Your greyhound’s early life and racing career
An important part of your greyhound’s early life is his or her racing training and career. However you feel about greyhound racing, learning about what your greyhound’s life was like at the racing kennel prior to adoption is an interesting and important way to help you know and understand about your greyhound.
As you already know, greyhounds love being with each other and have wonderful temperaments. This does not happen by accident, but is due to their breeding and early lives at greyhound farms. A greyhound that did not get along well with other greyhounds would not be suitable to compete in a race, so good temperament is a part of the greyhound breed and is a prerequisite for a successful competitor. Therefore, greyhounds are bred to be fast, be sound, and have good temperaments. Unlike most dogs that are separated from their litter mates at an early age and sold as pets while they are small puppies, greyhounds spend many months with other greyhound puppies at the breeding farm, and later at the racing kennel. They learn about pack behavior and getting along with other dogs from the time they are born.
Greyhounds growing up together on the farm
A Greyhound’s Instinct to Chase a Small Moving Object
As a sight hound, it is a part of a greyhound’s genetic make up to naturally chase small, moving objects. Greyhound training for racing is based on this natural instinct. This instinct to chase is also the reason that your greyhound may be best buddies with your cat or small dog in the house, but if they are out in the yard together and the small pet takes off, your greyhound will almost certainly chase, and probably catch it. This is also another reason to be careful when your greyhound is at a dog park and another person, not knowing about the greyhound’s instinct to chase, brings a small dog into the large dog area.
A Greyhound’s Early Training
Your greyhound probably began training when he or she was about a year old. The training at that time consisted of chasing after an artificial lure dragged along the ground. This can be as simple as a plastic bag like those used in lure coursing. Most greyhound pups think this is a lot of fun and do it as a game. The next step is to teach the young greyhounds to chase an artificial lure suspended above the ground. This is often a large stuffed toy. Finally, they are taught to follow the artificial lure around an oval track. The final step in training is to teach the greyhounds about the starting box. The photos below show young greyhounds learning to chase an artificial lure on an oval track and learning about the starting box. The photo on the right is the artificial lure which is used to train the young greyhounds and later used at the race track.
Due to the greyhounds natural inclination to chase after a moving object, they usually see this early training, and later competing in an actual race, as an exciting game. As his or her ability and training progresses, the racing distance and number of greyhounds in the training increases. In the United States, 8 greyhounds will normally compete in each race, so your greyhound was trained to run with several other greyhounds. During this training, a greyhound will often establish his or her running style–whether inside, outside, along the rail, early speed, or closer. This running style may never change during the greyhound’s racing career.
Most greyhounds are ready to compete in an actual race by the time they are about 16-18 months old. Some greyhounds do not progress further than the training stage because they are not fast enough, do not have an interest in chasing the artificial lure, have noncompetitive nature, or they want to play rather than chase the lure. (The greyhounds that just want to play are referred to in the racing industry as “fighters”, but they do not actually fight. They just want to play with the other dogs rather than chase the lure.) Greyhounds as a general rule get along very well with each other; however, a greyhound that tries to play rather than run disrupts the entire race, and that greyhound will not be eligible to race.
Life at the Racing Kennel
Once a greyhound is sufficiently trained and ready to race, he or she will go from the training farm to a racing kennel. In this country, greyhound racing is conducted under the kennel system. A racing kennel owner enters into a contract with the management of a race track to supply a certain number of greyhounds to the track to race at that track’s meet. These greyhounds are either owned by the kennel owner or are leased from other owners, or usually a combination of both. The greyhound owner is paid a share of the greyhound’s winnings according to the terms of the lease agreement, and the racing kennel owner receives a percentage. Usually the kennel owners pay for the expenses of the greyhounds housed in their kennel. Greyhounds may move from one racing kennel to another during their racing career if they move to different race tracks to compete, thus your greyhound may have raced for one or several racing kennels.
