Greyhounds are graceful, lanky, and sweet-tempered dogs that are beloved for their tender demeanor and sleepy personalities. When they are not cuddling on the couch, these hunting hounds love long walks and chasing after squirrels that catch their eye. Greyhounds' history as racing dogs belies the fact that they enjoy the slow lane comforts of life and make excellent family pets.
Despite their reputation as the world's fastest dog, they are often nicknamed "40-mph-couch potatoes" because they are perfectly content to lounge around the house or accompany owners on a leisurely walk. Greyhounds are often described as cat-like because of their regal, graceful behavior.
Originally bred for sight hunting, greyhounds have an exceptional range of vision. On walks, their wide-set eyes are prominent and alert as they search for scampering rabbits up to a half-mile away. While humans only have about a 180-degree range of vision, greyhounds boast a 270-degree range of vision—and their keen ability to spot neighborhood squirrels helps them live up to their sighthound origin.
Greyhounds are much larger than their cousin, the Italian greyhound. While both slim breeds are mild-mannered and loving in nature, their differences begin with their stature. The greyhound stands around 27–30 inches tall and far exceeds the Italian greyhound, which only reaches 13–15 inches.
While a greyhound's personality can vary based on his lineage, he is generally an even-tempered, mellow dog who enjoys relaxation as much as humans. Given the breed's sight-hunting background, greyhounds have a high prey drive and can pursue small animals that might catch their eye on a walk—but they are trainable with a little patience (plus positive reinforcement!) and make excellent dogs for mature families or empty nesters.
"There's a reason why there's almost a cult-like following. They are wonderful dogs. They are really hard to beat as a pet," says Kimberly Fritzler, manager of Windrock LLC, which is recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as a platinum breeder of merit for greyhounds. "Even though they are a big dog, they don't act like one."
Once a greyhound is brought home, he may need some time to acclimate to his new surroundings and bond with his family. It's especially important to be patient with rescued greyhounds when introducing them to new environments and other animals, says Heather Venkat, DVM in Tempe, Ariz. and consultant with VIP Puppies.
"Greyhounds are very sweet dogs, but folks looking to adopt one should know that many greyhounds only know life on the racetrack," Venkat says. "Therefore, greyhounds may be more scared or nervous in new situations, requiring a lot of time and patience to introduce them to everyday objects like cars, stairs, and toys."
Like most large dogs, greyhounds need a fenced-in yard with plenty of space to roam. While greyhounds often have a reputation for being all-too-willing couch potatoes (and they often are later in life), these hounds still need an enclosed yard that allows them to explore and safely sprint after any wildlife that catches their eye—without the possibility of running out of their yard.
Even with a backyard, greyhounds should not be expected to stay outside for long periods of time because they are not designed for extreme weather. These dogs are naturally slender with body fat that's far lower than most other breeds and short fur, so owners need to invest in a winter dog coat to protect them against cold weather, even on short walks. In the summer, greyhounds cannot be left outside for long periods of time because they do not have a coat that insulates them from the heat and can be susceptible to heat exhaustion.
Greyhounds are social animals. While they can be left alone for short periods and value their independence, they are happier with companionship, both with two- and four-legged family members. But because of their lanky build, young greyhounds who are only a few months old can be injured by higher-energy dogs during play, so it's important to surround them with dogs who share their gentle demeanor.
"Even an older dog could actually hurt them quite badly. People see them and think that because of their size they are mature enough, but they aren't," Fritzler says. "They have no body fat."
While greyhounds are indoor dogs, they still need daily walks for exercise. Despite their reputation as world-renowned sprinters, greyhounds are not naturally well-suited for long-distance runs. Given their sensitive joints and increased risk for overheating, most greyhounds are better built for owners who want leisurely daily walks followed by couch cuddling.
"They are the fastest of our canines, but they are not a jogging dog," Fritzler says. "If you want to go for nice, long walks, then they are game—particularly if there are squirrels in the area they can look at. But to run forever, pounding on concrete? No."
Even with their love of frequent exercise, greyhounds should not be encouraged to play immediately after eating a meal because of their predisposition for bloating and torsion, a condition when the stomach twists on itself. Owners will need to monitor their greyhound after a meal to ensure they are not experiencing gastric problems that can turn deadly.
Dani Edgerton, president of the Greyhound Club of America and a certified dog trainer in Columbiana, Ohio, says a greyhound is likely bloating if he is standing with an arched back, cannot get comfortable, and has a hard stomach. Once a greyhound bloats, he's at a high risk of his stomach twisting and needs to see a veterinarian immediately.
"Be careful when you feed them, and know the signs," Edgerton says. "Bloat cases can be rescued if they are caught in time."
Exercise and meal-time needs aside, greyhounds are quite easy to care for when it comes to grooming. They are clean, low-odor dogs who do not drool excessively. Their thin coats and slight frames just require a soft brush or gentle brushing glove to minimize seasonal shedding. And, like all dogs, their nails need to be trimmed so they don't clack across the floor.
A healthy greyhound will live between 10–14 years, making the breed a wonderful long-term companion. Fritzler advises aspiring greyhound owners to work with recognized breeders who belong to the Greyhound Club of America—the national breed club for greyhounds within the AKC—to ensure they are bringing home a healthy dog.
This breed can be predisposed to a few health issues, including arthritis and hip problems that can often be addressed with a vet-recommended dog joint supplement. Other issues—including the potential for inherited heart problems and eye conditions—are harder to treat and need to be disclosed early.
"I can't say this enough: Get your puppy from a reputable breeder. If you buy from a person that is a member of the AKC Greyhound Club of America, we are all bound by a code of ethics, so you have some protection," Fritzler says. "If you're going to buy a puppy from a breeder, don't buy one that doesn't have health screenings with verifiable results online."
Fritzler recommends that potential greyhound owners ask breeders to show the results of a cardiac evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, an eye exam from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, and ask whether the dogs have been screened for a neurologic disorder called neuropathy. Former racing greyhounds are also at a higher risk for an aggressive bone cancer called osteosarcoma, which cannot be screened for, but owners should be aware of the risk.
The greyhound is believed to be among the oldest species of dogs, with depictions of the breed appearing in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, according to the AKC. Early greyhounds were used for their ability to hunt by sight—a skill that was enhanced by exceptional speed that allowed them to catch rabbits and other prey. Greyhounds were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885.
Renowned for their unrivaled speed, greyhounds started being used as racing animals in the 1900s. According to the National Greyhound Adoption Program, greyhound racing began in California in 1919 and then spread to 13 other states. But recent laws against dog racing in several states—including Florida and Iowa—are expected to significantly diminish the modern greyhound racing industry and the availability of retired track dogs.
Traditionally, thousands of former racing greyhounds have been adopted out to homes every year in the United States. But, the new laws combined with a general decline in interest around dog racing may reduce the number of ex-racing-pedigree hounds. Though the number could decrease, demand for greyhounds is still strong.
"They're marvelous dogs and good in almost all situations," Edgerton says. "If you're getting a puppy, you don't have to worry about them with kids and you can train them. They are good at agility and obedience and most things. ... I would say that the primary issue is that there just aren't that many available."
- Greyhounds are the fastest dog breed on Earth, with record-holders sustaining an incredible 40–45 miles per hour when sprinting.
- President Rutherford B. Hayes had a pet greyhound named Grim.
- Greyhounds are referred to as "universal blood donors." According to the Greyhound Health Collective, 85 percent of greyhounds have a blood type that can be donated to all other dog breeds.