02 Aug Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Adopting a Greyhound
Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Adopting a Greyhound is the handbook that I wish someone had handed me. After all, hindsight is a beautiful thing. We had watched all of the Youtube videos, and read up to our eyeballs on forums. We had bought all of the supplies, and we were ready to go. Little did we know however, there was a lot of learning to do! I’ve popped ten things below that the past me would’ve been very glad to know, and I’m sure I’ll be adding to it as the months go.
Of course, it goes without saying that every greyhound is different, and Peggy was quite an extreme case. But here is a list of ten things I wish I knew before we picked up Peggy, our five year old greyhound, who you can see on my Instagram and website here.
Firstly, I know this sounds obvious. But in all honesty, we hadn’t much thought about the fact that greyhounds were working animals. Greyhounds are raised for one purpose; to race. They’re bred and raised similarly to horses, and all they know are other greyhounds and the race track. How much I agree with this I’m still figuring out.
Also, they’re not used to human contact. No strokes, eye contact or petting. Their relationship to humans has been purely economical, and in Peggy’s case, this made her extremely shy and nervous. I think she thought we were training her for some great race that of course never happened since she’s been retired. For instance, her last race was in March 2020, so it had only been a couple of months since she’d been off the track. We found all of her information here.
We kept reminding ourselves that everything she’s ever known has changed. Her past five years have been the same, day in day out. So taking her to a far flung island we called home (although she loved the car journey?!) was of course, a huge shock. Patience and routine was key. I won’t be the first to admit that routine doesn’t come naturally to us. As artists, we enjoy taking each day as it comes, working late and eating later.
But we had to change our habits. We started taking her out for walk at the same time every day, and feeding her at the same time too (even though this proved to be another challenge all together!) Even if we didn’t manage to keep to the timings, we did everything in the same order.
By far, this has made the biggest difference to Peggy. She now happily bounces in to our room at 6.30am on the dot, knows when it’s time for her walk and settles into bed like a baby.
Secondly, and something we hadn’t been told, was that some greyhounds can be hand shy. This means that won’t take food off you, even when they are offered it. This makes training so so so difficult. Imagine, you want your dog to come but they won’t take the food off of you, so they’ll just avoid it all together. It also means if you try to stroke your dog, they’ll often try to duck out the way, or worse still run off.
I remember being really upset that Peggy seemingly ran off every time we tried to show her affection. Unfortunately even if we moved our arms too quickly, she ran off. It often made us wonder how well she’d been treated. In the end, we found that really slow movements, and always making her aware that we were there put her at ease. For instance, if she was sleeping, we would always make sure she knew we were there, rather than being surprised when she woke up. We always move slowly to stroke her, and make sure that we don’t ambush her with affection.
Now, she willingly comes up to us for a stroke (she’s discovered she actually quite likes it!) and even rests her head on our laps. It’s taken a good couple of months, but it’s fair to say she is a different greyhound than when we first got her in January.
I think out of everything, this was the the thing I wish I’d known when we picked up Peggy. We were given greyhound food, and told she’d been happily eating since being rescued. Hoorah!
But when we got her back home, she just wouldn’t eat. We’d leave dinner out at the same time, but she’d get distracted at every noise around the house. It was like she was afraid someone was gong to come and take her food away. We were so worried that she was going to starve herself. In the end, the only thing that worked was feeding her out in the utility room. We had to close the door and both stand there, giving her reassurance.
Little by little, her confidence and appetite grew. We stuck it out, fed her the same food at the same time, and she gradually began to trust us. Now we’re in the new house, we’ve never had the problem since. She happily eats at the same time, and she’s even learnt a couple of tricks. It’s taken a good 6 months to get her to this point, and all I can say is that I’m so relieved that she’s finally looking better!
I had no idea how silent greyhounds are. I suppose it makes sense, they’re featherlight bodies mean that they practically made no noise on the carpet. But when we first got Peggy, she would slope around, making us jump out of our skin. She would just silently stand there too. And because they’re sight hounds, they communicate with their eyes. She she would just stare at you, hoping you’d know what she wanted.
And on walks too, you wouldn’t know she was there. When we first got her, I was constantly checking she was still on the lead, and hadn’t wandered off somewhere.
Even now, she’s a silent dog. She doesn’t bark (apart from when she see’s a cat!) or squeak, and tends to spend her days languidly stretched out in her bed, or happily bouncing along on a walk.
