Is my Greyhound Dumb?

Have you ever tried to get your Greyhound to pay attention to you and he simply continues with his activities as usual? I have and it is annoying.

As I have mentioned, Jethro is recovering from an epidural hematoma in his back and subsequent hemi-laminectomy. Most of the time Jethro is happy and willing to participate in his recovery; other times he is not interested and has more important things to do like lie in the sun and act like a statue.

Jethro is not stupid and Greyhounds are not stupid dogs but they are not biddable.

There is a reason why Greyhounds aren’t biddable. Let’s think about the history of the Greyhound and what our racing Greyhounds are currently trained to do. Greyhounds, by way of nature and nurture, are independent thinkers. They are able to chase after something catch it and return it. They are able to position themselves on a track and successfully outmaneuver seven other dogs. The path that the Greyhound must plan to be successful requires some thinking that is not driven by a human. There is more to our Greyhounds than just raw speed!

This skills associated with racing and coursing are somewhat learned but also bred into the Greyhound. Genetics play a huge role in the Greyhound’s ability race on an oval track or course. That is not to say that training does not impact the Greyhound’s learning, but he has to have the capacity to think independently first or use his instincts.

Greyhounds are actually rather smart dogs. However, their independence can really be frustrating and create a negative environment for training or rehabbing.

So how do we make our Greyhounds as successful in rehab or training? It starts with knowing your dog and having your head in the game, so to speak!

I am a high-strung person with a touch of OCD, so I don’t do chill very well. This can be difficult when training dogs. While rehabbing Jethro I found myself very frustrated with him at times because he was not doing what I wanted and I couldn’t check that set of exercises of the list for the day. I found myself dreading his PT sessions, and I could tell that he dreaded dealing with me. After a very unsuccessful morning of trying to do PT exercises and Jethro impersonating a Greyhound statue, I knew something had to change.

Guess what, folks?  I needed to change. In the process of not completing his exercises for the day, I was becoming very nervous thinking about the possible terrible outcomes that lack of PT could lead to. I was focused on getting him better but not on Jethro or what Jethro needed in a trainer. I was a deranged anxious lady that he wanted nothing to do with; I was not his calm collected owner.

Now I make sure he is doing something daily but that can vary from increasing the time he stands, the number of sit-stand reps, or going on a 15-minute walk with Darla and Sashi.

Knowing my dog and where he is in his recovery has been essential to his improvements. Knowing your dog and where they are from day to day is essential in any type of training not just physical therapy.

Getting to know your dog opens the door for biddability. We must understand that there is more to our Greyhounds than raw speed – that big stubborn dog also has a lot of brain power.

How to get a solid recall

By now you have probably noticed there are a lot of pictures of my dogs running and playing without leashes. I want to make it clear that generally speaking my Greyhounds are leashed.  However, when we are in the country we allow our Greyhounds to be off leash.  Our dogs are familiar with our property and understand their “boundaries”.

My Greyhounds did not come with off-leash manners and it took a lot of work to train off-leash manners.  So how did I go about teaching my Greyhounds to come? Recall training is not a once and done type of command.  Recall training has to occur frequently and you have to be ready to give you Greyhound a huge payload when they come to you vs. following that amazing coyote scent or chasing an armadillo. 

At first we did a lot of work in the backyard.  I would send a Greyhound out and allow them to start their sniffing.  I would watch on the deck and when I noticed they were very interested in something I would call them and give them a high value treat—think canned dog food, mac&cheese, or raw tripe in a small container.  After they had successfully completed this on a small scale I increased the distraction and the distance. 

After mastering the backyard we would begin working on recalls at our local private dog park. This was a good location because it was safe but also full of new exciting smells and distractions.   Again I would wait until they became interested in something and then call them giving them a huge payload. 

We continued with this exercise until I felt they were ready to head to our country fields. 

The boys were relatively easy to teach a recall to.  Both Sashi and Jethro are huge momma’s boys.  They are not going far from me.  I can’t put on make-up without Sashi watching!  The cord was not cut with the boys.  Training a recall took a few huge payloads in a few different locations and they were hooked. 

Darla was not that simple.  Darla is a complicated Greyhound.  She is very independent and when I first got her she could take me or leave me.  However, she did want to hang close to Jethro and she loves food.  The issues with her recall came when she wanted to do more independent activities and realized that she could wonder off from Jethro.  This caused some stress—we thought all of our Greyhounds had great recalls but Darla did not.

Darla was deemed a flight risk and leashed.  Clint and I wanted Darla to enjoy the independence of sniffing and hunting around our fields.  We began reworking her recall and giving her another chance at off leash activities. 

We took her to the fields and the first time she did well and stayed with me, I thought that she had it!  The second time was not so pleasant.  As soon as we unleashed her she was off. Fortunately she was with Sashi and he has an excellent recall.  We called him and she remembered what she was supposed to be doing.  And came running back to us for her reward.  I want to note how important it was that we were happy and rewarded her when she came back.  She did not do exactly what we wanted her to do but we want her to associated coming to us with happiness and rewards, not us being frustrated.

