Friday, March 7, 2014

The Greyhound Difference

Recently when I was posting a response to a potential new greyhound owner on a help forum, I found myself thinking long and hard about how to describe a greyhound to someone who has never met one.  The potential owner said she currently owns and rescues bulldogs, both French and American, and also wanted to know how that relationship might go.

I came to a few epiphanies about my dogs, after having Ferguson for over three years now, and Winry over two that I feel like would have been more helpful to me in the beginning (and probably to Ferguson as well).

When comparing bulldogs and greyhounds and imagining how they might act in different scenarios, the complex, sensitive nature of the hound is what stood out to me most.  Yes, greyhounds are sensitive, as most fine-boned dogs are and as most owners know, but to a bulldog owner, this was something I felt the need to stress.

In the mornings when getting ready, most dogs do thrive on a basic routine, but I would be willing to say that pretty much every other dog breed in the world is more flexible than the standard, retired racing greyhound.  I don't mean that in a negative way, per say, it's just the way they are. For them, what builds confidence is knowing exactly what will happen next.  For Ferguson, his separation anxiety has become less about separation, and more about anxiety of the unknown.  Now, I easily can go to work every day because we do the exact same routine M-F. But as I've confirmed with other greyhound owners of anxiety prone pups, if we do something out of order, the world falls apart.

We take a shorter walk than normal?
"Oh no! The world must be ending! Or you must be not going to work!"
We eat before going outside?
"I don't know how to chew without my walk."

On weekends, this is especially a problem.  While both dogs are fine with being left 8 hours a day during the week, the world caves in if we leave in a lazy manner, later than usual in the morning, because it's just not the same routine, and in their minds, creates the existence of the unknown, which is apparently the most intimidating thing to a greyhound.

Winry is notably much more flexible than Ferguson (she, for example, will happily eat any time food is in front of her regardless of where it fits in our routine), but her major nemesis is children, though I simply think this is her fear of the unknown that startles her.  I find it likely that she has never seen them or interacted with them before, and admittedly, they don't follow many dog rules and are a bit loud and intimidating at first.  We also rarely see or interact with them up close, so she hasn't had an opportunity to overcome this fear.

I don't mean this to say that all greyhounds are inflexible; they actually do a pretty good job of adapting to a new life after being at a track.  Mine do love unexpected treats, going on unexpected hikes, or varying our walk route.  However, for day to day life, I feel like most wouldn't do well if every single day was different.  They might get a bit better adjusting over time, but I feel like this would make for a much more nervous hound, unless they were able somehow drop their nerves and just go with the flow...but then this dog just wouldn't seem like a greyhound to me then.

The greyhound mentality seems to be that of a nervous over-thinker.  Most dogs live more in the moment: A bowl of food appears in front of them. "YAY FOOD! I LIKE FOOD." (and I'll admit, this applies to Winry).

But to other greyhounds, probably more in this breed than others, the process goes, "Why is she giving me food now? I don't eat yet. I stretch, get leashed, go out the door, go on the elevator, sniff, pee, walk, sniff, poop, walk, we come inside, I unleash, lay down, THEN get food.  Why is it here now? It doesn't belong here. Today isn't right. Something must be wrong.  I don't know. Maybe I'm in trouble. I bet I'm in trouble. I should try to look sad and cute. I'll just lay here until things start to go better."

I of course love my hounds, but I am the first to admit that they are a bit OCD about certain things (to each their own), and seem to ultimately be happy (even the more flexible Winry-like ones) when a consistent routine is followed day by day for majority of the time, within their understanding of the world, which would encompass hiking and visiting dog parks, food, toys, and pets.  They are much more sensitive to change than most other breeds, and take longer to recover from said unexpected events.  There are some days where me being in a bad mood drastically affects both my hounds, to the point where they simply sulk and stress (pant, pace, change beds frequently, have trouble settling) many other dogs do that?  This is fortunately probably because me being in such a mood would be out of the ordinary...there's that unknown again.

After having greyhounds, I'd say that I probably would not recommend them for the very spontaneous, unsettled, job searching, students who have schedules that may change at the drop of a hat.  But I can also say that to know one is to love one, and while I will probably have other breeds in the future (we're looking to get a doberman when housing and job situations allow...I'll admit it, I've really missed having a working breed for certain things), I can always see myself with at least one greyhound curled up on a bed in the corner snoozing away...only possible of course after a long walk, a dinner of kibble soaked in water, and them chewing a toy for at least 5 minutes afterwards, of course IN THAT ORDER! ;-).


Sue said...

Greyhounds, especially ex-racers are so use to a routine it can take a while for them to change.

gyeong said...

I am so glad my guys are definitively go with the flow kinda hounds. Some days I work from home, some I leave late, some the dog walker comes. But I can definitely see it in our boarders or fosters, as it might take a few days to get used to a new routine at our house.

houndstooth said...

My Greyhounds must be total oddballs. All of them have been fine with any variation in the routine and spontaneous changes. I think the fact that they grow up with a routine makes some things much easier with them, like housebreaking, but mine have all done really well with changes in routine. One of ours was almost like someone who is autistic and he did need a lot more structure in his life, but oddly, when he did the best was when we took him totally out of his regular environment and routine while we were on vacation. He really relaxed and enjoyed life a lot more than he seemed to with our day to day life at home.

Hazel said...

I've been racking my mind to remember the habits of the many greyhounds that I've adopted over the years...I never felt that I had to be really strict about a routine in order for them to be relaxed and happy! I really am glad that I did not have to be that rigid or I would have been nuts! I really liked your description of the situation, though. I think you are a good writer!

Kini_pella said...

@houndstooth, it sounds like I have one of those "autistic" hounds in Ferguson! Winry is more go with the flow, and honestly, I wonder if she would be even more if Ferguson wasn't around to stress about the change and have her feed off of his anxiousness! Maybe it's a plague ;). In any case, I'm grateful that at least once you understand THE ROUTINE, it is easier to work with/work on altering at a slower pace ;).