Again, something else we hadn’t been told, and something which didn’t appear on forums too often! When we picked up Peggy we thought it was odd she wouldn’t look at us, but just put it down to us being new faces.
A few weeks in, she was still stubbornly looking at the ground. Her goggly eyes would fixate on her paws, and her neck would go stiff. Especially if we bumped into new people on the street, she would try to curl up into a ball even more!
The key for us, gradually, over weeks and weeks, was to tempt her out of her tight curl with gentle words and cheese. At first, she would only eat it off of the floor. But it was a start. Gradually, she learnt to flash us a fleeting, glance as if she needed reassurance.
Recently, we’ve taught her to look where she gives us a long stare. She now knows this is the key to getting anything she wants, and will willingly stare at us for hours. It’s amazing that in just 6 months, she’s completely changed from the shy dog we picked up from the rescue kennels. She’s more curious and will even look at our friends when they stroke her. Amy is her particular favourite, despite her being allergic.
This is still a work in progress for us! We bought Pegs a couple of toys to play with when she first arrived, and it’s safe to say she hasn’t touched them since. She just looks at them as if to say, ‘what do you want me to do with that‘.
We’ve tried everything, and just like everything else on this list, it’s going to require time. The one thing she does do though is play with us. If we run around the house, or bounce along the hall way, she’ll gladly join in. Racing around, jumping up at Jack. I think she thinks we’re greyhounds too.
More than anything else, what has helped Peggy bond with us is walking. She will do anything for a walk. She could’ve been walking hours, and still be up for a walk.
We were told greyhounds need two 20 minute walks a day, and let me tell you… for Peggy that was not the case! We walk about two hours a day, which suits me fine as I love walking. And even after that, if she hears the door going she’s still keen! She’ll bounce around and endlessly stare you down until you take her out for a walk. When she first arrived, the only time she would vaguely wag her tail was if we jangled her lead.
Now, any excuse to wag her tail to get herself a walk comes naturally. We’re hoping to take her across to Hoy in the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see how that goes!
This was something we were told. Greyhounds aren’t used to a home environment, so she will be afraid of the washing machine or the dishwasher. Makes perfect sense. What they didn’t tell us, was that this would range from the noise of a dishwasher, to the gentle closing of a cupboard.
During the first few weeks, every noise was enough to spook her. For instance, even parcel tape (in fact, she still hates it now!) sent her off into the other room. We had to be really mindful of the noises around the house, and the times we put on the washing machine and dishwasher. She’s still incredibly jumpy (she hated the football!) but she’s slowly and surely getting there.
In any case, she’s most likely to make herself jump anyway.
Again, another fact I was not aware of. Greyhounds have kennel, or farm coat. A thick, woolly layer of down and fluff from being kept outdoors. Compounded with never being brushed, five years worth of hair had build up on Peggy, making her extremely scaragly and fluffy. We bought a horse rake, and combed out her coat every week. And every week, mountains of hair would continue to fall out. Were going to end up with a bald greyhound, I’d constantly fret.
We’d carry on brushing, getting out the matted old hair. She eventually started to go bald on her stomach and thighs. What have we done?! But after lots of reserach, we realised this was totally normal. It’s just about started to grow back now, and her coat is filling in nicely. After 7 months of hard work, her coat is looking shiny and heathly. I still can’t get over the amount of fluff on her tiny body.
It took so much longer than we were expecting, and in all honesty, I thought we were doing something wrong. But between brushing, giving her a monthly bath and giving her oil in her food (greyhounds don’t produce oil, making them hypoallergenic- who knew?!) her coat is looking so much better.
She’s still got a bit of time to go, as she’s still looking a little fluffy on her legs at the moment, but she’s unrecognisable from when we first got her. They reckon 8 months in total should be enough to get her coat back to normal, so here’s hoping!
Most importantly, Peggy has changed unrecognisably since we got her. She’s no longer the shaky, eyes to the ground dog that we got back in the cold January months. During the last 7 months, she become a bouncy, slinky, lovely ball of fun, who makes the best artists companion.
I wouldn’t change a thing about her. And all of the learning and patience has paid off in the end.
Finally, if you’re thinking about rescuing a greyhound, it’s not easy, but entirely worth it.