Where the Greyhound Dog Breed Came From and How to Best Care for Them

Updated March 9, 2022
Girl hugging greyhound dog

Greyhounds are best known for racing, but they also make loyal and lovable companions. They are part of the Sighthound sub-group, which means they have an acute sense of sight and are built for speed. These dogs would be excellent pets for any size household and get along well with most other dogs and children. However, owners should be aware of the potential health concerns and training approaches these dogs require. Learn more about why so many people love the majestic Greyhound breed.

Origin and History of Greyhounds

The breed we know as the Greyhound traces their origin back to ancient Egypt approximately 5,000 years ago, and shares a distant relative with the Saluki. These dogs were probably first used for hunting and later herding, which would explain the development of their keen eyesight. This is the reason they are referred to as "Sighthounds," because they track game using their eyes, not their noses as a Basset Hound or Bloodhound does.

The breed then reportedly made their way to Greece, and was depicted in Ancient Greek artwork and literature as early as 800 B.C. In the Middle Ages, Greyhounds were saved from near-extinction when killing a Greyhound was deemed punishable by death. They were valued for their hunting abilities and kept primarily by nobility.

It's believed that Greyhounds made their way to the United States along with Christopher Columbus. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1885. Racing of Greyhounds gained traction in the late 1800s, but the sport formally emerged in the early 1900s after the invention of the mechanical lure. Some modern Greyhounds still race (though the sport is illegal in more than 40 states), but most are kept as companion animals.

Characteristics of the Breed

Greyhounds are a recognizable breed with numerous desirable traits. Many of their characteristics have been engrained over centuries of breeding.

Greyhound breed card

Appearance

The Greyhound is the ultimate racing-type dog; narrow yet muscular in build with a streamlined head and long legs. Members of the breed generally weigh between 60 to 70 pounds, and stand approximately 27 to 30 inches tall at the shoulder. These dogs have deep chests to accommodate the kind of lung capacity needed for sprinting. The top-line is slightly rounded rather than level, ears are small and folded, and the tail is quite long and thin.

Because the Greyhound is a very old breed, they have developed several colors. There are 18 recognized breed colors, including fawn, red, white, black, brindle, and combinations of these colors. Grey or blue is said to be the rarest Greyhound coat color. Some people say the color was intentionally bred out of the breed at one time, because grey Greyhounds were reportedly slower than others.

Temperament

Greyhounds are generally mild mannered, gentle, and affable, getting along well with their human companions (including children). They seem friendly with other dogs of substantial size, but because of their gaming history and the training received by dogs used for racing, they are not as trustworthy around very small dogs and other petite household pets, such as cats.

Surprisingly, these dogs are actually quite calm and quiet. They often prefer to spend most of their time snuggled up somewhere warm and comfortable. They're not excessive barkers, and don't display the kind of watchdog instincts that other breeds do.

Exercise Requirements

Even though this breed is athletic and fast, they don't have extremely high exercise needs. Like most large dogs, Greyhounds need at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. This can be accomplished through daily walks, hikes, runs, off-leash play, or any other type of physical activity. After their exercise needs have been met, your Greyhound will likely spend the rest of their time relaxing on the couch or lying around indoors.

Greyhound running on a meadow full of dandelions

Training

Greyhounds are highly intelligent dogs that can be trained quite easily. Like any other dog, begin training as early as possible. Positive reinforcement is vital for these stoic and sensitive dogs. Always reward them with praise.

Training a retired Greyhound takes more work compared to training a new puppy, but the key is patience. Incorporate gradual socialization and communication into training, as these adult dogs were likely never taught these basic skills.

Health Concerns

Greyhounds are relatively healthy dogs, but the breed is prone to several health problems.

  • Bloat: Canine bloat is a life-threatening condition where the stomach twists on itself. Deep-chested dogs like the Greyhound are susceptible.
  • Bone cancer: These dogs can be prone to osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone tumor.
  • Anesthetic sensitivity: Sighthounds like the Greyhound and Whippet can be sensitive to specific drugs used to induce anesthesia. Veterinarians have special drug protocols for these dogs to keep them safe under anesthesia.
  • Temperature sensitivity: These hounds are extremely lean, so they are very susceptible to both heat and cold. Avoid leaving your dog in the sun during warm weather and provide a sweater when the weather turns frigid.
  • Esophageal disorders: Greyhounds are prone to esophageal achalasia, which can lead to regurgitating, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing.

Lifespan

Greyhounds are hardy, large dogs who live an average of 10 to 14 years. Most racing Greyhounds retire between the ages of 2 to 5 years, so these adoptable dogs can live long, full lives with someone who is willing to give them a second chance.

Brindle Greyhound on a beach

Grooming

Greyhounds have extremely short coats and no undercoat, so they are very easy to keep clean. Bathing should take place as needed, and unless your pet likes to romp in the mud, this probably won't be necessary more than once a month. Regular nail clipping, ear cleaning, and tooth brushing will also help keep your pet in good condition.

Fun Facts About the Breed

  • The Greyhound is the fastest dog in the world, reaching speeds up to 45 miles per hour.
  • This breed is frequently used as blood donors due to their universal blood type and the fact that they have more red blood cells than other dog breeds.
  • The Greyhound breed made an appearance in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and is thought to be the first known breed mentioned by name in literature.

Where to Buy a Greyhound Puppy

If you are looking for a Greyhound puppy, there are a few different places you can turn to depending on your intent. Owners searching for an AKC-registered Greyhound puppy as a pet or to show may be limited by availability, as only a small number of AKC Greyhounds are reportedly bred each year.

These puppies can cost $2,000 to $6,000 or more. The Greyhound Club of America (GCA) recommends that prospective owners email its GCA Breeder Referral contact to inquire about available AKC breeders, and the AKC Marketplace lists Greyhound litters and available puppies.

Greyhound puppy lying on the grass

All racing Greyhounds must be registered with the National Greyhound Association (NGA). Many breeders advertise in the NGA's Greyhound Review magazine, and well-bred racing puppies can run anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000 depending on their pedigree. All potential owners should complete research to find an ethical and reliable breeder.

Adopting a Retired Greyhound

This breed has one of the largest rescue networks of any dog breed, largely due to their involvement in racing. Racers who either failed to perform or were no longer competitive were routinely euthanized to the tune of nearly 20,000 dogs per year. Only a small number were used for breeding once their racing days were over.

Thankfully, today, those numbers have dropped drastically, and record numbers of retired Greyhounds now get the opportunity to be adopted and have real homes of their own. Some of these animals have old injuries from their racing days, and many will have a tendency to bolt in pursuit of small quarry, an instinct from their previous training. This can make it more difficult to take them on walks or keep them in the yard unless you have privacy fencing. However, training can help address these behavioral issues.

These are just a few of the things to keep in mind for anyone considering an adoption, but many families do find it possible to overcome these issues with patience and persistence. This is why breed rescue programs have had so much success. The following are just a few of the organizations who work to re-home retired racers and are valuable resources if you'd like to adopt a Greyhound in need.

Is the Greyhound the Right Breed for You?

Greyhounds are a beautiful breed, and very deserving of the chance to become members of loving homes. Dogs purchased from breeders are likely to face fewer behavioral hurdles than those adopted after their racing careers have ended, but both can make loving pets in the right homes. If you're up for the challenge, there's one out there who needs you.

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Where the Greyhound Dog Breed Came From and How to Best Care for Them