"CAT SAFE" OR NOT - STAY ALERT
by Cynthia Frederick
silent stalk, a sudden pounce, a flash of teeth and a shake of the head, and it's all over. But this isn't some jungle cat, or hunting cheetah. It's the lazy hound that was asleep in your room last night.
Many people think a dog is a dog, and expect them all to act the same. This is a na´ve expectation. Rottweilers are bred to guard, shepherds to herd and retrievers to bring back their master's catch. Each dog will have its own pre-programmed responses to certain situations that will differ from one breed to the next. Greyhounds are bred to hunt fast prey. There's no right or wrong about it, it's simply a fact.
The greyhound is born and bred to hunt, and if yours is an ex-racer his thousand-year-old instinct is reinforced with years of training and professional experience, whether with prey live or simulated. We all know how gentle, loving and patient our greyhounds are, but it's up to all of us to maintain and improve this reputation in order to keep the rescue efforts going.
It is crucial to know your greyhound's personality and be able to predict how he (or she) will respond to situations involving small animals. If you've just adopted him, you will have been advised by his caretakers as to his disposition. "Not cat safe" are words to be taken seriously, but not just in regard to cats. To many greyhounds, the sight of any small, furry animal triggers instincts and trained responses that cannot be ignored.
Even if your greyhound is not so labeled, you would be wise to observe him carefully when he is around small animals outside of your home. Instincts long buried may surface given the right stimulus. Learn to recognize the signs of a greyhound in hunt mode and you can prevent an incident that could at the very least be traumatic and at the worst lead to lawsuits.
On a walk your greyhound may amble placidly along, sniffing, picking up the local doggy gossip and contributing his own viewpoint. He probably does so with his head down or at a low angle. Watch as a cat crosses his path, and his head comes up, ears pricked and eyes focused. He's alert to possible prey, and at this point his attention is riveted on one thing only. These are easy cues to pick up on, and they're your cue to distract your hound, in whatever method works for you. Turn him around, check him and say "no", or just ignore the stimulus if it quickly runs out of sight. Your greyhound will lose interest fairly fast if it's something he can't see.
These are the same signs you need to be alert to in other circumstances as well. You meet your neighbor on your walk, and she's got her Pomeranian on a leash. Your greyhound may not recognize that this little piece of fluff is also a dog. Watch his reaction carefully. If he sniffs and then ignores it, you're probably OK, but if he seems too focused on the little dog to the exclusion of all else, watch out. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Dog parks are another potential setting for disaster, since there are more dogs off leash and less control over any one animal. My recommendation is to observe the park carefully before entering. If there are small or submissive dogs, or if there are more than five or six dogs, perhaps it would be wiser to come back another time. A toy or small-breed dog may be part of the canine club, but somehow the sight of it running away in terror can, at times, be more than a normally placid greyhound can resist. At the same time, some small breeds can more than hold their own with our big hounds; it depends on attitude. My Fargo will hunt small dogs that run away, but at the same time completely ignores the Boston Terrier and Pug that chase him all around the park each weekend. I think this is because they act like big dogs, barking furiously at him and refusing to be intimidated by his size and speed. Until I realized that these two were safe I made sure Fargo wore his muzzle when they were loose with him, and I still have him wear it if there is a small dog I'm not sure of in the park.
Obviously using a muzzle doesn't project the kind of image we'd like our hounds to enjoy, so in my opinion it's always best to simply avoid a potentially dangerous situation; sometimes waiting only fifteen minutes before entering the park means a whole new crew to play with. If circumstances dictate that you do use a muzzle, simply explain to the other dog owners in the park, in calm and matter-of-fact terms, that your dog likes to catch small prey and you're trying to prevent an incident. I have yet to run into someone who reacted badly to this idea. On the other hand, people get very upset if your greyhound has just treated their dog like a track rabbit. This does far more harm to the greyhound image than wearing a muzzle for a few minutes.
Trite but true, it's better to be safe than sorry. Never assume you know how your greyhound will respond to any unknown animal. Even if you know him well, keep on alert for the warning signs: fixed stare, rigid posture, aggressive chasing or circling (if running off leash). If your greyhound reminds you of a hunting cheetah, he may be thinking like one.
Remove temptation from his path and let him remain the loving, sweet hound in the world's eyes as well as your own.