Greyhound racing training is a lengthy and costly process. Training racing Greyhounds is also highly controversial. Races involve a mechanically-propelled dummy hare that the Greyhounds chase around a track.
The process of preparing Greyhounds for the track can involve over-breeding, racing injuries and overexertion of dogs, but not all Greyhounds face poor welfare in their career. It’s important to approach the subject in a balanced manner if improvements are to be made.
What Is Greyhound Racing?
Greyhound racing is an organized sport in which Greyhounds are competitively raced around a track. The two forms of Greyhound racing are coursing and track racing. Track racing is encouraged with an artificial lure. The lure travels ahead of the dogs to draw them toward the finish line. Greyhound race organizers often encourage the public to bet on the outcome. The sport is legal in the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, Spain, and some states in the USA.
Animal welfare groups are critical of the commercial racing industry. The racing industry has long been associated with over-breeding, physical overexertion, high euthanasia rates, and lack of socialization of dogs. However, not all Greyhounds suffer these problems, and it’s important to approach the subject of Greyhound racing in a balanced way.
Is Greyhound Racing Legal?
Greyhound racing is on the decline – it’s illegal in 40 states and the number is set to rise. Between 2001 and 2014 there was a 70% decline in the amount gambled by the public on dogs. Dog racing is legal and active in the following states: Iowa, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, and West Virginia. Racing is legal in these states, but there are no stadiums or tracks with live races currently in these states: Oregon, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Connecticut. Greyhound racing is illegal in all other states.
Greyhound races are legal in the United Kingdom. As of 2020, there are 21 licensed stadiums and 4 independent stadiums that host dog races. Races held at registered stadiums are regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB). Licensed kennels must fall within specific rules and guidelines. The Greyhounds are inspected by qualified veterinary surgeons before they race. Drug tests are also conducted.
Canberra, Australia Capital Territory, has banned Greyhound racing. The ban has been in effect since 2018. For the rest of Australia, Greyhound racing is legal. There are 66 active Greyhound tracks and 67 racing clubs to date. Spain allows Greyhound racing, however, there are no official race tracks, and the last track closed in 2006. The races start on straight paths instead. Coursing competitions are held each year, where dogs compete to catch a lure or live hare. The Galgo Español is most commonly bred for this purpose as well as general hunting.
Why Should You Train Your Greyhound?
Untrained and aggressive Greyhounds are banned from the race track. Training Greyhounds to tolerate other dogs and walk on a leash is important for the dog’s racing career. While most unsuitable dogs never make it to the track, it doesn’t mean that all dogs are exempt from acting out, and being able to keep control is important.
Greyhounds often suffer from fear and anxiety. Resource guarding, destructive behavior, and leash reactivity are some of the most common problems in Greyhounds. Training helps to teach your dog how to cope and can reduce these undesirable behaviors.
The Greyhound is a sensitive breed. These dogs do not respond well to punishment. Using aversive techniques like loud noise and physical punishments will not teach your Greyhound what you want them to do. Old-school dominance theory training is not good for your dog. Positive, reward-based training is a better, gentler option for both you and your pet.
How to Train a Greyhound for Racing?
Every Greyhound is different. What works best for one dog will not necessarily be best for another dog. When training your dog, you must tailor your practices to their specific needs. In the beginning, your young Greyhound needs a good diet and regular, but not extreme, exercise. Training for races should not begin until your dog is 10 months old, but most successful racers wait until their dog is over 1 year old. Your dog cannot race on a track until it is 15 months.
The importance of walking is debated by modern Greyhound trainers. Proponents of regular walks state that it keeps their dogs mentally alert. It especially helps to switch up the route you take when walking. Walks also allow owners to pay close attention to their dog’s gait. If your Greyhound is favoring one leg or walking with a short stride it indicates that something is wrong. It keeps your dog fit and gets them ready to free gallop. It also allows the dog to develop some muscle tone before any pressure is put on your dog’s skeleton and muscles.