Each racing kennel houses from 40-70 greyhounds with each greyhound having its own separate kennel. The kennels are usually stacked two high, with the females in the upper kennel since they are usually smaller than the males. The kennel buildings are climate controlled and each dog has either pieces of carpet or shredded paper in their kennel for bedding. (This explains why some greyhounds enjoy chewing up paper.) While at the racing kennel, the greyhounds are fed once per day and are given a mixture of raw meat, kibble, and other foods such as vegetables, pasta, fish, barley, and many times extra supplements. Much of the greyhounds’ time in the kennel is spent relaxing and napping. The photos below show greyhounds in their individual kennels. Note the shredded paper which is used for bedding. The photo on the right shows a greyhound relaxed and “roaching” in his kennel. The lower photo shows greyhounds in their kennels.
The greyhounds are turned out into their exercise pens four to five times each day, where they interact with the other greyhounds at their kennel. Males go out with males and females with females, so each kennel at the race track has two exercise pens. The photos below show greyhounds during turn out. You will see that the greyhounds wear muzzles during turn-out. This is not because they are vicious, but to protect the greyhounds since they have thin skin that can tear easily during play. The turnout muzzles allow the greyhounds to drink water through the muzzle. Each greyhound has its own muzzle, which is removed and hung on the greyhound’s kennel until they next time they go out.
The greyhounds are also groomed, given exercise, and sometimes given a whirlpool to relax their muscles prior to or after a race. For more information on a greyhound’s daily life at the racing kennel, please go to the page on this website, “A Day in the Life of a Racing Greyhound”. This page was written by Kennel owner, Kate D’Arcy, who graciously allowed us to reprint it on our website.
Understanding Your Greyhound’s Racing Record
If you adopted your greyhound through BAGA, you received in your adoption packet a pedigree and, if your greyhound competed in one or more official races, the racing record. This record shows which track or tracks your greyhound competed at, the dates of each race, where your greyhound finished in each race, and the “grade” of each race. The grading system insures that greyhounds run in races with other greyhounds of similar speed in order to keep the races competitive. Male and female greyhounds race together in the same races, and size of the dog is not considered. Thus, a small 55 lb. female might race against a 90 lb. male. They often do, and the smaller dog often wins. Although the larger dogs will have longer strides, many times the smaller, more agile greyhounds are able to maneuver through the pack and run around the corners faster than their larger competitors who may run wide and thus lose the race.
How Greyhound Races are Graded
When greyhounds begin racing they will start racing in Grade M, which means maiden. This race is for greyhounds who have never won an official race. When your greyhound wins a race, they move on to Grade D, then to Grade C, Grade B, and Grade A, which is for the fastest dogs. Some tracks also have Grade AA races, Grade E races and Grade J races. The Grade J races are for young greyhounds just starting their racing careers. A smaller number of greyhounds will have competed in the top races, which are known as stakes races and are indicated on the racing records with an S. Some of the very best greyhounds will earn thousands of dollars for their owners and racing kennels. Because of this possibility, you will seldom find greyhound puppies available for adoption.
Greyhounds move up and down in grade depending on how they finish in each race. A Grade D racer at one track might be a Grade B racer at a less competitive track. When a greyhound has not finished in the money (1st – 4th place) in a Grade M or a Grade D or Grade E race for a certain number of consecutive times as determined by the track, they “grade off” from that track. The greyhound may be retired at that point, may go to another less competitive track to continue racing, or if young enough, can still compete in Grade J races.
How Often Do Greyhounds Race and How Far?
Greyhounds usually race about twice a week in either a sprint race (usually about 550 yards), or a distance race in which the distance can vary depending on the track. A common distance race is approximately 660 yards, but can be longer. Most greyhounds do better at one distance or the other, but a few greyhounds are equally good at both distances. The racing chart will tell you at which distances your greyhound raced.
