With proper care and supervision, the retired racing greyhound can be a wonderful companion for a family with children. However, many retired racers never see children until after they leave the track and so, maybe more than any other dog breed, the secret to a successful relationship between the two is vigilance in the supervising of their interactions. Keep in mind that from the time they are puppies greyhounds have always slept alone in crates. Many sleep very soundly and startle very easily if awakened suddenly. Occasionally they may sleep with their eyes open giving a false impression that they are really not asleep at all.
Greyhounds in racing kennels are always awakened by activity in the kennel and are never awakened by touch. It is always a good idea to call out your greyhound’s name before touching them when they are asleep and to teach your children to do the same.
Some greyhounds need to have their “own space” more than others and children need to learn to be respectful of this. If you are using a crate with your greyhound, teach your child that this is the greyhound’s spot and not a place to play. Most greyhounds will retreat to a quiet spot when overwhelmed by the activities around them rather than growl or snap at a child, and while children are too young to read the body language of a stressed dog, they are NOT too young to understand that a greyhound who walks away from interaction with them should not be chased or harassed. If the greyhound knows that he has his own space, where no one will bother him, he will retreat to this area rather than face conflict. A crate with the door left open often makes a good safe spot, but anytime a greyhound retreats from interaction or goes to his bed children should be taught to leave him alone. Even the gentle greyhound has its limits and it is up to us as caregivers to ensure that they are not subjected to continued harassment or pushed over these limits.
Small children and toddlers especially need plenty of supervision when interacting with retired racing greyhounds. All interactions between the two must be closely monitored. Small children and toddlers are not capable of understanding what the consequences may be if they fall on a sleeping dog and it is up to us as parents to ensure that this situation never occurs. Some greyhounds can be easily frightened by a toddler’s raucous behavior and if you are looking for a dog that your child can “wrestle” with, then an ex-racing greyhound may not be for you. Again, keep in mind that your greyhound may have never encountered children before and a small child running around screaming can look very much like prey to a dog with a high prey drive. Dog bites in general are the second leading cause of emergency room visits for young children ranking only behind playground injuries. In children under the age of 4 statistics show that the family dog is often the perpetrator of these attacks, 90 % of the time they happen in the home, and 77% of the time the bite is to the face. Prevention is the key to fostering a successful relationship between your young child and his greyhound and diligence is the key to prevention.
Some tips to creating a wonderful relationship between your grey and your child:
NEVER leave child and dog alone unsupervised
Reprimand the dog firmly (but NOT physically) immediately if it should ever growl at your child. Usually a good stern NO is all that is needed to get your point across to the gentle greyhound. Always find out what actions precipitated the growling and reprimand the child as well.
Let your child assist in the care of your greyhound. Even very young children can be taught to carry food bowls, give out treats, and take part in some of the grooming that your dog may require. If your dog knows any commands (sit, stay, etc.) teach your child to have the dog obey one of them before setting his dinner down or giving him a treat. In this way the greyhound will learn that children are above them in the pack structure and in the long run you will avoid conflict.
NEVER let a child under the age of 14 walk your greyhound. Retired racing greyhounds are big strong dogs who for their whole lives have been taught to chase anything that moves. They are not mindful of traffic or obstacles when they are in “chase” mode and not only might a younger child lose a grip on the leash, but they may even be pulled into danger. For everyone’s safety – DON’T take that chance!
Read to your children and talk to them prior to getting a greyhound. Many good books are available to teach children to be kind and respectful of animals and preparing a child and setting rules and limits prior to adoption can only have positive results.
Read Brian Kilcommons book “Childproofing Your Dog.” While not written specifically for greyhound adoption, it features many great tips for creating a positive relationship between your child and his/her dog. It is a fantastic book that should be a MUST READ for anyone with children and dogs.