The time has come for part 2 of my 3 part series all about adopting a retired racing greyhound! Last time, we talked about the adoption process and busted some myths about the breed. This time, I’ll share a bit about our first month as greyhound owners and some of the challenges we’ve faced so far.
Sleeping through the night
The first night we brought Harvey home was definitely difficult. He had never been away from other greyhounds, and he certainly hadn’t been in a home before. He was restless all night (I’ve never gotten so little sleep in my life) – pacing, scratching at doors, whining and howling, and smashing toys around the room. After an agonizing night wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, we finally caved and got up for the day around 3:30 in the morning (…yup). It got easier as the days went on and he got more used to our space, and we got to know his signals for when he’s hungry or needs to go to the washroom.
That being said, getting him to sleep through the night has been one of our biggest challenges. He usually sleeps until around 4-5am before he starts getting restless. The good news is that he has stopped howling and whining for us to get up, and seems content to wait until our alarm goes off at 6:15. But he paces a lot. We know the shift to staying settled all night will come, but in the meantime we’ve started feeding him a little later so he doesn’t get hungry in the night, and have been taking him on longer walks to tucker him out. We’ve definitely seen a difference.
Mastering the stairs
Having been a racing greyhound all his life before he came home with us, he had never seen stairs before! Our house has a set of about 5 steps heading up to the front door. We realized quickly that Harvey had no idea what to do. Our friends in the Camp Greyhound program call it ‘Bambi-ing’. The first few days were spent carrying him up the stairs (for some reason he had no problem going down). We then started guiding his paws up the stairs, wooing him and offering treats with every step he took. He started making it up half the stairs before getting scared and backing up to solid ground. (One time he made it all the way up because he started to fall back and hopped to the top out of fear). Eventually, after practicing several times a day for about a week and a half, he caught on. We got really lucky with this quick progress – Harvey’s brother Sherman was adopted by a couple who live close by, and they actually needed another greyhound and owner to come over and show him the ropes; something that’s very common with the breed.
Overcoming separation anxiety
Something we were bracing ourselves for upon bringing Harvey home was separation anxiety. Greyhounds are known to have killer separation anxiety since they are used to being with other dogs all the time. My ‘dog mom’ came out when we started alone-training him. We left him alone in intervals, building up the length each time. We started with 5 minutes, then 10, 15, 30, 1 hour, 2 hours etc. Despite being the shortest length of time, the first time leaving him was the hardest. We heard him cry and pace on our way out the door, knowing it was his first time alone. Like ever. We walked to the end of the street and waited for the clock to run out (I’m not going to pretend I didn’t tear up because I definitely did). After we hit the 15 minute mark, he started to settle. It seemed that the hardest part for him was actually watching us leave. Once we began leaving him for 30 minutes and longer, he just curled up in his bed and went to sleep, waiting for us to return. My husband is lucky enough to have a fairly flexible work schedule so, once the weekend was over, we were able to leave Harvey alone for a half day (4 hours) and then 6 hours, before returning to a regular work day. It has now been a month of leaving him alone during the work day, and he has seemed to adjust swimmingly! We are so thankful, as we expected separation anxiety to be quite the uphill battle.
Kicking the prey drive
Harvey is a little hunter. He loves going after squirrels, cats and bunnies. This is something that most greyhounds pick up from chasing a prop bunny around the racing track. As great as that skill is for the track and for the wild, it’s not something that’s gonna fly in the suburbs (I’m sure the neighbours wouldn’t appreciate our dog eating their cat). As I mentioned before, Harvey picks up on things quick. So overcoming the prey drive is well underway. At first, he would freeze up before trying to bound toward whatever small animal caught his attention. After redirecting his attention to ourselves, or to a treat, he’s quickly learning to ignore the neighborhood squirrels. (Not so much the neighborhood skunk, but we’ll save that story for another day). The advice we were given to kick the prey drive was to turn his face towards our bodies and give him treats to divert his attention. This shows greyhounds that there are better things with us (namely treats) than with those pesky squirrels!
Despite all of these challenges, adopting Harvey was still the best decision Jake and I have made as a couple. He has truly become part of the family and, considering he’s only been home with us for just over a month, it feels like he has always been ours.