However, the consensus on the amount of time one should spend walking their racing Greyhound is divided. Some trainers do not walk their Greyhounds. Instead, they release their dogs into paddocks to free gallop. They argue that walking does not increase a dog’s fitness, whereas galloping does.
Some trainers use walking machines. Greyhounds cannot be walked on a machine for more than 20 minutes. This is because their pads become sore and worn down. 10-20 minutes on the machine at a time is appropriate. Proponents of walking machines state that leash walks are not always possible. Time constraints and poor weather conditions influence how often some dogs are walked. These machines are excellent for maintaining muscle tone and can improve stamina. When on an adjustable incline, walking machines help to develop the chest muscles. However, they cannot build muscle mass.
Dogs housed in larger racing kennels are usually let out to urinate at regular intervals. Most kennels will turn out their Greyhounds at least 2 – 3 times a day. The breed also has a natural aversion to soiling their living quarters. For these reasons, ex-racers and racers alike appreciate having a structured toileting routine.
Greyhounds are usually good at holding themselves. However, this does not make them exempt from accidents in the house, and housebreaking needs to be considered. When you bring your Greyhound home, it’s important that you decide where you need them to go to the toilet. Some owners are happy as long as their dog goes outside, whilst others are specific about where their dog should go. These are dogs of routine – in the first few days of ownership, start a schedule of feeding, exercise, and toileting. Having a set mealtime will make this easier. Young dogs and puppies often empty their bowels soon after a meal.
You need to watch your dog closely for signs that a trip outside is needed – sniffing, circling, and pawing indicate that your dog needs to go. At this stage, you need to bring your dog to the spot you need them to urinate in. If your dog successfully goes, make sure to give plenty of praise and fuss! Over time you will get to know when your dog most often needs to go.
In the event that your dog has an accident in the house, do not punish them. This especially applies when you come across puddles after the fact. By the time you find the puddle, your dog won’t make the connection between the accident and the scolding. Greyhounds do not want to have accidents and if they do, it’s usually down to nerves and not knowing where they should go.
Early morning and evening are the safest times to exercise Greyhounds. This especially applies to warmer weather. Over-exposure to the sun is a killer. There is no point in risking your dog’s health by exercising in the heat of the day. These dogs are at risk for heatstroke and dehydration. Black Greyhounds appear to suffer the worst from heat-related issues.
Greyhounds are easy to train. However, specific commands are notoriously difficult for these sighthounds to comply with. Coming back when called is one of them.
Recall obedience is tricky but not impossible to teach. These dogs are easily distracted by movement and things we can’t see. If you haven’t trained your dog in recall, don’t take any chances – never let your Greyhound off-lead in a public space and expect them to come back to you. Greyhound racing training should involve some recall. When let out to free gallop in a secure paddock, your Greyhound will need to come back somehow.
An essential part of your training kit is the squawker. Squawkers are devices that mimic the sound of a prey animal in distress. Most trainers report success with these devices. Even dogs in full gallop will stop and pay attention when the squawker is used. When your dog comes to you, always offer treats and praise to reinforce the behavior.
Most racing Greyhounds are trained to accept leashes. Dogs that don’t walk on a leash correctly can harm their trainer, harm other dogs, and harm themselves. Greyhounds are also not easy to recall. This makes leash training a vital component of Greyhound racing raining.
Greyhounds are sensitive to neck injuries. Pulling on the leash causes harm to the dog. It restricts air intake and blood flow to the head. Some dogs even sustain retinal damage due to the increase in blood pressure when the collar tightens. Newly adopted Greyhounds also have a habit of stopping in their tracks. This means that they may stop as you continue to walk.
The best approach is to always be patient and encouraging. Untrained Greyhounds will be anxious on a leash. They will not understand what you need from them. For the best results, leash training from a young age is highly advised.
