I was reading Facebook this morning, as I usually do, checking on what people have been up to and so on (yes, that does include games, sadly), when I came across a link to a blog by Houndstooth of Tales and Tails. She writes a very good blog, often informative, often very funny, but always entertaining. She is a fellow owner of ex-racing greyhounds and her husband is currently training up a young German Shepherd for search and rescue work, which makes very interesting reading indeed.
This morning’s post was about the choice people make to breed dogs for function, or for looks. In other words, they breed them for work or for the show ring. Yes, it is possible to do both, but sadly, many people do not, and the result is that we end up with dogs that are distortions of their true type, with exaggerated slopes to their backs, with Queen Anne legs, with faces so short that they can’t breathe properly, etc, etc. And it made me realise how lucky I am that my chosen breed is the greyhound.
There are, of course, ‘Kennel Club’ or show greyhounds, and they can look entirely different to my ex-racers. They tend to be longer, less well-muscled, and have deeper, narrower chests – and they carry their tails like whippets. This one is the most exaggerated example that I’ve seen, and to my mind, is a travesty of her breed*. The greyhound shape, elegant and streamlined, has been ‘improved’ to make it appear even more streamlined; narrower, longer, and smoother. Now compare that one to Mozart from the Brambleberry site. Mozart happens to be a non-chaser who would rather play than chase the hare for his living, but he nevertheless comes from racing stock and was bred for the track. See the difference in the width of the chest and the strength in the loins? See how close-coupled and strong Mozart appears to be compared to the red show dog?
That super-streamlined shape can come at a price, in that the show greyhound is far more likely to get bloat, gastric torsion, or gastric dilatation volvulus than its working cousin. Bloat is a very serious, life-threatening medical emergency, which can kill – very painfully – within hours, and many people do not recognise the signs**.
Seems to me that breeding a dog which looks good at the expense of its health is very much Not a Good Thing.
Greyhounds bred for work, however, whether they are Traveller-bred coursing dogs or racers, tend to come in various shapes and sizes, because people don’t much care what they look like so long as they can do their job. So on the one hand there is this type -
My beloved first greyhound, Jim, who was almost certainly left behind by Travellers and does seem to embody the field worker. He was a great dog.
And then there is the ‘linebacker’, the lovely Susan -
Close-coupled, incredibly muscular and strong, she was my high-prey girl, who needed very careful handling. She had raced in various parts of England, and then bred to produce two litters of future stars before retiring.
Lovely Irene, on the other hand, was a dainty ‘princess’ of a girl.
Slender and long, her hindquarters stood a tad higher than her forehand, so she looked as if she were walking downhill on level ground. I was told by a racing person that she looked very classy indeed. She certainly thought so!
Of course, gender matters not at all when it comes to greyhound shape. Ranger is the same basic kind of shape as Renie. He’s tall and slender -
Except he’s pigeon-toed, and has a half a floating rib on one side only. He’s a little bit of a mistake, in terms of breeding racing greyhounds, actually, because while he is, indeed, lightning fast, he tracks a little bit when he walks or runs and his racecard was full of ‘bumped’ comments, meaning he ran into another dog. He is clumsy. He didn’t do well .. so guess what? He retired early and was never in the running as a stud dog. If, as a racing greyhound, you don’t perform, you don’t get to pass your genes along.
The funny little short, straight-hocked dog at the top, however – the incomparable Captain Jack – was a very successful racer and did get to breed. Just goes to show, doesn’t it?
And then there is the beautiful Sid; a big, muscular dog, who was fast but not particularly clever on the track, and didn’t win often enough to earn himself a place in the ranks of progenitors. He broke his hock very badly in his last race and retired as a tripod.
So there you have it. A racing greyhound must be bred true (most have pedigrees you can trace back to the 1800s) but apart from that, it really doesn’t matter what they look like. Doesn’t matter how much they weigh, whether their tails are feathered or not, or how long their noses are, or whether their ears can go all the way up or whether they flop halfway. Doesn’t matter what colour they – or their eyes – are.
If they can run fast enough and win at the track, they will get the chance to pass their genes along to another generation. They can be perfect specimens of canine pulchritude, but if they can’t win, they can’t breed. On the other hand, they can be almost unrecognisable as greyhounds, with all the beauty and grace of a warthog, but if they win consistently, their place in the record books – and the sperm bank – is assured.
Oh, and one more thing: no trainer wants a bad-tempered greyhound in their kennel. Racing greyhounds must tolerate a lot of handling with complacency. They are examined, groomed, dressed and undressed, muzzled and unmuzzled, they have their ear tattoos checked before and after every single race, they are weighed, vetted, massaged and washed. They are loaded into crates for travelling and traps for racing. They are lifted and carried, they are moved, sold, relocated, and fed, wormed and de-flead by many different people. They simply have to be amenable to a lot of human handling and as a result, they have been bred to have reliable temperaments and they are – pretty much all of them – gentle-natured dogs.
Leaving aside what you think of the actual business of greyhound racing, what you end up with is a dog which is sound of body and temperament with few genetic disorders … and isn’t that what everyone wants?
* She looks as if she’s been designed by a committee, and in a sense, I suppose she has, poor soul.
** It starts with panting and pacing. The dog will try to vomit unproductively, and may drool copiously. He may also repeatedly try to drink only to throw up quantities of frothy, stringy saliva. He may eat grass, again, vomiting froth or drool. If he is not taken to a vet immediately, you will probably see the stomach swell, and become tight, like a drum. If he gets to this point, he is close to death and needs a vet, like, half an hour ago. An operation may save him at this point, but the longer you leave it, the less likely it is that he will survive.