Finding a Greyhound Puppy
With the decline of Greyhound racing, and therefore a pretty dramatic reduction in retired racers available for adoption, many long time Greyhound owners are now looking at getting a puppy for the first time.
With the increasing demand for Greyhound puppies, lately there has been a proliferation of what is commonly known as Backyard Breeders (BYB) – those that are in it to make a quick buck, seem to collect their breeding stock from multiple random sources, and pump out as many puppies as they can, without regard for much beyond the price they can charge. BYBs generally understand marketing, and usually have slick websites that are full of cute puppy pictures, and lots of platitudes about how wonderful their dogs are, with very few relevant details, and no testing or titles. With both NGA (racing) and AKC (show bred) breeders there are both good and bad, and it is worth using a critical eye before you bring that new little bundle of joy home. With a wide range of Greyhound breeders breeding for different purposes, there is not a simple way to draw a line in the sand, and say this breeder is good, and that breeder is bad, but there are a number of things you can look for (and verify independently), to help you choose the best breeder, and therefore, the best puppy, for you.
So, for Greyhounds, let’s look at some basics
Just like virtually every other breed, all breeding stock should be health tested. For Greyhounds, both racing and show lines, the minimum would be heart and eyes – both of these things are evaluated by board certified specialists, the results are public, and can be verified on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website at ofa.org. In heart issues, racing Greyhounds are subject to Dilated Cardiac Myopathy (DCM), while show Greyhounds can have Sub-Aortic Stenosis (SAS), and either can have valve deficiencies. Many breeders do much more than just the basics, and common tests are for hip dysplasia, or hypothyroidism.
DNA testing is done by various organization such as Embark, UC Davis, PawPrint Genetics. DNA testing does not replace health testing, but does test for a couple of diseases for Greyhounds, in addition to lots of useful information of traits. Racing Greyhounds should be DNA tested for malignant hyperthermia, and show Greyhounds should be tested for NDRG1, or Greyhound neuropathy (a degenerative neurological disease).
In addition, you should ask the breeder about the health of close relatives, for diseases that can’t be tested for – namely, osteosarcoma in racing Greyhounds, and bloat or kidney disease in show Greyhounds. Both of these diseases, while not directly inherited, show a strong familial tendency.
Every breeder seems to claim their dogs have wonderful temperaments, just as every Greyhounds is really, really fast in their own backyard. Look for some type of independent temperament evaluation – Temperament Test Associates (TTA) conduct a fairly rigid temperament evaluation of all breeds, AKC offers their own Temperament Test (TT), as well as a number of levels of Canine Good Neighbor (CGC, CGCA, CGCU, FDC). Any of these different tests will confirm that the dog has basic control, is able to be touched by a stranger, is safe around strange dogs, and can handle novel and unusual situations and noises. Even a Companion Dog (CD) title, although basically a test of obedience training, demonstrates that a dog can be touched by a stranger, behave in the presence of other dogs, and handle some performance pressure.
Trick Dog titles, and various Virtual titles, on the other hand, are lots of fun to do (especially during COVID), but offer little insight into a dog’s temperament.
Next, you should think about what you want in a dog. If you are primarily looking for a pet, then health and temperament should be your prime considerations, and the parents of your future puppy should have been evaluated for these things, as outlined above. If you want to compete in conformation (dog shows), performance sports (lure coursing or racing), or other dog sports (agility, obedience, rally, etc), there are additional considerations. In all of these things, the best path to success is to get your puppy from a breeder that is successful in the fields that you are interested in, with breeding stock that has proven their ability. That’s not to say there aren’t cases where a puppy was plucked from a random litter and went on to be a superstar, but those are generally found by experienced and savvy breeders or trainers, and are the exception rather than the rule.
Breeding stock for conformation should have at least earned their Champion title, or higher. This at least tells you that multiple judges have deemed the dog worthy, and that he has defeated a proscribed number of other dogs for his majors. There are much higher levels, of course – Grand Champion, with Bronze, Silver and Gold above that, specialty wins, Group wins, Best in Show, but the Champion title should be considered the basic level of competence. There is a difference of course, between the dog that finally completes his Champion title after 20 shows with a few lucky breaks, a blind judge or two, or competing against his kennelmates, and the dog that earns his in 3 shows against strong competition. If it’s important to you, a dog’s competition record is public, and can be looked up on the AKC website, as are Top Dog standings in a couple of different formats and locations.
If you want to compete in amateur racing (LGRA, NOTRA, CARA), then you should look for a puppy whose parents have proven themselves in those venues, or in professional racing. Generally, this is a pretty small ‘niche’ market, and the breeders do a good job of proving their breeding stock. Lure coursing is slightly different – the physical demands of lure coursing are more challenging than racing, and while racing Greyhounds CAN make great coursers, many cannot handle the more strenuous demands, including terrain and distance, resulting in a much higher incidence of injuries.
Breeding stock for lure coursing should have earned at least a Field Champion title, or higher. Like conformation, this title demonstrates basic competence, and there are numerous higher titles available which demonstrate excellence and durability. Again, if you are interested in the details, a dog’s lure coursing record is publicly available on the AKC or ASFA websites, along with the top rankings.
Agility, obedience, rally and similar sports share the need for similar characteristics in a puppy. Success or proven ability of the parents in any of these sports will generally transfer to all of them. Greyhounds have been bred for millennia for coursing, where the characteristics of independence, problem-solving, and prey drive were rewarded. This can prove a challenge in dog sports, where engagement, handler focus, motivation and a desire to please lead to success, so puppies should be evaluated by a knowledgeable breeder or trainer for their potential. Greyhound CAN excel at these sports, but need to be carefully selected for these traits, which can be summed up as being ‘biddable’.
EARLY PUPPY ENRICHMENT
Good breeders invest a lot of time and effort in early puppyhood, following procedures like Puppy Culture, Avidog, or similar, to provide their puppies the best possible start in life. Look for home raised puppies (rather than kennel raised), as well as lots of early training, handling and socialization. Look for a breeder that is knowledgeable about the individual puppies, their personalities, quirks, needs and potential. Good breeders will always take their puppies back, should the need arise, but always strive to match puppy and family to ensure a good fit, and a forever home, so it’s important that you are honest about your lifestyle, family and desires. Your breeder should always be your first resource for any problems, questions or issues that arise.
It used to be said that you should be able to meet at least the mother of your future puppy (frequently the sire may live across the country), as well as where and how the puppies are being raised. However, with potential personal safety considerations, as well as COVID concerns, many legitimate breeders have become more reluctant to have strangers come to their house until they have established a relationship with you, or approved you for a puppy. If this is the case, you could request a video or picture tour so you can see for yourself.
Responsible breeders will require an application or interview prior to putting you on a waiting list for a puppy, and you should also interview the breeder asking about all the things discussed above. Ask to see their purchase contract, which usually covers buyer and seller obligations, proof of testing, health guarantees, registration information, and other terms and conditions like breeding rights, spay/neuter, and any co-ownership requirements. Choose a breeder carefully, as they will be a wonderful resource for the life of your new family member.
ONE FINAL NOTE
While adult Greyhounds tend to be calm, lazy, and very easy to live with, Greyhound puppies are not! People who have only owned retired racers may be surprised to discover the amount of work, energy and exercise required while they are growing. Greyhound puppies absolutely need off leash exercise (in a safe, fenced area) several times a week to allow them to develop and grow correctly, and to learn to control the speed and power they will have as adults. Mental stimulation can be as simple as puzzle games, or as involved as sport training, but will always be beneficial – remember the motto – “A tired puppy is a GOOD puppy’.