I read an article, several years ago, which was an interview with the actress Annette Crosbie (probably best known nowadays for One Foot in the Grave). She is a great greyhound enthusiast, has several herself and works and lobbies hard for their welfare. She said that once you’d had a greyhound as a pet, you’d never choose another type of dog. My children and I looked at each other, rather dismayed. Did that mean, we wondered, that we were condemned, willy-nilly, to having greyhounds?
I grew up with dogs. At the time I married and left home, my mother had 7 of them – the number later rose to 11 which was crazy and she couldn’t control them, but 7 was fine. When I took them for walks (after dark only, we had a big garden for daytime exercise) I’d have 4 on a lead and the others, in our quiet back streets, could be allowed to run free. There was a clear pack leader and they were well-behaved. That is, well-behaved in the way our relaxed attitude found acceptable. They all lay on the sofas and slept on the beds, for example – in my teens, I shared my bed with 3 big dogs. Obviously, I was closer to some dogs than others. Susie was my pet as she had come to us in unfortunate circumstances – one day, I saw a car draw up with an anxious-looking black dog in the back and I knew at once she would come to live with us. A man got out and went to the door and indeed, when he left, Susie stayed. His wife had cancer, they had 3 young children and he couldn’t cope with everything. It was the start of the summer holidays and Susie and I spent hours together. The other dog I adored most was Huckleberry. He had, simply, the sweetest nature of any dog I’ve ever known. We called him (sorry *slush alert*) Laughing Boy. He was a superb climber, jumper and swimmer and it was impossible to keep him in the garden. He used to spend hours with the roadsweeper, strolling round the local roads and sharing his sandwiches. He was extremely beautiful and knew it and spent hours grooming himself. He loved the water and happily wallowed in the river or the muckiest pond, afterwards licking off every scrap of black mud. I blame that filth for the stomach cancer that eventually killed him.
I won’t start on Chester, whom I first saw and chose (it was mutual) as a 3 week old puppy and whom I held as he died 13 years later, except to say that he taught me to be fluent in Dog, which is mainly spoken with the eyes (also from the throat and in the curl of the lip).
This is meant to be about greyhounds. What I’m trying to say is that, whilst each dog has its own personality, greyhounds are not like other dogs at all. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture – my mother always wished she could have had one from a puppy. Khan’s lack of instinctive communication with either people or dogs may well have been as a result of being kept in a kennel for his first 18 months. Because he’d failed as a racer he didn’t build up a relationship with a trainer and afterwards he was with too many other dogs in the rescue centre (but I think he had his own quarters and was exercised but didn’t live in the same kennel as them) to receive much individual attention. He was always treated kindly, but it would have been far better for him to be rehomed straight away. I think that the reason they don’t is to be sure that every dog and bitch will be neutered, but (with my mum’s example, I know this from experience) it’s easy for animal lovers to be unable to resist giving every pet that needs one a home, whereas I now think that it’s better to do the best for a few than a lesser amount of care for many. I think that one can lost track of the fact that the care being given is less than the best – in this case, not materially but in terms of the individual development of the young dog. I’m not wanting to be anthropomorphic about this and I’m not saying a dog is the same as a child – this is an imperfect analogy – but compare it with having several children, all close together, and not having time to read to any of them or teach them to put on their own clothes, and only giving the troublemaker or the sickly one any individual attention. You’re not going to expect the same personal development as if you have taught and guided each child and helped them to learn how to get on with each other and yourself.
So, a greyhound will either have been a racer or unsuited to be one, and will have to learn to be part of a family, to be housetrained, to be alone, to be obedient. They can learn all these things but, while they will be eager to please you, they might not now how to go about it. And if they have an annoying personal habit – like constant whining, or gyrating on their back, or darting in small circles, or running until they’ve forgotten where you are – it can be incredibly difficult to train them out of it because, while they know you are not pleased, they can’t necessarily marry up their behaviour with your reaction.
So I think Annette Crosbie has a point, that if you can get on a greyhound’s wavelength and learn to appreciate them, they make lovely pets. But they’re not my sort of dog and they’re not everyone’s, and I think that it is not helpful for their admirers only to focus on their good points and not to acknowledge their weaker ones. Nevertheless, as I said a couple of days ago when I’d stroked the customer’s greyhound (which prompted this series of posts), I was surprised at the affectionate recognition of its sweetness that I felt.