What is a Greyhound: 10+ unique things to know

The greyhound is said to be “a breed apart’ from other dogs.  

Greyhounds differ from other breeds, due to genetics, breeding, and early life as working dogs.  Yet, they are still dogs, who make adorable pets.  They have half the fat of the average dog, making them exceptionally sensitive to anesthesia.   Surprisingly, they are low in indoor energy, and need the same amount of exercise as any other pet dog.  

This article is not like all the generic dog-breed articles, where the author writes a page about every breed.  After over 20 years with greyhounds, I find that I get asked different questions about greyhounds than one would normally hear about other breeds.  Even among the expected questions, the answers are often unexpected.  Following is the best overview of what makes the greyhound unique in the dog world.  If you’re new to greyhounds, you will be surprised to find out that these super-athletes also make outstanding companion dogs. 

Greyhound 101: the basic facts

The basics of the greyhound are thus: 

The greyhound is considered a large-breed dog, and is a member of the sighthound family.  Sighthounds, as their name suggests, are gifted with amazing visual powers.  The greyhound, himself, can see a squirrel that is 1/4 mile away.  Like many hounds, they are actually very lazy and love to nap.  This ancient hound is the only dog breed mentioned in the Bible.

  • They are like any other dog in many senses:
  • They love (and need) to go for walks.  
  • They adore treats.  
  • They are loving, and goofy, and have that happy-go-lucky charm that makes the dog such a winning creature.

How Greyhounds are Different from Other Dogs

First and foremost, greyhounds are not bred to be pets.  There are AKC greyhounds, but they are far in the minority; not only in the greyhound world, but also in the AKC world, not even cracking the top 100 AKC breeds.  The majority of greyhounds, worldwide, are bred to race.

Contrary to popular myth, their quirky behavior does not result from abuse; but from being bred and raised as working dogs.  It’s a different life than being a pet; and, for the greyhound, a satisfying one.  They adore running.  The training, exercise, and kennel setting appeals to their competitive spirit.  They also love being with their own kind – I have yet to own a greyhound that doesn’t light up every time he’s in the presence of a fellow greyhound.

The typical situation for a greyhound is that he doesn’t become a pet until he is an adult dog.  Because of that, the new owner finds himself with a full-sized, large, athletic dog, who is viewing everything in the home with the wide-eyed innocence and naivity of a puppy.  It’s really an endearing combination; but it is also a unique situation, which requires the right touch.  That is why many greyhound adoption groups require first-time adopters to read one or two greyhound-specific books, before taking their new pets home.

Another unique thing about the greyhound is that he rarely barks.  Although he may be alert when someone approaches the home, his instinct is to be silent and listen.  He is unlikely to frighten off an intruder by barking, and is likely to greet him with a friendly, polite sniff…if he gets up at all.

Are Greyhounds too Damaged to be Pets?

Because of their great physical constitution, greyhounds tend to come to their new homes in good health.  Emotionally, they are easy-going, sweet, well-mannered dogs.  Regarding how racers are treated – As in all fields, some people are “bad apples,” who should be routed out of the profession.  Local racing professionals whom I have met all know each other, and anyone who is not good with dogs doesn’t stay around too long.  After all, greyhounds are sensitive dogs, and do not perform well, if they are mistreated.

Coming to a new home, however, can be a frightening experience for a greyhound.  It is so different from anything in his experience, and he really is anxious about pleasing you, and homesick for his greyhound buddies from the kennel.  It’s a difficult adjustment, which requires patience and understanding.

One oddity you may notice on many greyhounds is a little scar or two on the face.  This is typically from puppy-play.  Greyhounds have exceptionally thin skin, and the puppies have such sharp teeth, they are nicknamed “land sharks.”  According to William E. Feeman III, DVM:

“it is truly the exception to the rule if the scars seen on your Greyhound are actually the result of abuse while on the track.”

Dr. William E. Feeman III

How is Caring for a Pet Greyhound Different than for Other Breeds?

The most important difference is that a greyhound can *never* be unleashed, unless in an enclosed area.  As impossible as it sounds, the greyhound can hit 40 mph in just a few strides.  Unfortunately, he cannot think that fast, including to obey a command.  This means that he can easily be hit by a car or hopelessly lost, before he realizes his mistake.  With the advent of social media, it’s easy for greyhound owners to find glamorous videos of greyhounds running loose on beaches and through fields and forests.  I often see comments posted by people, who say that off-leash is fine, it’s all in the training, etc..

This, combined with being the only person at a neighborhood gathering who can’t let his dog run around and play, can sorely tempt an owner to take off the leash, “just for a little while.”  After all, dogs are loyal, right?  

No matter how loyal a greyhound is to his owner, that loyalty is learned – It cannot be depended upon to override the dog’s inborn instinct to chase.  No matter how many times a greyhound is off the leash successfully, there is always the possibility that, one day, the dog will be overtaken by the urge to chase.

One who is walking a greyhound must anticipate distractions which may cause the greyhound to bolt or freeze; and be prepared to control the dog, for everybody’s safety.  This especially applies to small animals, such as rabbits, squirrels, cats, and even small dogs.  It goes double, if there is more than one greyhound present – Enthusiasm for the hunt is, apparently, contagious.  Greyhounds have the hunt in their blood, and it is not unheard of for one to kill a small creature with disturbing speed and efficiency.

What is Different about Caring for a Greyhound’s Health?

Their claws are fast-growing and very hard, so a good-quality rotary grinder used every couple of weeks is best.  Greyhounds whose claws are neglected can develop joint pain as they age.  This is the grinder that I use, and I am VERY happy with it.  It’s surprisingly well-made, with a plug and a sturdy, long cord.  I also like that it runs very quietly.

As of this writing (2021), greyhounds have become exceptionally prone to multi-drug-resistant hookworm.  Although it’s tempting to allow the dog’s heartworm meds to lapse during the winter (no mosquitos, so no heartworm), it is now recommended to keep the greyhound on it year-round, for enhanced parasite protection.  If your hound is infected with this very aggressive hookworm, treatment is more involved than just a simple course of pills – It can take a year to clear the dog completely, and a permanent protocol of meds is often put in place to prevent it from happening again.

Dr. Jennifer Ng describes this effective regimen:

“The standard treatment that is now recommended to start is the ‘triple combination’ which is using Advantage Multi, followed within 24 hours by Drontal Plus (or any other equivalent dewormer containing pyrantel and fenbendazole/febantel), given on a monthly basis.”

Dr. Jennifer Ng

You can skip the switch to Senior Formula dog food when you have a greyhound.  As Dr. Susan Stack says,

“With greyhounds, we’re usually trying to keep weight on the oldsters, not off them.”

Dr. Susan Stack 

The Truth About Owning a Greyhound

Find out the things the adoption groups never get around to telling you before you adopt, in of of my most popular videos, which you can watch right here:

Resources for Further Exploration

By Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare