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April is Adopt-a-Greyhound Month - Greyhound Socialisation

April is nearly here and to celebrate Adopt-a-Greyhound Month, we asked Sue Skelsey and Fiona Chisholm from the Coalition for Protection of Greyhounds (CPG) to look into the issues around Greyhound socialisation.

The RSPCA says one of the most common misconceptions about animal socialisation is that people believe this means their pets will be able to interact happily with other animals or people. While this would be great, a well socialised dog doesn’t necessarily mean this.

It just means that they are able to cope with unfamiliar situations – normally by focusing on their human companion for a guide on how they should react. The RSPCA also says:

“Many Greyhound puppies and adult Greyhounds are never adequately socialised, either with other dogs or with humans or to the different sights, objects, surfaces, sounds, experiences which companion dogs are likely to encounter in their lives.

Dogs who are socially deprived are more likely to develop fearfulness and antisocial behaviour which impacts negatively on their welfare.” 

“Lack of adequate socialisation may also make it more difficult to rehome retired or unwanted Greyhounds.”

Did you know the RSPCA is on the record as being against greyhound racing?

Fortunately, Greyhounds are generally a placid breed and amenable to change. While helping them to catch up is not always easy, people acquainted with rescued hounds typically agree the rewards are well worth the effort.

CPG interviewed Julia Cockram, Director and Behaviour Co-ordinator of community-run rescue Gumtree Greys, to learn more about the socialisation of greyhounds. CPG also asked owners, some of whom are also foster carers, about their experiences with helping greyhounds adapt to pet life.
“The first three months of a dog’s life are critical in setting them up for success. The sensitive period is about week three to month three.

Gumtree Greys Julia Cockram
with Greyhound Henry
It’s the easiest time for a dog to build strong social bonds with humans and other species,” said Julia, who is an 
IAABC certified dog behaviour consultant and also holds a Canine Behaviour Professional Accredited Diploma (UK).

Dog racing bodies across Australia have rules requiring racing Greyhound owners to socialise their dogs (except for the NT which has little or no policy and the ACT where racing is banned). However, Julia said, “My experience here in Victoria is that socialisation simply does not occur.”

Many community rescue groups around Australia know only too well that socialisation doesn’t happen for racing dogs. 

Greyhounds coming in to their care are frequently fearful and timid, but with time and patience, this changes. Also, rescue groups match hounds with homes that suit their personality, such as a quiet home for fearful dogs or those sensitive to loud noises.

The majority of adopters CPG talked to about lack of socialisation cited fear as the main issue for rescued greyhounds. In some cases, it was extreme – one dog on arrival in his new home soiled himself as he raced to a fish pond, sat down in it and refused to move.

Some less extreme fear responses are trembling when touched or freezing when out walking. 

Greyhound Ruby
Some Greyhounds, like Ruby, had multiple issues.

“Ruby was super anxious and traumatised. It was very obvious she’d had little human contact, paced incessantly and reacted nervously to any attempt to get close to her. She was terrified of men, including my partner,” said Ruby’s owner, Marci.

“It also took a while for her to understand it was okay to jump into the car. 

It took a few months for her to build confidence at home with glass sliding doors, TV, kitchen appliances – all unfamiliar.

The dreaded vacuum cleaner was the biggest monster.”

Owner Marci attending a protest with her Greyhound Ruby

Ruby was also initially scared of other dogs, but fortunately, today she is a loving, confident dog. Ruby’s story is typical of some newly homed Greyhounds. 

Some, like Prinnie, Bastian and Chilli are also unfamiliar with stairs, but most hounds eventually learn with patient training.

Prinnie & Bastian wait anxiously to be carried downstairs; Vince with Chilli

Reactivity to other dogs, including prey drive, was another issue mentioned by owners.

“Henry was such a badly damaged, but beautiful hound,” said his owner, Michi.

Greyhound Henri, living with Michi
“After being retired from the racing at seven years of age, he was adopted and rejected by three families. We were the fourth owners. Henry was unpredictable, tried to kill cats and would randomly snap and lunge at strangers who tried to pat him.”

Michi said Henry also had fear aggression with other big dogs, especially males. She is certain he would have been euthanised if he’d been with Greyhounds as Pets (the adoption program run in most states by the racing industry), also called GAP.

