Maureen Lucas on Greyhounds
“There is nothing like a soft and warm bed for Greyhounds; but it is best for them to sleep with men:- as they become thereby affectionately attached- pleased with the contact of the human body, and as fond of their bedfellow as of their feeder.”
Would you take that for the advice of a softhearted fancier giving anthropomorphic advice to a novice? No, indeed. This comes from “Arrian on Coursing” from second century Rome. The histories of man and Greyhound are intertwined evenmore than most breeds, and certainly documented more extensively than any breed. Greyhounds in ancient times, after a royal hunt, reclining at the royal hearth (or perhaps on the royal bed) had arguably better lives than the vast majority of humans in the same castle. Which begs the question- did Greyhounds garner such favor because they were useful, or because they were engaging? When the people reflect on Greyhounds “doing what they were bred to do”, are we sure we are only addressing utilitarian hunting, or the pleasure of the companionship of a fine dog? Did Greyhounds spread throughout the known world in ancient times simply for their hunting prowess? Other ancient breeds were also skilled hunters, but how many of them transcended geography, a specific prey, a certain climate, or a particular culture? Could it be that Greyhounds were taken so many places, lived so many different ways and hunted whatever prey was available because of their inherent natures, their social competence and their easy manners, and not just because of their physical capacities?
Greyhound character must be complex. The same dog who is a formidable predator must also be a sweet and biddable companion. Both sides of his nature are always available, although not present simultaneously. The same silly pet having fun running loops in the backyard can suddenly leap and grab a bird out of the air. It is chilling the first time we see this as an owner, and yet the reality of the Greyhound as predator is at the core of his being. And it makes the sweet side of him all the dearer to truly know what else he is capable of.
”Eyes- dark, bright, intelligent, indicating spirit.” This is the only clue the Greyhound standard offers into Greyhound temperament. Not always being happy to be at shows, Greyhounds can appear to be less than‘spirited’. More than a few can seem withdrawn at shows, giving a false sense of what the breed is truly like in happier, more comfortable surroundings. The public Greyhound could be seen as an aristocrat who is utterly out of his element, merely hoping to be left in peace. This must never be confused with shyness or sharpness, but just disinterest. On the other hand, the Greyhound in surroundings more to his taste is the most charming companion ever imagined. A good Greyhound is never servile. Anyone hoping to have a dog who hangs on your every move, or one sitting at your feet waiting for you to say or do something clever, is better off with a different breed. Greyhounds see humans more as peers than bosses. Not to say they don’t enjoy a nice ride in the car, a good walk, or a good game with a frisbee, but neither are they dependent on constant human intervention to provide meaning for their lives. If an animal communicator were to translate a Greyhound, the thought process would surely be more “what shall we do now?” than “what are you doing now?” While some people more accustomed to the adoration of a Golden, or the scrutiny of a Border Collie might find Greyhounds too private, to a lover of Greyhounds the dogs are much more like true friends. Greyhound intellect is impressive, and yet, a Greyhound will most often use his cleverness to benefit himself, not to obey a random command. We have had visitors who found that the Greyhounds look them in the eye in a way they were unaccustomed to from other dogs. That’s never in a harsh or challenging way, but instead in the way humans interact with peers. That’s how it most often is with Greyhounds- they honor us with their affection and attention and assume it’s mutual. They have spent century after century not just in the company of humans, but in the highest favor of humans, and they seem quite comfortable with that heritage.
Sue Cassem, longtime breeder and owner of Greyhounds, and an owner-handler of many champion Greyhounds, including her specialty winning Ch. Ryal Rumours, JC, sums up the duality of Greyhound character, and life with Greyhounds-
‘’Having owned a variety of different breeds over the years – Greyhounds, a Doberman, German Shepherds, a field bred English Setter, some Whippets and Chinese Cresteds -- we now have Chinese Cresteds (all veterans), a German Shepherd Dog, a rescue Miniature Rat Terrier and five Greyhounds. Each breed has its great qualities and a few things you would like to change, but of all of them, I still believe that the Greyhound is the best.
Greyhounds can be a bit funny. Not like in ha-ha funny, although many do have a sense of humor, but rather the quirky, unexpected kind of funny. A Greyhound is a study in polarized pairs of characteristics and opposing behaviors which may come as a surprise to new owners.
Greyhounds are fast – and lazy. Greyhounds, of course, run like crazy. They love to run just for the fun of it, are quick to play tag with each other, or if lucky, chase a squirrel or a rabbit. After a nice run and play time, they are more than ready to come in the house, collapse and take a long, long nap and lounge around the rest of the day, while the German Shepherd and Rat Terrier continue their play and wrestling in the house.
