Why we chose a retired racing greyhound as our care dog

Firstly, you might be wondering what a care dog is. A care dog is a dog that has therapeutic benefits just by being itself! This contrasts with a therapy dog that has been trained to carry out specific, therapeutic tasks. For example, a dog, that has been trained to lie on its’ owner to provide deep pressure when the owner is distressed, is a therapy dog. A lap dog, that loves being cuddled and lives in a care home to provide relaxation for dementia patients, is a care dog. A lot of dogs are probably care dogs, without anyone realising it. Good doggos!

We had a list of desirable characteristics for our care dog:

  • low shedding. No dog is truly hypoallergenic as they all shed their fur, but there are differences in how much and the type of fur.
  • quiet. Several members of our household have auditory hypersensitivity, which means that sound is amplified for them. Everyday sounds, such as a dog barking, would be physically painful.
  • calm. Several members of our household have Meares-Irlen Syndrome; a small, fast dog running around the house would cause disorientation, leading to accidents and injuries.
  • older. We didn’t think that we were ready for a puppy as our first dog, and, frankly, everyone has enough trouble sleeping without a puppy waking us too!

The care “tasks” we wanted the care dog to fulfil were:

  • being a good traveller. One member of our family finds travelling very difficult and has a tolerance of about 30 minutes – 1 hour for being in the car. We wondered whether having the distraction of a dog nearby (obviously kept safely, not just loose in the car!) might help him tolerate this better.
  • relaxation. Having a dog to stroke, hug and tickle might be relaxing.
  • needing exercise, but not too much exercise. One member of our family has a mild physical disability. They really need to exercise daily, but, because this is painful, resist this. Walking a dog provides a reason to exercise, but it would need to be short distances.
  • playing. Playing games to extend the range of activities the boys take part in.

You are probably looking at our lists and thinking we are crazy! We want something that is calm and doesn’t require much exercise, and we choose a greyhound – the second fastest accelerating land mammal (cheetahs are the fastest)! Well, yes, but hear me out. Greyhounds can run very fast, but they are sprinters so they only do it in very short bursts. Most greyhounds have a fit of the zoomies for about 5 minutes a day, where they run around zestfully, often throwing their toys around as they go. For 20 hours of the day, they are sleeping, and, for the remaining time, they are moving around slowly and purposefully. A greyhound needs 2-3 20-minute walks a day. This was the level of activity that we wanted.

Greyhounds have very low maintenance coats. They need bathing about once every 2-3 months or when your nose tells you it’s time. They need a brush once a week, and they never need their coat cutting. They are low shedders; this is relative to other dogs, of course, and they shed quite a lot when they first come home. Greyhounds have silky, soft coats, that are just asking for stroking, and velvety tummies just waiting for tummy rubs.

Greyhounds are also generally quiet. They hardly bark as they tend to whine or squeak, if they are going to make any noise at all. The most noise I have heard from our greyhound has been the “greyhound scream of death” when she caught her ear on a rose bush and cried in panic, and she once barked in her sleep, while having a particularly dramatic dream.

Retired racing greyhounds have all the benefits of adopting an older dog, but less of the drawbacks. A racing greyhound has been kennel trained so they know not to mess until they are allowed out for exercise. Our greyhound easily transferred this over to being in a house. She has only had one accident and that was partly our fault for not understanding greyhound for “the back door has blown shut and I’m busting!” She was mortified by this so we didn’t even have to tell her off. There is none of the stress of house training a puppy.

Normally, an adopted dog is a mystery. You have no idea of what has happened to them or where they have come from. A retired racer comes with a registration showing their parents and grandparents. They also come with vaccination and medical histories. It is also less likely that a greyhound has been abused. Greyhounds have thin skin so can get injured quite easily. Greyhound racing is a business (some people feel very strongly that it is a business that should no longer exist) and the fact is that an injured greyhound is not going to win races so it is in everyone’s interests to keep the greyhound in the best condition possible, at least, while they are still winning… In some ways, it’s all to easy to imagine a racing greyhound’s life. It mainly consists of the routine of living in a kennel with another greyhound, travelling to stadiums (which means they are good travellers – another desirable trait ticked off), and racing. The domestic human world is unknown to them. They don’t know about televisions, hoovers, washing machines, or all the paraphernalia of life. Racing kennels are usually in the countryside so they have no experience of walking past lorries, buses and other traffic. They might never have encountered a flight of stairs before. Also, they probably have never met other breeds of dog; it’s quite a steep learning curve to discover that chihuahuas, wolfhounds and every dog in between are all the same species as you!

The great thing about an adult dog is that you can get an idea of their personality. We adopted our greyhound from Suffolk Greyhound Trust and they were able to match us to a greyhound, who was calm and well-behaved. This also meant that we could visit her a few times to get to know her before committing to adopting her. We discovered that she loved the toys that we brought with us, and she loved to play. Usually, greyhounds don’t play that much and don’t do tricks. Our greyhound has almost got the hang of fetch, after 3 weeks intensive training by the Allergy Bros. It’s really wonderful to hear the joyful laughter from Allergy Robot, when he is playing with her.

We are only a few weeks into our dog-owning adventure, but so far, it is going better than we could have ever expected. I’ll update you in a few more weeks to see if the rose-tinted glasses have cleared a little. I’ll leave you with a photo of Allergy Hound doing what she does best!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s