The awareness of the fate of retired racing greyhounds has touched a humane nerve in the American public. More and more families are deciding to adopt a retired racer. Knowing what to expect when you bring your newly adopted greyhound home will go a long way to ease the transition of the dog from track to home life and to ensure that the dog has truly found his "forever" home. As eager as you are to shower your new companion with attention, toys and new friends, you must first remember that this is a time of major adjustment for your greyhound.

Prior to retirement, racing greyhounds have lived a strictly regimented life. Kennel life is all they have known. A typical non-racing day is spent in the crate with time out for exercise and bathroom relief. At some places, the dog may spend 23 hours a day in its crate, with two half-hour exercise periods. Greyhounds do not race every day. They are sprinters, not distance runners. They are usually rested for a few days between races.

Greyhounds are rarely alone. A racing kennel may house a hundred dogs or more. The open stainless steel crates allow the dogs to see, hear and smell each other. There are people milling about feeding, cleaning and exercising the dogs. It is important to keep your greyhound's former life in mind as you move through the homecoming and period of adjustment.

Introducing your greyhound to any other animals in your family must be done with care. Greyhounds are trained to chase a mechanical lure at the track. They are taught to chase until capture. Some greyhounds with high prey drives will chase any small fuzzy moving object - a cat, rabbit, squirrel, small dog, etc. Some greyhounds are just fine with cats and small animals, but some are not. You should know what type your dog is before you bring him home to your other pets. Never leave your new greyhound alone with your other pets until you know for sure that the animals will get along. Sometimes this can take a few days to ascertain, but more likely it will take several weeks. Your new greyhound will relax as he gradually gets used to your home. At first the dog may show little interest in the family cat. But she may become an object of interest later on. Be cautious and be vigilant.

Since greyhounds have lived with other dogs all of their lives, they usually get along well with other dogs. There will be some sparring and growling as the dogs settle their places in the family dominance hierarchy. This is natural. Your role is as the dominant member of the hierarchy. You are responsible for making sure that the scuffles do not escalate to any serious fighting.

Because of their racing training, most greyhounds will chase any small fast moving animal until they catch him or until he disappears. In retirement, a greyhound will NOT stop and look both ways before crossing a street if he is in hot pursuit of a squirrel. The greyhound will NOT notice where he is going, so focused is he on the prey. For this reason, greyhounds must always be walked on lead. They may be allowed free play only in a securely fenced in yard or field. The sad story is that people who believe their greyhound is different and can be trusted off lead, find out the truth the hard way when the dog is lost or hit by a car.

Many dog rescues and shelters do not adopt any dogs to families with children under the age of six years. The reason is not that the dogs are vicious. Rather, young children are often quick with their movements, invade the dog's personal space, pounce on him, wake him from sleep and annoy the dog without paying attention to the dog's signals that he has had enough. Any dog may snap or growl if those signals are not heeded. If you have young children, please take this into account as you decide to adopt a greyhound or any dog.

Retired racing greyhounds have mature bowel and bladder muscles. The job, when you bring the new greyhound home, is not so much to teach control as it is to teach the dog where to go and not to go. This can be done quickly and with few or no accidents if you are willing to put in the time. As a rule, dogs do not relieve themselves in their beds or crates. This is because these places are the domestic equivalent of the ancestral den. When a dog has learned that your entire house is the "den," there should be no more accidents. To achieve this, you need to help the dog learn room by room. First, take the dog out frequently. Take the dog out first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. Take him out after meals. Try to use the same door with your dog every time you exit and enter your house. Your greyhound will learn this is the place to stand to signal he has to go out. In the house, keep your greyhound in whatever room you are in. This is the only true way to monitor the dog. If the dog seems "antsy" take him out. If you cannot keep an eye on the dog--if you go out, take a shower or when sleeping at night--put the dog in a crate or exercise pen.

These places, when used appropriately, are akin to the dog's den. Remember that this is the way the greyhound has lived up until he joined your family. If used properly (never as a place to punish your dog), a crate is an excellent housebreaking tool. Over time you can work toward allowing the dog to have the full range of your house as he becomes full trained. You may also find that your greyhound will prefer a crate as a place to sleep or to retreat when needed. Leaving a crate with the door open in a secluded place in your house offers him the choice.

Most greyhounds have never encountered stairs. You may have to teach him how to navigate both up and down (down being a bit more difficult). Often the lure of a stinky slice of hot dog will be enough to coax it up and down. Remember that a greyhound is a tall dog. The roasted chicken in the center of your kitchen table may be too high for most dogs, but just an easy stretch away for your greyhound.

Choosing a vet for any pet is important but especially for greyhounds. Greyhounds have naturally slender builds, and virtually no body fat. Many drugs and chemicals are reacted to differently by greyhounds because of this, especially anesthesia and flea & tick repellents and shampoos.

Greyhounds are likely to have a slightly accelerated heart rate when compared to other types and breeds of dogs. Please make sure your vet is aware of these differences.

Sometimes people are alarmed because greyhounds are thin, but unless it Is extreme, it is just the nature of the breed. When you consider a greyhound for adoption, ask the people at the rescue about your dog's weight. It is not unusual for the dogs to be a little on the thin side when they come from the track. But it is not a good idea to think you have to "fatten" them up.

A heavy greyhound is not a healthy greyhound. Greyhounds are born athletes and burn up the calories fast. When racing greyhounds are retired from the track, they often eat huge amounts per day, as much as 6 cups or more of chow. This is due to the combination of their metabolism and the racing diet they are kept on at the track. Your greyhound will not always require that much food. Once the dog adjusts to family life and is no longer racing, the amount will settle down to four or five cups per day depending on your dog's size. The rescue from which you adopt can help you determine the correct amount for your dog.

It is a wise precaution to have your vet give your new greyhound a complete check-up. Bring any medical records that you are given by your adoption agency. If your dog is not spayed or neutered, make an appointment to have that done. A tick panel is advisable since many greyhounds travel to tracks all over the country, and may have been exposed to ticks which may not be local to your area. Learn what dog food and how much your greyhound has been eating. If you will feed a different brand at home, gradually change to the new food by mixing the foods over a period of days.

Each greyhound is an individual. You may encounter issues specific to your dog. If you do not know how to handle the situation, ask for advice from your greyhound adoption agency as soon as possible. Many adoptions have failed because people did not seek help promptly. The main ingredient to a successful greyhound adoption is TLC with a big dose of patience. Greyhounds are among the most affectionate of dogs. They want to give and are eager to accept love. Keep in mind your dog's previous life. Be patient, consistent in your treatment and vigilant in your training. Your reward will be the adoring look of your greyhound's big brown eyes as the bond between you is sealed for life.

Article & photos by Deborah Schildkraut

Note:  This article first appeared in PETroglyphs Magazine, Fall 2002,