Greyhounds are tough – and soft. They are pain tolerant when injured, yet want – no demand – the comfort of couches, chairs and beds. They are born this way. (Full grain cowhide leather upholstery holds up the best). The German Shepherd has no interest in getting on the furniture, the Rat Terrier prefers his open crate or a throw rug. The Cresteds are happy in donut beds.
Greyhounds are killers – and lovers. Greyhounds kill rabbits and other critters with business like tenacity, most of the time leaving the carcass in the yard, then return to the house and kiss a child or lie on the couch with a Crested. My Greyhounds have never mistaken a small dog as prey. Varmints are varmints and dogs are dogs.
Greyhounds are usually not good watchdogs and are happy to welcome company. They rarely make a sound as the Rat Terrier and the Cresteds bark and bark and the German Shepherd sizes up the person. Yet some Greyhounds have been known to rise to the status of home guard if needed. I have had a few. And they were both males. But until that type of situation presents itself, you don’t know if you have one of those protectors or not, so just in case, I have the German Shepherd.
Greyhounds are athletically well built, not prone to be over weight – but are great eaters – and food thieves. Greyhounds, compared to most other breeds, are narrower and carry less body fat, but it is guaranteed that a Greyhound will eat twice as much. I don’t know where it goes on them – certainly not fat – but it does make for a big food bill.
I should mention that Greyhounds feel no guilt about stealing food from the counter, the table or the human dinner plates. They are opportunistic. The German Shepherd lies at our feet. The Greyhounds are relegated to the family room during dinner. Food being prepared is always watched or put up out of Greyhound reach.
Greyhounds have slick, single layer coats. Not like the Rat Terrier whose hairs are coarser and the coat thicker and sheds much more. And nothing like the German Shepherd double coat that sheds constantly and makes large dust bunnies everywhere. You would think with a thin coat, the Greyhound would hate snow but Greyhounds love a good run in the snow and the crisp air. However, when they are done with the running that keeps them warm, they are ready to come indoors. On the other hand, Greyhounds hate rain. I have an easier time getting the hairless Chinese Cresteds outside in the rain than I do the Greyhounds. For dogs bred in England or descendants of dogs bred in England, you would think rain would be more acceptable to them. It’s not.
Greyhounds are good hunters in the open field, and reliably return to the owner, but at home they need to be kept inside a fence, lest they go running/hunting by themselves. They are independent hunters and are not to be trusted to stay in our urban and suburban yards without a fence. It is a small price to pay for this marvelous breed that is athletic, clean, calm in the house, and best of all, gentle and kind. It is a shame that more people have not discovered the Greyhound for what it has been for centuries – a favored companion.”
To keep Greyhounds in the kennel is to miss the great pleasure of their company.
They are the best companions- quiet and content after a good run in the morning. Bob and I have the privilege of being able to keep Greyhounds in the oldest of ways- as a pack that can run and hunt together. Our current pack of 8 adults and 2 teenage puppies live as one pack both in the house and in our field and woods. To walk with a pack of 10 Greyhounds is a sensory experience. When I follow my pack out into the field or into the woods, I enter their domain. What they smell, how many creatures have crossed the paths during the night, I can’t begin to guess. Most days the pack can only dream of a real hunt. Their optimism turns their attention from tracks on the ground to playing tag with each other. Some days the optimism is realized and a chase in on after a deer that bounds over fallen branches, or after wild turkeys that fly off. The choreography of the pack- the shared responsibility, the division of tasks, the shared risk and the sudden incredible intensity, even in how the dogs shift immediately from a hobbyhorse gallop into a heat-seeking-missile gallop, is a stunning experience to watch. This is how to truly see and know Greyhounds- to see them in full force as predators, to marvel at the structure and intensity of the pack, and equally, to see them convert and return once again as sweet individuals to share their pleasure with me. This is the full range of the dichotomy of Greyhound temperament. It also is a treasure to watch the 10 year old pack Alpha sharing the hunt with the 8 month old puppy student. Anyone who does not keep a Greyhound at the end of its show career is missing the jewel of watching aging with grace, or the amount of information and bearing the dogs pass on to the next generation by their own example of how to conduct oneself.
