at some point but that is uncommon. We never turn a dog away from our program because it is shy or fearful, we work to rehabilitate those dogs and find the right home for them so they can be happy pets.
Remember that everything a racing Greyhound experiences when becoming a pet is new and may be frightening to them. Simple things like a vacuum cleaner, broom, car or even a ceiling fan. These are not necessarily signs of abuse but rather the dog’s fear of the new, unknown experiences. For some Greyhounds just walking on a smooth floor is terrifying. They have always walked or run on sand or surfaces that they can grip. Time and careful reinforcement will usually change the fearful or shy Greyhound into a couch loving, confident pet.
Greyhounds are not taught or forced to stand at the racetrack. Most of their day is spent the same way it will be when it’s in your home, sleeping. Rest is important when racing so the dog’s muscles can rebuild and the dog can maintain its energy. A trainer that forced their dogs to stand would have tired, losing racers and would not be a trainer for long. They do as they please when not racing or training and that’s usually lying in their kennel-crate sleeping.
Occasionally, we will get a puppy that can’t race for some reason or was not bred with proper documentation so it cannot race. We even get pregnant females sometimes and the puppies that come from those dogs need homes. Greyhound puppies are extremely energetic, like any puppy but more so. They are sprinters with powerful muscles so even as puppies; they are a lot to handle. When you adopt a retired racer, even a young dog, they have already been raised and trained for most things. Their personality is established and because their experiences as racing dogs are so consistent, their personalities tend to be consistent. A puppy is an unknown personality and depending how good you are at raising a dog, it may end up very different as an adult than the retired racers you know.
Once the Greyhounds arrive here to our program, they are checked carefully for any illness, injury or parasites like fleas or ticks. We give each incoming Greyhounds whatever care it needs initially, then they get a bath, grooming and a nice meal before they bed down in their kennels to rest. Usually within a week of arrival, they are settled in and ready to visit the veterinarian for an exam, vaccinations and their spay/neuter surgery. We also have the veterinarian perform a complete dental cleaning and remove any teeth that are causing the Greyhound problems. Since this is the first dental most racing Greyhounds have ever had, it can be extensive and expensive. We provide the highest level of medical care available to each Greyhound so it is ready for its life as a pet. Before the Greyhounds can move to their foster homes, they are tested with a cat to determine whether they are able to live safely with cats. We work hard to test each Greyhound and then the dogs that tested cat tolerant are sent to live in foster homes that already have a Greyhound living well with a cat. This allows the new Greyhound to learn from the current Greyhound and the foster homeowner how to leave the cats alone!
Once the Greyhound has completed its medical work, they are moved into one of our foster homes to start learning all about being a pet. Most of our foster homes are Greyhound owners so they understand the racing Greyhound and their own Greyhound will help to transition the new retiree into pet life. Surprisingly, the transition usually only takes a week or two and the new retired racing Greyhound will become a pet. They learn the basics of house training, feeding on regular dog foods and sleeping on a soft bed outside of a kennel. They also learn about slippery floors, dog doors, cats, small animals and walking on a leash.