TRAINING THE THREE-YEAR-OLD PUPPY
By Sidney Mihls
This is an accurate title, because this is what you’ll be doing if you’ve adopted a retired Greyhound.
Before I continue, you should know something about me. I’m a dog training instructor, which means I teach people to train their dogs. I’ve been doing this since 1975, and have specialized in retired Greyhounds since 1985.
Why is that something to specialize in? That’s because retired Greyhounds are really different from most dogs, as I’m sure you’ll learn if you haven’t already. No doubt you thought you were getting an adult dog, but if you’ve taken on a retired Greyhound as a pet you’ve actually adopted a very large puppy—a sweet, gentle puppy who just looks like a adult dog. But, as you’ll soon discover, doesn’t react like a dog. In some ways, doesn’t even react like a puppy. In effect, the retired Greyhound is from another planet.
For this article, I’m going to put all the traits into one dog. He’s a male named Jody, who’s 3 1/2 years old, just off the track, and was retired because he sustained a minor injury that affected his racing career, but not his ability to be an active, healthy pet. Jody now lives with Ann and her husband, Marty, who doesn’t have a lot to do with him, though is kind and thoughtful, and sometimes takes him for a walk. But Jody is Ann’s dog. She got him because she’d been thinking about getting a dog, and saw a poster for a 40 mile-per-hour couch potato that intrigued her.
I learned in my first visit (which is an evaluation call—no training is done) that Jody did indeed exhibit the traits I’m going to talk about—all of them, in fact.
To begin with, Ann changed his name from Speedy Gonzales (referred to as Speedy on the track) to Jody, so he didn’t know his name. Actually, he didn’t know that the funny noise she often made—Jody—referred to him. So he paid no attention to it, or to anything she said. In fact he didn’t respond or relate to her at all.
But he did walk nicely on a leash, because racers learn to walk on a leash at the track, where they spend much time being led from one place to another. But, he didn’t sit! When he wasn’t moving around, he either stood or lay down. Actually track dogs can’t sit comfortably because their thigh muscles are so firm that the flesh doesn’t give when the dog sits, so racing Greyhounds sort of perch on their folded legs with their rumps not touching the ground. Definitely not very comfortable. So for the exercises that call for a sit, he was taught to stand. Eventually, of course, he did lose track condition and started sitting on his own. Then Ann taught him to sit on command, and to do so automatically when he stopped heeling, was told to sit-stay, and when he came on command.
But the reason Ann called me was because she had three real problems with Jody: One, he bit whenever she gave him a collar-correction, though he was on a wide Martingale Collar and she didn’t give him hard corrections. Two, he was aggressive to dogs he encountered on walks. Three, he wouldn’t release anything he had in his mouth. Well, I did a lot of thinking before we started the training, I decided it should be done with no corrections or confrontations. Thus, we had to manipulate his environment so that he was always right—was always a “good dog.”
We taught him his name by preceding anything and everything said to him with “Jody.” I used the focus exercise and the 30-minute down to teach him to relate to Ann. As with most work done with retired Greyhounds, exercises had to be repeated many times before he learned them. This is not because they’re “dumb,” but because the world they’re learning to function in is so radically different from the one they’ve known.
We dealt with his aggression to other dogs with the clicker. I’ve come to think click-and-treat was designed for retired Greyhounds. I haven’t worked with any other dogs who respond to it as enthusiastically as they do. We started clicking Jody when we saw a dog in the distance and he didn’t react to it. Then it was pure systematic desensitization until eventually Jody started looking for other dogs on his walks, and as soon as he saw one, he stopped and turned toward Ann with sparkling eyes and a wagging tail.
The last problem that needed to be addressed was his refusal to give up what he had in his mouth. This was important because sometimes he picked up things he found on his walks that he shouldn’t have, and Ann wanted to take him to nursing homes and have him pick up and return items people dropped. My goal was to stop him from clamping down on what he had in his mouth—in other words, to hold it gently and give it up. I did this by offering him a dowel, and as soon as his mouth was around it, I offered him a delicious treat and said, “Give.” Since I was still holding the dowel, when he opened his mouth to take the treat, I took it and praised him like mad. Eventually, he dropped whatever he had in his mouth as soon as I reached for it.
I’ve used Jody as an example of what may need to be done with retired Greyhounds. As I see it, four factors are vital to their training, I think of them as The 4 P’s: Positive reinforcement, Puppy training, infinite Patience, and Praise for the slightest effort.
It’s definitely a lot of work. But besides training the dog to live in your world, this will have an important effect on your relationship. Your dog will respond and bond very closely to you. Training affects a dog’s body and also its head. Through training, your dog will become devoted to you. You may well come to feel, as I do, that retired Greyhounds are very special dogs.
© All rights reserved. Sidney Mihls. March, 2006.
Permission to reprint or copy any portion of this article must be obtained from the author.
Sidney Mihls has been a dog training instructor for over 40 years and is now living in Cary, North Carolina.