After this experience we knew we had more work to do. We tried her off leash again this past week in our fields.  She did much better.  I have learned that once she is off leash she is going to run like crazy. The difference this time was that when we called her she did a turn-face and came back to us, ready for her jackpot reward. 

We will continue to do more and more off leash training with Darla and we will allow her more and more off leash time.  Hoping to balance her training with her positive experiences. 

No matter if you are considering allowing you Greyhound off leash or not, training your Greyhound to a recall is one of the most important things you can do.  We have to remember that accidents do happen and the better prepared you are the better chance you have a good outcome. Good solid recalls take time.  It is important to start slow and practice often.  Sometimes regression is part of the learning process and should not be considered a failure but an opportunity for learning.  Training you Greyhound should be a fun positive process for you and your Greyhound. 

For more off-leash training tips check out Jennifer Bachelor’s Blog Never Say Never Greyhounds.  This is the premier blog for training Greyhounds!

Do Greyhounds think like us?

Have you ever wondered what makes a Greyhound happy?  Or even if your Greyhound experiences any emotion like we do?

I have.  Jethro recently had a spontaneous injury to his back.  He was paralyzed from the pelvis down.  We were lucky and he was able to have surgery to fix the issue.  He is getting better but he still has a long road ahead of him.

Jethro is a high-strung Greyhound that does not like to be still; he has “extra personality.”  He has been miserable while he has been sick.  He whines and seems listless.  He is only happy when he is eating, outside, cuddled up to Clint or me, or playing nose work.  We have ben playing a lot of games and that has made this experience better for the both of us.  Jethro may be the best trained of the bunch at this moment!

This experience made me think about the emotions dogs may feel.  I wondered how Jethro’s brain was processing his condition.  This experience made me want to know more about dog cognition.

Dog cognition is an up-and-coming field.  There are several centers around the U.S.  studying dogs.  We have learned that dogs are special compared to other animals.  Dogs are able to learn our cues even better than chimps and other non-human primates.

I was shocked that a dog could understand what I want him to do more quickly than a non-human primate.  A study published in Interactions Studies in 2009 looked at New Guinea Signing Dog (NGSD), along with four breeds of dogs registered with kennel clubs—the the Siberian Huskie, the German Shepherd Dog (GSD), the Toy Poodle, and the Basenji (Wobber, Hare, Koler-Matznick, Wrangham, & Tomasello, 2009).  The researchers tested three types of cues on these dogs—they set out two bowls of food, the first cue was pointing and turning toward one bowl, the second was handling a block and then setting it in front of a bowl, and the third was covering the dogs’ eyes and sitting the block in front of one bowl (Wobber et al., 2009).  In experiments with the NGSG and the kennel club dogs both reacted to these cues (Wobber et al., 2009).  This is incredibly interesting, as wolves do not do this (Hare, Brown, Williamson, & Tomasello, 2002; Virányi et al., 2008).  Furthermore, the NGSD is a breed that has had very little human involvement in their breeding and they still picked up on these cues similarly to the pure breed kennel dogs (Wobber et al., 2009).

This does not prove that dogs experience emotions as we do, but it does show that dogs are very in tune with humans.  They are paying attention to us and respond accordingly.  For instance, when I get my camera case out, my Greyhounds know we are about to go run.  Dogs pay attention to what we do.

There continues to be a lot of research focused on the dog’s cognitive system.  Hopefully someone will eventually be able to answer our question about the emotions our Greyhounds feel or don’t feel.

For now we have to do our best to not anthropomorphize our Greyhounds.  We understand that they are in tune with us but do not necessarily feel what we perceive that they feel.  We have to remember they are dogs and sometimes what makes them happiest is a nice run in a field, a good beef neck bone, an ear rub, or a nice game of nose- work!

 

Hare, B., Brown, M., Williamson, C., & Tomasello, M. (2002). The domestication of social cognition in dogs. Science, 298(5598), 1634-1636. doi:10.1126/science.1072702
Virányi, Z., Gácsi, M., Kubinyi, E., Topál, J., Belényi, B., Ujfalussy, D., & Miklósi, A. (2008). Comprehension of human pointing gestures in young human-reared wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis familiaris). Anim Cogn, 11(3), 373-387. doi:10.1007/s10071-007-0127-y
Wobber, V., Hare, B., Koler-Matznick, J., Wrangham, R., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Breed differences in domestic dogs’(Canis familiaris) comprehension of human communicative signals (Vol. 10:2, pp. 206-224). Interaction Studies: John Benjamins Publishing Company

 

Collars: To Martingale or not to Martingale

Besides poop-bags, the other most commonly used product for the greyhound is a collar.  When you adopt your greyhound most likely they will be equipped with a muzzle and a martingale collar. 

