Shuttered racing tracks leave 6,000 Greyhounds homeless

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • With Florida’s new ban on dog racing, thousands more retired Greyhounds will be in need of forever homes
  • Greyhounds make wonderful companions, but as with any new pet, it’s important to do your research to ensure a retired racer is a good fit for your family and lifestyle
  • Due to their background as racers, retired Greyhounds deserve knowledgeable adoptive families who understand and can work with these dogs to help them adapt to their new lives as beloved pets

In the U.S., 40 states have banned dog racing, and until very recently, Florida — home to 11 of the remaining 17 dog tracks in the country — wasn’t among them. But in November 2018, the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 13, which outlaws Greyhound racing by 2020, making Florida the 41st state to take action on behalf of racing dogs.1

Three Florida tracks have already closed since Amendment 13 passed, and the remaining eight are expected to phase out races between now and the deadline. Estimates are that as many as 6,000 retired Greyhounds from Florida dog tracks will be in need of homes.2

If you’re interested in locating adoptable retired Greyhounds, all you have to do is enter the term “Greyhounds for adoption” in any search engine and you’ll find lots of rescue organizations and adoption groups — regional, local and some national resources as well. But before you take the plunge, as always when adding a pet to the family, it’s important to do your homework.

Racing greyhounds are more pack-oriented than many other dogs

One resource for learning about retired racing dogs is The Greyhound Project, Inc., which is a volunteer, nonprofit organization founded in 1992 that provides information about retired racing Greyhounds and promotes their adoption. They aren’t affiliated with any Greyhound adoption program or organization. Much of the information that follows is from their website.

They make the point that racing Greyhounds are exceptionally pack-oriented because they’ve lived with a large number of other dogs from birth. Their social hierarchy always includes a leader, which will become your role. According to the Greyhound Project website:

“One of the first behaviors you will probably notice is your new dog following you from room to room looking to you for leadership. If you do not fill the role of the alpha figure in terms your dog can understand, it will be perfectly willing to take over if it is allowed.

Most dog behavior problems arise out of an owner's misunderstanding of the proper role of the pack leader. Among the more common problems arising out of a misunderstanding of the leader role is the reinforcement of shy insecure behavior by trying to avoid all distressing situations in an attempt to comfort an insecure dog.”3

What to expect from a retired greyhound

Greyhounds are sight hounds who work cooperatively with other hounds and develop strategies on the fly to catch prey. This gives them an independent streak. Retired racing dogs have been trained to chase mechanical or sometimes live lures. It’s in their nature to run and chase things that move and has little to do with predatory behavior.

These dogs are sprinters who can run up to 45 miles an hour for very short periods. Once retired, some Greyhounds still love to run, while others lose interest.

Despite their career and lifestyle as racing dogs, Greyhounds love people and are typically very easy to be around. They’re handled frequently as youngsters by veterinarians and trainers, many of whom, according to the Greyhound Project, are women who bring their children to work, which socializes the dogs to kids of all ages.

As a breed, Greyhounds tend to be curious, occasionally shy, very sensitive and gentle. These dogs are quite smart, and in the case of retired racers, don’t seem to carry much emotional “baggage” from their past life.

Retired Greyhounds have never been without other Greyhounds, nor have they had the experience of puppyhood. That’s why many tend to act like puppies for a short time once in their new homes. The breed is eager to please and can learn obedience commands with consistent positive reinforcement behavior training.

Retired racers are used to being on a leash and love to go for walks, but most don’t know how to sit, play games or climb stairs, so they need to be taught those things by their adoptive family. They’ve also never been exposed to other breeds of dogs, or cats, so you should expect your Greyhound to be confused by or perhaps fearful of other breeds, or to simply ignore them.

When they feel threatened, Greyhounds only know how to defend themselves by running away and will often freeze in place if attacked. They don’t typically bite but sometimes show affection as a wolf does with an open mouth and gentle grasping. They show love with their whole body and may rub up or lean against you. Most Greyhounds aren’t very vocal but will bark when they’re excited or when they need to communicate something to you. They’re accustomed to travel and quickly get the hang of riding in cars.

When they’re from 4 to 18 months old, most racing Greyhounds begin living in individual crates in the kennel where they spend most of their time between exercise periods and training. From the Greyhound Project website:

“Generally, Greyhounds are not abused or mistreated, although their handling is straightforward and utilitarian. They do not ordinarily get anything in the way of attention or handling that is not needed as a part of their training for the track.”

The above statement is a bit of a soft-pedal, in my opinion, since there have been many reports over the years of drugging (primarily cocaine), extreme confinement of up to 20 hours a day and very serious injuries acquired during races.

For a wealth of additional information on topics such as choosing an adoption organization, handling adoption anxiety in your new dog, supplies you’ll want to have on hand when you bring him home, how to successfully navigate his first few days with you and the special medical needs of Greyhounds, go to the dropdown menu on the Advice tab at the Greyhound Project website.