Clicker training utilizes positive reinforcement techniques. It is a very effective way of training an ex-racing Greyhound. The retired racer must learn to associate the clicker’s sound with a high-value reward. This is called “loading” the clicker. Clicker training is sometimes challenging for a retired racing Greyhound who has lived a routine-oriented lifestyle. Trying and exploring new things isn’t necessarily encouraged in this environment. If you fail to make the learning experience fun and rewarding, your Greyhound will get bored and shut down. Some trainers find that their dog walks away in the middle of training.
Begin clicker training on an easy note. The first step is to load the clicker. Click and immediately give a treat. Once this is done enough times, the dog will make eye contact upon hearing the click. Reward them for eye contact. You can begin to use a phrase like “watch me” or “look” as the cue. Other easy commands include “touch”, which you can begin by touching your hand to your dog’s nose. When you pair this action with this command enough times, your dog will learn to touch their nose against your hand.
A common experience for Greyhounds is that they are not adequately socialized as puppies to other animals and people. The recognized socialization period is 3 – 18 weeks of age. Because there is a lack of socialization during this time, some Greyhound puppies develop anxiety when faced with other dogs. There is also a genetic influence involved in a Greyhound’s personality. Confident, social dogs are more successful than anxious and timid dogs and studies show a link between confidence and performance.
Greyhound racing training involves several pieces of training equipment. The types of leash, collar, and muzzle you choose are integral for the safety and performance of your dog. Retired racing Greyhounds require additional training support.
Flexi-leashes are unsafe for Greyhounds. Not only is it much harder to maintain a strong grip, but the sound the leash makes when dropped is enough to make it dangerous. When dropped, the leash bangs and clatters across the floor, enough to frighten any dog. They begin to run and as the leash trails behind them, they may believe that they are being chased and will not stop. In some cases, the Greyhound will run until their paws are bleeding and can easily become lost. Owners often report that they believed they would be able to control their dogs despite the dangers. Never assume that your dog will come back when called in this situation.
Slip leads can be used temporarily to move short distances. When using a rope slip lead, always ensure that the stopper is slipped up behind the dog’s ears at the narrowest section of the neck. This helps to prevent the dog from escaping. Slip leads are especially useful for a dog you don’t know or for nervous dogs that are prone to backing out of collars. Long-term use is not advised because the rope is uncomfortable and can cause hair loss around the neck. Most trainers will use the slip lead in conjunction with a leather collar for extra security.
Sighthound breeds require specialist collars. All sighthounds have narrow heads that can easily slip out of standard collars. These breeds also tend to pull forward upon seeing something that interests them. This makes them vulnerable to neck injuries. This also means that hairless patches can develop beneath a standard dog collar. For these reasons, Greyhounds must wear softer collars that fit in a different way. Greyhound collars are made of leather and are wider in the middle. The wide part fits under the throat. When the dog pulls, their breath and arterial blood flow should not be compromised. The collar can also be padded for extra comfort.
Martingale collars are designed to tighten when the dog pulls on the leash. The largest loop is slipped onto the dog’s neck. The leash is clipped to the smaller loop. When the Greyhound lunges forward, the tension on the leash pulls on the smaller loop. This makes the large loop tighten around the neck. When properly fitted, the martingale collar is loose when the dog is not pulling on the leash. As with any collar that tightens there are some risks involved. Don’t allow your Greyhound to go outdoors off-leash with this type of collar. If the dog walks into foliage or tries to jump a fence the loop can easily be caught.
Prong collars are unsuitable for racing Greyhounds. While these collars give tight control, they also inflict discomfort on the sensitive Greyhound and can cause permanent damage. The same applies to choke chains.