When I got my first greyhound I read a lot about the martingale collar.  Everyone seemed to recommend this as greyhounds have skinny necks and can “back out of their collars.”  What I was not clear on was that martingale collars should only be used for training or walking.

Unfortunately I found this out the hard way.  One day Jethro and Darla were playing.  They both had on martingale collars.  Something happened and Jethro got Darla’s collar wrapped around his mouth.  He was struggling to free himself and choking Darla in the process.  Both Greyhounds were squealing and I was freaking out.  I knew I had to act quickly.  The saving grace was that Darla’s collar was too big and by a miracle I was able to pull Jethro close enough to Darla to give the collar some slack and pull it over her head.  Darla and Jethro were OK; however, this could have ended in disaster if I had not been right there.  I vowed only to use a Martingale collars while training.

Greyhounds can be flight risks and per their adoption agreement they need collars on all the time.  I was frustrated with what I was going to do. 

I first ordered leather fishtail collars.  These collars are beautiful and I love to see Greyhounds sporting these collars, as they look so regal.  Overall they are very effective but there was one drawback.  My hounds are quite rambunctious and they have been known to take a notion to jump in the pool with a collar on.  Their leather collars were quite worn at about a year.  Sashi has been banned from leather.  He chewed through one collar and did some damage to another.  There had to be a better product.

One day I was watching a Greyhound race and noticed that the Greyhounds were being walked to the starting box with plastic buckle collars. I found Gun Dog Supply online and ordered a TufFlex collar for Sashi.  These collars also included a brass nameplate that is riveted to the collar.  They gave off a plastic smell when I first opened the package, but it dissipated overnight.

I love love love these TufFlex collars.  Now all three Greyhounds wear these collars.  They are easy to clean, pick up no odor from the dogs, and fit incredibly well.  My Greyhounds cannot back out of these collars as long as they are adjusted in the correct position.  I have been using these collars for about one year and can’t say anything negative about them. 

However, for most Greyhounds the safest walking collar is a martingale.  If you are concerned that you will forget to take it on and off, I highly recommend buying a martingale with a buckle.  I have used these collars in the past and they are effective but get dirty quickly–or maybe Sashi just gets dirty quickly!

 

I hope that one of these collar options suits you and your Greyhound!

My Greyhound’s leg is broken, now what?

About 10 months ago Jethro broke his leg lure coursing.  It was a beautiful December day and we were in Moreland, Ga.  Jethro ran his first course and looked very strong and was having a blast.  I decided to run him in his second course because he looked so good and was having such a nice day.  During the end of the second course, he came up lame.  His left wrist was extremely swollen and he was not bearing weight.  I was very concerned by to looks of the injury but tried to tell myself it was OK.  I examed his wrist and felt crepitus (boney cracking) and my fears were certain he had broken a bone in his wrist. 

 Photo credit: Cindy Frezon

 

I called my vet and told him that I thought the leg was broken.  He advised me to stabilize the leg and come in the next morning. 

Overnight the swelling had increased and was causing Jethro a lot of pain.  We went to the vet and had x-ray.  His stopper bone was broken.  We discussed an experimental surgical technique to stabilize the bone with a small screw or splinting and stabilizing the joint for 8-12 weeks. 

I decided to splint and stabilize the joint.

Jethro is a very headstrong dog.  He had other plans than lying around the house for 8 weeks.  He wanted to be running and playing with his pack.  Keeping Jethro calm was incredibly hard and we ended up have to give him trazodone to keep him calm as he busted out of two crates and wrecked multiple x-pens.

While he was in the splint he developed a pressure ulcer on his elbow.  I was at my tipping point!

The pressure ulcer was extremely painful for Jethro.  I called the vet thinking we were going to have to begin antibiotics ( I am a nurse after all) but dogs are amazing creatures and their infection threshold is much stronger than humans.

I read all I could about pressure ulcers in dogs and found this article about a “doughnut dressing”.  This was a dressing shaped like a doughnut causing the pressure of the splint to be distrusted evenly around the wound allowing no pressure to be on the ulcer.  After a week of using the doughnut dressing the ulcer was healing and you could no longer see bone.

Jethro was such a good patient and supper lucky to have two nurses taking care of him.

After nine weeks in a splint, Jethro was free!  Clint and I were pushing getting the splint of ASAP due to the pressure ulcer.  I was so glad to hear the bone had nice regrowth and looked stable.  

After the splint was off Jethro still walked like he was splinted.  It took him about a week to resume a somewhat normal gait. 

After the splint was off the hard part began.  We had to rehab a dog.  He had lost a lot of muscle and was was stiff from the splint.  We began doing stretching and strength training.  I knew that the rehab was key in correcting Jethro’s gait. 

This video shows some of the rehab techniques I used to help Jethro to regain strength and balance in his leg. 

Jethro had a great outcome due to a great vet, serious human support, and his will to be able to run again.  If you are ever in the situation, I hope this post helps you and your hound. 

 

Photo credit: Cindy Frezon