General George Custer is as controversial a figure as one could imagine in American history. He was also an avid hunter and loved his Greyhounds more than he cared for many a human being. He delighted in hunting coyotes and buffalos with his pack of longdogs and Greyhounds. Perhaps he shared a dual nature that he so admired in his favorite dogs? Shortly before his death in battle he wrote home to his wife Libby-
“Regarding the dogs, I find myself more warmly attached to Tuck than to any other I have ever owned... She comes to me almost every evening when I am siting in my large camp-chair.... First she lays her head on my knee, as if to ask if I am too much engaged to notice her. A pat of encouragement and her fore-feet are thrown lightly across my lap; a few moments in this posture and she lifts her hind-feet from the ground, and, great, overgrown dog that she is, quietly and gently disposes of herself on my lap, and at times will cuddle down and sleep there for an hour at a time until I become so tired of my charge that I am compelled to transfer her to mother earth; and even then she resembles a well-cared for and half-spoiled child, who can never be induced to retire until it has been fondled to sleep in its mother’s arms.... Tuck will sleep so soundly in my lap that I can transfer her gently to the ground and she will continue her slumber.... As I write she is lying at my feet. She makes up with no other person.”
Some Greyhounds may clearly prefer one person to others- our pack certainly has some who always turn to Bob, and others who are closer to me. Greyhounds should always be not only good with people, but with other dogs. Some breeds may be too forward for a Greyhound’s taste, with more than a few not immediately liking really boisterous dogs with rowdy, forward manners. But Greyhounds were bred to work well with other dogs. Ancient royal hunting packs would include a hundred Greyhounds or more, as well as other breeds and types of dogs to use on various kinds of game, in addition to the noise, chaos and tumult of the hunt. It is imperative that Greyhounds be at least accepting of other dogs, and be stable and confident in the company of other Greyhounds. We have a large summer party every year for friends and dogs. This year we had 23 Greyhounds from 9 different families all loose together, coursing, playing, running and having treats, all in harmony. If I insist on this in any of our dogs, it is most important in the stud dogs. They must be harmonious and social. We say a good stud dog should seem like Cary Grant- all self- possession and suave charm. And a Greyhound bitch may be on a spectrum from Grace Kelly, with cool aristocratic bearing, or in advanced age, to evince the impeccable taste and opinions of Maggie Smith. If the breed has a hidden secret, it is surely the joy of neutered boys. Their openness and playful affection make them the greatest of charmers.
Dani Creech Edgerton has grown up in Greyhounds. She was in the ring with her mother’s Greyhounds as a child, and now is a trainer and handler whose own children are in the ring with her Cebar Greyhounds. Dani says of the breed-
“At a dog show in 1970, when I was eleven years old, my Dad wandered away from the area where my Mom was grooming her Afghan Hound to search for a dog that required ‘less maintenance’. The magnificent creature he found started my family’s three generation love affair with the Greyhound.
As it turned out ‘wash and wear’ was only one of the many incredible qualities that we discovered in our new breed of choice. Much of the rest of my childhood was spent with greyhounds; raising puppies, training, showing and lure coursing. I know I became a more insightful and versatile trainer as a result of the lessons I learned from our greyhounds and I came to cherish their remarkable beauty.
Greyhounds fit my parents and my brothers and I perfectly. They are kind, intelligent and patient and were willing to participate in our lives without having to be center stage. Throughout the years, as a trainer, I have come to like and appreciate many breeds, but there are none that I love like my incredible greyhounds.
When my husband and I had children, I knew the greyhounds would be an important part of their life as well. For my children, our greyhounds have lay beside them as babies, helped them learn to walk, run and played with them and been their teachers from house to field to show ring. My children have whelped Greyhound puppies and sat with failing elders. They have said good bye to more greyhounds than they will remember but what they will carry throughout their lives is the love and devotion that our greyhounds have given them.
I know that many may not agree but my experience leads me to know that the Greyhound is the perfect family dog.”
Greyhounds give us the feeling of living with history when we walk them, imagining what it was like hundreds of years ago to hunt with a royal pack. They can create the sense of living with great art, to be able to look up and see their beauty over and over. Their optimism can improve a tough day. Their bearing can be a lesson in grace. In the late sixteenth century, Gervase Markham wrote that greyhounds
'...are of all dogs whatsoever the most noble and princely, strong, nimble, swift and valiant; and though of slender and very fine proportions, yet so well knit and coupled together, and so seconded with spirit and mettle, that they are master of all other dogs whatsoever.’
‘’It's so clear to me that mental and emotional health are very much parts of overall health. Not enough focus on it. And yet, it's part of the fascinating Rubic's Cube that is breeding truly fine dogs.’’