You might notice a break in racing dates, which could indicate that your greyhound was recovering from a minor injury or was being moved to a different track. A note on the racing chart might tell you that your greyhound was bumped, faded, drifted back, was “in the hunt”, briefly challenged, or won going away. The chart will also tell you the time it took to complete the race as well as the registered names of the other greyhounds that competed, which starting box each dog had, and how each dog finished.
When Is It Time To Retire a Greyhound From Racing?
A greyhound may race in one or many races, but almost all greyhounds are ready to retire by the time they are 4 years old or shortly thereafter. Many retire sooner and are ready for adoption when they are only two or three years old. The majority of the retired racers that come to us for adoption are in this category. Some greyhounds have little interest in competing or are not fast enough to qualify to race and never actually compete in a recognized race. These greyhounds “retire” and are ready for adoption when they are quite young, many times before they are even two years old.
Greyhounds that compete at a recognized track usually retire because they have lost a little speed compared to the other greyhounds at their track. This can be as little as 1 MPH slower than the winner of a race. A greyhound naturally will lose some speed as they get older, and the greyhound will move down in racing grade until they are at the lowest grade for that track, usually Grade D. When they are no longer competitive at the lowest grade, they “grade off” from that track and retire at that time, or their owners can send them to a less competitive track to continue racing against easier competition. Greyhounds can also retire when they suffer minor injuries, and their owners choose to retire them at that point rather than wait for the injury to heal and continue racing them. Like other athletes, greyhounds sometimes have career-ending injuries and are retired immediately after the injury.
When a greyhound is retired from racing, we are notified by the racing owner or trainer that a particular greyhound is ready to retire, or it is determined that a greyhound pup is not fast enough or interested enough to qualify to race, and that greyhound comes to us for adoption.
How To View Your Greyhound’s Races
It is possible and easy to view your greyhound’s races on video. You can find many (but not all) races at www.Trackinfo.com.This is a betting site, which also includes horse races, but you can find a lot of information here, as well as see actual video of races.
Once you get into this website, choose Greyhound, then click on dog search and enter your greyhound’s racing name. A list of races your greyhound competed in will appear, along with the date of each race and the race track. A list of the greyhounds competing in each race as well as the starting box number, and racing silk color each dog wore during the race will also be shown. Click “replay” and a video of the race will appear. The races are quick, only about 30 seconds or a little more.
Besides Track Info, many tracks have their own video of races which can be viewed on line on that track’s website. Even the greyhounds that do not win are extremely fast, much faster than we see our greyhounds running in our back yards, and they all try very hard. It is in their nature, and the speed they can reach in only a few strides is amazing.
The photos below show the different colors of racing silks, which correspond with the starting box number. Like a jockey’s silk in a horse race, the different colors of their racing silks will help the observer follow the greyhounds throughout the race.
It is amazing to see a group of greyhounds running at full speed, and will give you a sense of what marvelous athletes they are. While to us our greyhounds seem to be laid back and even lazy (which they are most of the time), greyhounds have the most highly developed and efficient cardio-pulmonary systems of all dog breeds, and are by far the fastest. Everything about the greyhound is designed for speed—their extraordinarily large hearts and lungs, long legs, double suspension gallop, strong and flexible backs, and even their ears, which lie close to their head while they run so as to be aerodynamic.
Because running at extremely fast speeds takes a tremendous amount of energy, you have probably noticed that your greyhound sprints around your yard for a couple of minutes, then is ready to come in for a nap. Greyhounds are not known as the “45 MPH couch potato” for nothing—and they take retirement seriously!
Koby shows how greyhounds love to relax, while Ghost enjoys a quick sprint around the yard.
As you can see from watching your greyhound’s races, he or she is not only a gentle and loyal companion, but also a truly remarkable athlete. Today, greyhounds are revered around the globe as one of the most beloved of companion dogs. As the saying goes, greyhounds are bred to run, but born to love. Their popularity continues to increase as more and more people are adopting these gentle and loving athletes. You are truly blessed if you have a greyhound in your life.