Picture of Greyhound
from AKC website.
The Greyhound is a breed of dog used for hunting and racing. They are one of the fastest land mammals; their combination of long, powerful legs, deep chests and aerodynamic build allows them to reach speeds of up to 72 km/h (45 mph).
Male dogs are usually 71 to 76 cm (28 to 30 inches) tall at the withers and weigh around 29 to 36 kg (65 to 90 pounds). Females tend to be smaller with shoulder heights ranging from 68 to 71 cm (27 to 28 inches) and weights from 27 to 31 kg (50 to 75 pounds). Greyhounds have very short hair, which is easy to maintain. There are approximately thirty recognized color forms, of which variations of white, brindle, fawn, black, red, blue, and grey can appear uniquely or in combination.
Although greyhounds are extremely fast dogs, they are not high-energy dogs. They are sprinters, and although they love running, do not require extensive exercise once they leave the track. Most are quiet, gentle animals. Greyhounds are often referred to as “Forty-five mile an hour couch potatoes.”
Greyhounds can make good pets because of their mild and affectionate character. They can get along well with children and family pets (often including cats). Greyhounds are generally loyal, tractable dogs with developed intellects, although their territorial instinct is weak and they make poor guard dogs. Their talents include sighting and hunting. They do not have undercoats and therefore are less likely to trigger people’s dog allergies (greyhounds are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “hypoallergenic”). Most greyhounds that live as pets are adopted after they retire from racing.
Most companion greyhounds are kept on a leash because their hunting background has instilled a strong desire to chase things. Greyhounds can live in an urban setting but require moderate exercise on a regular basis. They enjoy walking and running outside.
An adult greyhound will stay healthy and happy with a daily walk of as little as 20 to 30 minutes. However, as greyhounds have a body fat of around 16%, compared to an average of 25% in other canines, overdoing their exercise can be detrimental to their health.
Popularly, the breed’s origin is believed to be traced to ancient Egypt, where a bas-relief depicting a smooth-coated Saluki (Persian Greyhound) or Sloughi was found in a tomb built in 4000 BC. Analyses of DNA reported in 2004, however, suggest that the greyhound is not closely related to these breeds, but is a close relative to herding dogs.
Historically, these sight hounds have been used primarily for hunting in the open where their keen eyesight is a distinct advantage. It is believed that they (or at least similarly-named dogs) were introduced to England in the 5th and 6th centuries BC from Celtic mainland Europe.
The name “greyhound” is generally believed to come from the Old English grighund. “Hund” is traced to the modern “hound”, but the meaning of “grig” is undetermined, other than in reference to dogs in Old English and Norse. Its origin does not appear to have any common root with the modern word “grey” for colour, and indeed the greyhound is seen with a wide variety of coats.
According to Pokorny’s Indogermanisches Woerterbuch (p. 441-442) the English name “greyhound” does not mean “a gray dog/hound”, but simply “a fair dog”. Subsequent words have been derived from the indoeuropean root *g’her- ‘shine, twinkle’: Eng. “gray”, Old High German “gris” ‘grey, old’, Old Icelandic “griss” ‘piglet, pig’, Old Icld. “gryja” ‘to dawn’, “gryjandi” ‘morning twilight’, Old Irish “grian” ‘sun’, Old Church Slavonic “zorja” ‘morning twilight, brightness’. The common sense of these words is ‘to shine; bright’.
Until the early twentieth century, greyhounds were principally bred and trained for coursing. During the early 1920s, modern greyhound racing was introduced into the United States and introduced into United Kingdom and Ireland in 1926.
In the late 20th century several Greyhound adoption groups were formed. The early groups were formed in large part out of a sense of concern about the treatment of the dogs while living on the track. These groups began taking greyhounds from the racetracks when they could no longer compete and placing them in adoptive homes. Previously, in the United States over 20,000 retired greyhounds a year were killed; recent estimates still number in the thousands, with about 90% of National Greyhound Association-registered animals either being adopted, or returned for breeding purposes (according to the industry numbers upwards of 2000 dogs are still killed annually).
Accidents and disease are also common killers among racing greyhounds. In 2005, an epidemic of respiratory failure killed dozens of dogs and left over 1200 quarantined in the U.S., particularly in Massachusetts, Colorado, Iowa and Rhode Island.
The vast majority of greyhounds are bred for racing, leading registered American Kennel Club dogs about 150:1, and as such each dog is issued a Bertillon card, which measures 56 distinct identifying traits, and the Bertillon number is tattooed on the dog’s ear, so as to ensure that the dog who races is in fact the dog it is claimed to be. However, not all National Greyhound Association registered dogs race. There are several reasons why some greyhounds never race:
The dog is too slow.
The dog has physical defects.
The dog does not have the required temperament.
The dog is not raised in a country where racing is popular.
The dog is bred for showing instead of racing.
Most greyhounds finish racing between two and five years of age. Some retired racing greyhounds have injuries that may follow them for the remainder of their lives.
Due to the unique physiology and anatomy of greyhounds, a veterinarian who understands the issues relevant to the breed is generally needed when the dogs need treatment, particularly when anaesthesia is required. Greyhounds demonstrate unusual blood chemistry, which can be misread by veterinarians not familiar with the breed; this can result in an incorrect diagnosis. Also, greyhounds have much less fat than other dogs, and therefore cannot metabolize anesthesia as quickly. Female greyhounds are sometimes administered hormone supplements during their racing career; these can lead to an elevated risk of cancer. As well, greyhounds have higher levels of red blood cells than do other breeds: since red blood cells carry oxygen to the muscles, this helps the breed’s speed. Veterinary blood services often use greyhounds as universal blood donors.
An additional peculiarity of greyhounds is that they have a hinged spine, which is unique in the animal world. As a result, greyhounds have a small “divot” in their back, set just behind their shoulder blades.
The racing gait of the greyhound is a double suspension gallop, in which all four feet are off the ground twice during each full stride.