Care of the Racing Greyhound
The breeding of greyhounds is a refined and studious task in modern times, with breeders aware that only the best-bred animals are likely to be able to achieve success on the track. The vast majority of stud dogs used are past champions that have won major races.
Increasingly, champions from other countries have been imported to be used as studs in an attempt to inject freshness and hardiness into the traditional greyhound bloodlines. In recent years, this further improved the quality of racing greyhounds.
Although the stud greyhound is an important part of breeding a new stock, many believe, rightly or wrongly, that equally important is the bitch (dam) used in the mating.
Although there have been some exceptionally successful brood bitches there have also been hugely successful stud greyhounds so the argument as to the most important element in breeding is set to rage on.
The number of puppies in any one litter varies between one to as many as 14 or 15, but more commonly, bitches whelp a manageable sized litter of between six and ten. The split between bitches and dogs produced can vary from all bitches to all dogs with every other combination in between.
Pups do little else in their formative first few weeks other than suckle milk from their dam and sleep! Rather pug-nosed at birth, they look little like a greyhound at this stage and, indeed, could pass for just about any breed.
After four or five weeks, the youngsters have firmly found their feet and are soon up to mischief as the gradual weaning period begins. Most breeders keep the mother with the pups for as long as possible, with suitable and increasing breaks away from them, but, at eight or nine weeks, she has usually had enough of the rummaging scrum and they will be parted shortly afterwards.
Like the young of most animals, greyhound pups require the best nutrition available if they are to develop into the athletes they were bred to be. Most breeders have their own favored strategy for the rearing of pups and although few the same, the end result is usually a healthy and happy racing dog.
In the first year some prefer to let the young roam freely in vast areas with the litter returning of their own freewill to feed. Others favor giving litters the run of sizeable paddocks with shelter - both methods allow the youngsters to develop strong, healthy limbs and cardiovascular systems.
There is really little further science involved in rearing it is simply a case of getting the youngsters safely through the first year of their lives providing nutrition and ample space for them to grow and exercise in.
Most litters are provided with toys such as rags and squeaky toys while they are growing and the games they play as youngsters give them a good introduction to the more serious work ahead of them.
Natural chasers (they hunt by sight), saplings are willing and able pupils when it comes to schooling in the lead-up to their careers on the racetrack.
There are many variations to the methods used to encourage a greyhound to race straight and true after the quarry, but the basics are that they are set on their way with the use of rags or similar tantalizingly dangled close to their noses and moved forwards in front of them.
For the young greyhound, it is a game they enjoy and so starts the gradual process of developing the pup into a fully fledged racer.
Once chasing keenly, the novice greyhounds are invited to chase dummy lures up gallops before eventually taken to a schooling track or licensed racetrack to be given their first handslip.
A handslip simply means that the greyhound is released behind a moving lure usually on a bend of the track which gets him or her into the routine of track racing.
Again, once the trainer is satisfied that the student is chasing the lure keenly, it is time to move onto schooling from the traps. As a rule, the pupils are simply allowed to walk through the starting traps with doors front and back open before being allowed to chase a lure in the same manner.
The process continues until the greyhound is confident in the starting boxes and is able to leave the traps in a competent fashion in pursuit of the lure.
If all goes well, the young greyhound is ready to move to the next stage at the minimum racing age of 15 months old. Some will not continue onto the track until much later or, indeed, some will start their schooling later than others if their handlers feel they need more time to grow and mature.
Every greyhound is required to have a number of racecourse trials before he or she is allowed to race in competitive company where betting is allowed.
The trials are meant to ascertain the ability of individual greyhounds so that they can be matched with others of similar ability when they begin racing in earnest.
Once the pupil greyhound has completed the necessary trials, he or she is ready to embark on what will, in the vast majority of cases, be a rewarding career.
It is the job of the trainer to ensure that each greyhound in his care is injury free and ready to do their best on the racetrack.
Many greyhounds will race until four or five years of age and sometimes even longer, but most reach their peak as three-year-olds with their speed tapering off as they get older.
Greyhounds are occasionally injured during the course of a race, or in their kennels or simply by racing around the paddocks at home. The vast majority of injuries are treated with no lasting effects but others are more serious and can curtail a greyhound's career on the track prematurely.
As security, a fully qualified vet must pass each and every greyhound as fit to run every time the dog sets foot on the track.
Retirement and Care
Whether through injury or age, the time comes for every greyhound to bow out from the action on the track and move onto pastures new in their retirement.
The vast majority of greyhound owners take their responsibilities seriously and take their ex-racers home to become part of the family or ensure that other members of the family or friends have a caring home to give to their greyhound.
Most greyhounds adapt well to home life and make superb companions, although some will never adapt to home life and are equally happy to spend the rest of their days in the same routine in kennels.
The sport of greyhound racing takes the issue of care after racing seriously and is striving to ensure that no greyhound is unnecessarily put down once its racing career is over.