Racing Greyhounds must wear racing muzzles. The purpose of the muzzle is to protect the dogs from one another as they race nose-to-nose. As Greyhounds race they do so with their mouths open – a bump from a tooth can easily cause injuries to other dogs. This is because Greyhounds have thin, delicate skin that’s prone to damage. On top of offering protection, muzzles give another racing advantage. When two Greyhounds cross the finish line it can be difficult to determine which dog is the true winner. The muzzle gives a slightly better visual as to which dog crossed first. Some racing muzzles are designed with a white front to provide a better visual on the winning dog.
Some trainers use basket muzzles for their Greyhounds when they are playing in the turnout pen. The basket muzzle is also referred to as the “turnout” or “kennel” muzzle. Basket style muzzles are suitable for most Greyhounds. They are practical and comfortable, allowing the dogs to drink, play, and pant freely due to larger gaps in the design. It simply provides protection against injury when playtime gets too rough. Never assume that your dogs will never fight due to the placid temperament of the breed – any dog can be pushed into a fight if threatened. On the same note, it’s important to be aware that basket muzzles do not prevent all injuries. Dogs with a high prey drive or a history of aggression will still be able to hurt other dogs if left unsupervised. We, therefore, recommend taking other safety precautions in these circumstances.
A clicker is any device that makes a clicking sound when deliberately activated. Clickers usually consist of a piece of metal or plastic held within an outer casing, so that when the metal is depressed, it pops out of alignment and produces the clicking sound. Some clickers are depressed directly by the user’s thumb, and others are used by pressing a button above the surface of the casing. Technically any device that makes a distinctive clicking sound can be used – the appearance of the device matters less than the distinguishable sound it makes.
Clicker training is a form of operant conditioning. When associated with a reward, the click allows the trainer to mark the precise moment that the desired behavior is performed. While being largely positive, clicker training can also be used in a negative way and it is important to not resort to these aversive methods. Extinction is an aversive training response. Avoid extinction by following the rule that “the clicker never lies.” If you accidentally click, you must give a reward. Failing to reward your dog after a click will create distrust and confusion. Furthermore, failing to reward your dog despite them offering you the desired behavior will cause them to shut down or lose interest.
This method of training is not usually used in Greyhound racing training. Instead, it’s a popular way to train ex-racing Greyhounds.
When training Greyhounds for racing, we cannot over-emphasize the need for high-value treats. Hounds require a lot of motivation to work for something other than chasing prey. Retired racing Greyhounds undergoing clicker training will appreciate these high-value foods.
- Dehydrated liver
- Dehydrated lung
- String cheese
- Rotisserie chicken
- Hot dogs
- Peanut butter
- Oily fish
We do not recommend most premade dog treats on the market, unless they are natural. Many commercially available treats are high in preservatives and artificial coloring. This can cause digestive upset and flatulence. Always prefer single-ingredient dog treats.
Greyhound Racing Training – FAQs
If your questions have not yet been answered, feel free to refer to our FAQs section for other information about Greyhound racing training.
When Are Greyhounds Trained To Race?
Greyhound racing training doesn’t begin until the dog is at least one year of age. Before this, Greyhound puppies are encouraged to develop muscle through play. Between 5 to 7 months old, puppies begin leash training, are introduced to muzzles and may learn some verbal commands. At 15 months, a Greyhound is able to race on a track against other competitors.
Is Greyhound Racing Cruel?
Greyhound racing is controversial for several reasons. Nowadays, many breeders and trainers take care of and treat their dogs with respect in this competitive environment. However, cases of self-regulation open the sport up to abusive situations. The reality is that this sport has inherent problems with how it handles the welfare of its racers, especially after their racing career is over. If the sport is to improve, it must acknowledge the welfare problems involved in dog racing.
The most reputable trainers will always prioritize the health of their Greyhounds. All race tracks in the United Kingdom must provide veterinary services on-site during a race. The competing hounds also require annual vaccinations against parvovirus, leptospirosis, and distemper, among others. These dogs must pass a pre-race inspection by a vet to be allowed to partake in the race. Unfortunately, these control measures don’t prevent all cases of bad welfare and cruelty.