CPG research shows GAPs still kill dogs given to them for rehoming – some as many as one in ten ex-racers! 
However community-run rescues rehome without euthanising Greyhounds unless they are terminally ill.

“With lots of love and patience, plus plenty of regular pack walks with other Greyhounds, Henry changed to being calmer, happier and relaxed dog,” said Michi.

Aggression towards humans is rare. Only three other owners said fear manifested that way. One greyhound displayed sleep startle, while two others were aggressive to men (which occurs due to past cruel treatment), but even this can change with time and love.

Damage through lack of socialisation is not irreparable according to Julia. Most owners agreed. They said change can be achieved through love, patience and making a supreme effort to understand what motivates a dog.

Some found that Greyhounds learnt good behaviour by living with other well socialised dogs. Several owners and foster carers acknowledged the importance of consulting animal behaviourists and vets.
Kira with her Greyhound Tahly

Many, like owner Kira, believe support from other Greyhound owners is invaluable.

“I thought I knew everything about dogs and was a year into my Delta Institute dog training certification when I adopted Tahly seven years ago. I didn’t know there were greyhound communities and support groups, so I had to learn everything the hard way,” she said.

“My advice is to adopt from a rescue group who are going to find the perfect match and guide you along the way. 

There are also many supportive greyhound communities out there that you can join and learn from.”

Kira came to love Greyhounds so much, she became Kennel Manager at community-run Greyhound Rescue in NSW. In fact, if it wasn’t for community rehoming groups, Greyhounds would be in big trouble.

CPG has established that the current annual rate of greyhound breeding in Australia is six times the racing industry’s ability to rehome through its GAPs which operate in most states.

Both industry and community rehoming groups place Greyhounds with foster carers so they can adjust to being a pet in a home. Most rehoming groups offer training and/or ongoing support for foster carers.

Gumtree Greys' Julia Cockram believes that everyone involved in rehoming Greyhounds should have access to someone who has canine behaviour qualifications. She says this is especially important with regards to aggression in order to ensure they are rehoming responsibly. Most Greyhound rescues can put adopters in touch with animal behaviourists.

Some Greyhounds transition to pet life quickly, while others take many months to settle in. For patient owners, it can be rewarding to experience a greyhound’s blossoming from a timid, terrified dog into a mischievous, affectionate and joyful hound.

What’s the latest on muzzles and Greyhounds?

Not too long ago, all Greyhounds in Australia were required to be muzzled in public. This wasn’t about aggression, but harked back to laws from the 1920s.

With improved understanding these laws have changed, but unfortunately there are still breed-specific requirements for Greyhounds, which involve temperament testing and sometimes muzzles.

The RSPCA is against such breed-specific laws and says that dogs shouldn’t be declared dangerous on the basis of breed or appearance, but on their individual behaviour.

Credit: Greyhound Rescue
Today, pet Greyhounds can now go unmuzzled in public to various degrees Australia-wide, but a muzzle exemption is required in some states (so the situation overall is messy and complicated).

The exemption process approves greyhounds that are safe around people and other dogs, but many owners of pet greyhounds just see this as a revenue-raising exercise.

SA and WA require GAP-approved exemptions, while in Tasmania exemptions can be granted by GAP or a body approved by the Director of Racing. Some council areas in Queensland don’t require an exemption, while others require an exemption from GAP.

In NSW, all pet Greyhounds are now able to go muzzle free when in a public area, but must remain on lead. In designated off-leash dog areas, they are must wear a muzzle unless they have gained an exemption.

Photo Credit: Greyhound Rescue - Jacqui Hurley with Greyhound Sophie

In NSW, muzzle exemptions are approved by GAP or by independent assessors as part of a program called Greenhounds. The Greenhounds website says that more than 90 per cent of Greyhounds who undertake the program pass their assessment.

Greyhounds that pass their assessment then get a special green collar to wear in public, although in Tasmania, orange and purple collars are also used.

However, Greyhounds in all states and territories aren’t permitted in off-leash areas even with a muzzle exemption (with the exception of NSW Greenhounds and the NT).

SA and Victoria make some provision for special off-leash areas for greyhounds. In addition, in the ACT and other states, some councils or private land owners provide exclusive spaces for greyhounds to run off-leash.

written by Sue Skelsey and Fiona Chisholm (CPG), March 2022 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

About Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds

CPG is a dedicated group of people across Australia who work together to inform the public about the cruelties of Greyhound racing. 
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