Ten Rules for Training a Retired Racing Greyhound
Training your retired racer will help him live more comfortably and happily in your home. In this article, you’ll find ten simple rules to follow when training your hound.
Know how to speak Greyhound
Take the time to figure out how retired racers think and how they respond. The more you understand about the breed and how his previous life affects his present behavior, the better you’ll be at interpreting what he’s trying to tell you.
Your Greyhound’s racing life exposed him to lots of people and lots of other Greyhounds, but he has no experience with the new world you’ve adopted him into. As a rule, Greyhounds are suspicious of things they’ve never seen before. And very little in your Greyhound’s new life is like what he has seen before. Take that into account when you take him somewhere new or train him in an unfamiliar place. Always make new experiences positive.
Although other dogs get hyper and noisy and flit from place to place when they’re stressed, Greyhounds tend to turn into statues. When they’re in this mode, they aren’t learning, so back off and let them decide when it’s safe to continue.
Greyhounds have incredibly quick reaction times and tend to startle easily. When they’re startled or frightened, they tend to bolt, and their body type makes backing out of a collar very easy. When they’re in that flight mode, they can be in the next county before they stop running. So using a properly fitted special Greyhound collar and sturdy leash are essential anytime you’re outdoors. Fenced yards and secure areas are necessary for any off-leash activities or training.
Remember: Greyhounds are perpetual students
Learning happens every moment your retired racer is alive. He learns whether you teach or not. He learns from everything that happens to him. Because every interaction with you is a learning experience, whether you intend it to be or not, try to take advantage of it.
How your Greyhound responds is related to his training and his history. If your Greyhound continues to do something you don’t want him to do, figure out how this negative behavior is being rewarded. If you want him to repeat something good, figure out how to reward that instead.
Build a winning relationship
Even if you don’t care if your Greyhound ever sits, don’t shortchange him by thinking that training is strictly about manners and obedience. Training is really about building a good relationship and having good communication. So train your Greyhound early and often to build that relationship and open those lines of communication.
Greyhounds are sensitive to your moods and actions. Your retired racer will get stressed if he thinks you’re upset. And harshness is almost guaranteed to offend him. If he doesn’t like what’s happening or if he’s had enough, he’ll shut down and go into statue mode.
Although some breeds are very forgiving of events that frighten them, retired racers can take a long time to forgive and forget. Bad memories can last a long time. Try to avoid situations that are likely to scare him.
Set him up to win
While your Greyhound is learning new manners, manage his world so he can’t get into trouble. Use gates, leashes, and crates to keep him out of trouble. Keep appealing but forbidden items out or reach or out of sight. Reward the behaviors you want from him, and use management to keep him from the behaviors you don’t want. If it’s safe to do so, ignore the behaviors you don’t want. Management, not punishment, is the key.
Catch him doing something right
People are too accustomed to finding mistakes and correcting them. Most of us barely notice our hound if he’s being quiet or chewing on a bone instead of a slipper. But we sure let him know about it if we catch him raiding the trash or chewing a sneaker. Train your Greyhound to do lots of behaviors that you can reward him for. Pay attention to him so you can catch him doing something right, and reward that good behavior.
Realize that training is a process
Don’t be fooled by trainers who do infomercials or make celebrity appearances on late-night TV. No ten-minute cures exist for dogs with behavior problems. Training isn’t a six-second sound bite. It’s a process.
Reliability is a direct function of your relationship with your retired racer and your commitment to training, combined with your dog’s inherent temperament and character. If your hound isn’t doing it right, you didn’t train him right. If he continues to do something bad, it’s because whatever reward he’s getting from the bad behavior is more effective than whatever you’re doing to reward him for being good.
Make it fun
Draw on your dog’s natural abilities and interests. Try to find ways to incorporate his love of running, his need to chase, and his response to prey-like noises into your training. Be creative. Act silly. Make watching you more fun than anything else going on around him.
Use the things your Greyhound wants as rewards. If he wants to chase a butterfly, ask for a sit, then release him to chase it as long as it’s safe for him to do so. Pay attention to the things that are most interesting and important to him. Think of ways you can use these things or provide access to them as rewards. Turn life into a reward for the behaviors you want instead of something he has to escape from you in order to get.
Keep it simple
Break down behaviors into small pieces. If your Greyhound is not doing it right, chances are you’re moving too fast or trying to teach too much at once. Even the simplest behaviors have multiple parts or actions. The more complex the behavior, the more important it is to break it into small pieces and teach each piece separately. When you make one part of a behavior more difficult, you have to make the other parts easier.
Keep it short
Greyhounds do not like lots of repetition. After three or four times of doing the same exercise, you’ll start to see your Greyhound’s attention stray and his eyes glaze over. If he’s doing something correctly, just do it once or twice, and then move on. If he isn’t doing it correctly, back up to something simpler so he can win. Then quit or move on to something different.
Even gentle learning is stressful. Learn to recognize the subtle signs that your retired racer is stressed, and stop before he gets to that point.
Keep it sweet
Corrections have no place in training new behaviors. Being a bully doesn’t do anything to build trust in your relationship. And training is all about having a good relationship.
Rewards — and plenty of them — are key to successfully training a retired racer. But rewards shouldn’t be bribes. If you bribe your hound to respond, he’ll never have reason to respect your leadership. Make your rewards memorable, and keep him guessing about what you’ll do next. Be creative. Be unpredictable. And always leave him wanting more.