Do Greyhounds Enjoy Racing?
Greyhounds love to run. They also love to play, cuddle and sleep like any other dog. Whether they love to race against other Greyhounds is unclear. Trainers often report that their dogs are “excited” when they know a race is coming. There is definitely anticipation before a race and the dogs are motivated to chase the mechanical lure.
On the other hand, Greyhounds are known for being low-energy dogs who don’t need much exercise. Some owners report that their dog sleeps for 16-20 hours a day. The breed can also live comfortably on a daily walk of 20-30 minutes. This means that they don’t necessarily need to race.
How Much Do Racing Greyhound Cost?
The cost of owning a racing Greyhound depends on the type of ownership you decide. There are three types: syndicate, partnership, and single ownership. A syndicate is formed with friends, colleagues or sports clubs. The group consists of 4-20 members. Costs are split between members. A partnership is formed between two owners. Both owners’ names appear together. Single ownership involves buying and training a puppy and fronting all costs.
Prices vary from breeder to breeder and increase the older the puppies get. Puppies older than 10 months who have begun training are called saplings. The average price at weaning is between $500 – $1,000 per puppy. Successful bloodlines, especially for saplings, can fetch prices between $3,500 – $5,500.
Rearing costs are between $60-$70 per week. This covers essentials such as supplements, worming, food, travel and minor vet bills. Annual boosters add $50-$60 to the rearing costs. At 14-16 months the dog is sent to the breakers. This adds a cost of $100-$200 per week for 4-6 weeks. Pre-trainers charge $100+ per week and keep the dog until it’s ready to race. This can be anywhere from 4-12 weeks. Overall, the minimum cost of getting a racing Greyhound puppy to the track is $5,000.
What Happens To Greyhounds After They Stop Racing?
Many Greyhounds depend on rehoming charities to find new homes. In 2018, at least 4588 dogs were sent to the Greyhound Trust in the UK. Many other charities operate in the UK to rehome retired racing Greyhounds. Unfortunately, charities cannot take them all, and some do not make it to any charity at all. 190 Greyhounds were designated “unsuitable for rehoming” by trainers and euthanized. 144 were declared to have “no option away from the racecourse” and euthanized. No homes were found for 5.
Some Greyhounds face export to other countries after racing. A recent case was uncovered by Greyhounds Australasia wherein these dogs were exported to Macau. In 2013, Greyhounds Australasia blacklisted Macau. They refused to issue any passports for export. This was because inspections revealed significant welfare problems with their racing industry. Macau was once home to the Canidrome race track, which had a high death rate and very poor welfare record. The federal government allowed the export of at least 590 Australian Greyhounds to Macau two years after the country was blacklisted. Irish Greyhounds were also discovered in poor conditions in Macau. Caged Nationwide is one group campaigning to stop the export of retired greyhounds for further racing and the meat trade.
How Many Greyhounds Die Racing?
The true number of Greyhounds who die racing is unclear. Different sources give different statistics and some are more likely to be biased one way or another. However, one look at these numbers will reflect an alarming amount of dogs who suffer injury and death during races and after races each year.
- GBGB reported a track fatality rate of 242 and a euthanasia rate of 932 in 2018.
- Greyhounds Australasia reported a death rate of anywhere from 13,000 to 17,000 in Australia each year. PETA suggests that the true number is 18,000.
- SOS Galgos reports that 100,000 Spanish Greyhounds die hunting and coursing in Spain each year.
In conclusion, Greyhound racing training involves at least 15 months of preparation and at least $5,000 in costs per year. Walks, morning exercise and leash training are important factors in the training of these dogs. The type of collar and leash is also important for the safety of the dog and specialist options exist on the market. After their racing career, some Greyhounds enter rehoming charities where they can be trained using a clicker and high-value treats. Racing remains controversial and several problems in the industry need to be re-evaluated if it is to improve.