Greyhounds are large, athletic dogs, which are one of the oldest breeds known to man. The Greyhound is a sighthound, which was originally used for coursing hares. Their great athletic ability and capacity to reach great speeds made them popular dogs for racing. Today they are still used for coursing and racing but also make loyal companions. They have a calm and gentle nature and are extremely affectionate with humans, although they can be prone to chasing small animals, so appropriate training and testing should be undertaken before letting them off the lead in open spaces.
The Greyhound has a short, fine low maintenance coat, which requires barely any grooming. They can be sensitive to the cold as they carry minimal fat and their coat provides little protection. They are generally a healthy breed but can be affected by some health problems. Although Greyhounds should be allowed to run off the lead they can adapt well to a city environment and often enjoy short bursts of exercise as opposed to long walks.
About & History
Greyhounds are thought to have originated in the Middle East and are one of the most ancient breeds. There is evidence of dogs resembling Greyhounds in drawings found in Ancient Egyptian tombs as far back as 4000BC. Although Greyhound type dogs are found around Europe the breed as we know it today was developed in Great Britain. The Greyhound is a sighthound, originally used coursing and hunting rabbits and hares.
Greyhounds today are used for racing, coursing and showing. They also make good companion dogs due to their gentle and loyal nature. Greyhounds have been shown to be able to reach speeds of up to 45 mph and are extremely athletic.
The Greyhound is a breed which has many different colour and marking variations, those which are permitted by the UK Kennel Club are listed below:
- Black brindle
- Blue brindle
- Blue fawn
- Red brindle
- White and black
- White and black brindle
- White and blue
- White and blue brindle
- White and blue fawn
- White and red
- White and red brindle
- Markings include black mask, parti-colour, solid or ticked
The Greyhound has a smooth, fine coat which is short. The ideal height ranges from 69 – 76 cms (27-30 inches) at the withers with bitches in the lower half of the range and dogs in the upper.
The Greyhound is a large muscular, strong looking dog with a clear symmetry to its body. The neck should be relatively long and slightly arched, leading to well angled shoulders which are narrow at the top. The chest is exceptionally deep, providing plenty of space for heart and lungs with a deep rib cage. The front legs should be long with upright, straight, strong bones. The Greyhounds back is long and broad with a square appearance from above. Hind limbs have an extremely powerful, muscular appearance. The tail is generally long and carried low and curved.
The Greyhounds skull is much longer than it is wide, with an elongated muzzle and powerful, well-defined jaws. Their eyes should be dark in colour and oval in shape, set at an angle with an intelligent look to them. Ears are small and delicate, and are folded backwards, apart from when excited they may partially pricked up.
The breed has a low, free gait, which covers large amounts of ground with each stride. Hindlimbs provide power and propulsion, which allows them to reach great speeds. The Greyhound has an extremely flexible spine, which allows it ‘gallop’ at speed.
Character & Temperament
Greyhounds are extremely gentle, loyal and affectionate with humans although their instinct to chase can kick in if faced with the presence of other small animals. They enjoy company and can suffer from separation anxiety. The Greyhounds kind sensitive nature means that they respond best to a gentle calm approach with regards to training.
They can make good family pets, although more sensitive individuals may prefer a quieter calmer environment. Greyhounds are generally good with children, but children must be educated to be considerate otherwise excessive prodding, poking and noise may prove stressful for these calm dogs. Generally Greyhounds are not used as guard dogs.
Despite their good nature Greyhounds do not have a reputation for being especially easy to train. This may be due to the overwhelming instinct to chase things, but obedience training and socialization with a stress on recall is essential. This can be made harder by a lack of motivation in relation to food.
Although Greyhounds have gained a reputation for chasing other small animals there are also many who get on perfectly well with cats and other small dogs so this is often down to individual character and whether a dog has been socialised well from puppyhood. Despite this many Greyhounds can be perfectly well behaved and easy to house train.
Greyhounds are a generally healthy breed, largely due to their sporting use as coursing and racing dogs favouring function over form. Their life expectancy is around 10-12 years. The UK Kennel Club offers one genetic test for a condition specific to Greyhounds:
- Greyhound Neuropathy (GN) – A neurological disease, which can develop when a dog is young. GN causes muscle weakness, an intolerance to exercise and a distinctive ‘hopping’ gait. A DNA test is available.
Greyhounds have also been reported to suffer from other conditions, some of which are detailed below, although there are currently no genetic tests available to detect them:
- Osteosarcoma – A form of bone cancer.
- Postoperative bleeding – This may be due to the fact that there are a lower number of platelets present in Greyhounds blood than in other breeds.
- Greyhound meningoencephalitis – An autoimmune disease which starts by causing signs such as depression, fever and weight loss and then progresses to cause neurological signs such as loss of coordination and seizures. The disease is often fatal and is difficult to diagnose.
- Cutaneous vasculopathy – A disease which causes bleeding, thrombosis and skin lesions such as deep ulcers which are slow to heal and then progresses on to cause necrosis (death) of parts of the kidney. Although this disease also affects other breeds it is thought that Greyhounds have a genetic predisposition to it.
- Congenital megaoesophagus – An abnormal stretching of the oesophagus where undigested food accumulates in the oesophagus causing regurgitation and eventually respiratory signs such as problems breathing or a cough. The disease can be managed to an extent but often causes other problems such as pneumonia, which can eventually lead to a shorter lifespan.
- Chronic superficial keratitis – An inflammation of the cornea caused by the immune system. The condition is not normally painful and UV light exacerbates the disease, which can cause blindness in severe cases.
- Hyperthermia and rigid paralysis after exercise – A syndrome which causes high body temperatures, rigid muscles as well as an increased heart rate and breathing rate leaving skin and areas such as a the mouth with a blue tinge. It can be caused by excitement, exercise or stress as well as some drugs that can trigger it. Episodes usually occur very rapidly and are severe and can often be fatal and it difficult to identify before it occurs. If an individual is suspected of being susceptible measures should be taken to avoid possible triggers, including appropriate management if any veterinary procedures are needed.
Greyhounds are also particularly sensitive to thiopentone based anaesthetics, which is a consideration for any veterinary surgeon when undertaking procedures.
Exercise and Activity Levels
Greyhounds are active dogs but enjoy short sharp bursts of activity rather than prolonged sessions due to their ability as sprinters. They should be exercised for around an hour a day and ideally this should be made up of some time off the lead either in a garden or the park. However, before attempting off lead exercise it is important to have undergone some training as if tempted with something to chase the Greyhounds instinct can kick in.
Despite common misconceptions Greyhounds often have a laid back and even lazy character and can adapt well to life in a city and even an apartment if they are walked a few times a day for around 20 minutes.
The Greyhound has a short coat with minimal shedding, which is easy to maintain and clean and occasional brushing or shining is more than sufficient. They do not have an undercoat which can mean they are sensitive to either very high or especially very low temperatures. Their short light coat means they do not need regular bathing and the breed is not prone to eye and ear problems.
Care should be taken when using flea and tick prevention products as Greyhounds can be sensitive to an insecticide called pyrethrin often found in them. There are products which are free from this compound so alternatives should be used to avoid problems.
There are numerous Greyhounds which are famous for their racing achievements. However, in popular culture some famous Greyhounds include:
- Santa’s Little Helper from the cartoon series The Simpsons.
- The Greyhound from the Greyhound Lines bus company commercials.
- Kite the Greyhound cross from the anime series Ginga Densetsu Weed.
There are not many popular Greyhound crossbreeds, but the Lurcher is one which is well known.
- Lurcher – a Greyhound crossed with a working dog, usually a British herding breed.