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How can I help with my greyhound's behaviour?
Most undesirable behaviours are actually normal dog behaviour which can create a problem when living with us. These include mouthing, chewing, barking, digging and jumping up. Unlike other breeds, greyhounds also have a tendency for collecting things.
Most problematic behaviours in greyhounds are invariably founded in fear, anxiety and the uncertainty of a novel environment. This is likely due in part to genetics, but mainly a lack of early and appropriate socialisation to the domestic environment. For many paddock raised, non-chasers, this includes people as well.
Adopted greyhounds do amazingly well considering, but they do have to learn to interpret the body postures, actions, words and wants of their new owner whilst simultaneously trying to get used to life in the suburbs. Other dogs get the opportunity to do this much earlier in life.
If owners do not ignore good behaviour and instead always reward it, this will not only help to strengthen the pet-owner bond, but communication is vastly improved due to consistency and predictability. Don't forget to tell them they are wonderful when they are doing something you like. Also, read the following article for more information; How do I best communicate with my greyhound?
Providing this feedback really helps pets who are uncertain because they do not need to offer a multitude of different behaviours to find the ones that are acceptable. Tell them what to do (treats and praise) not just what not to do (for example, spray bottles, saying no, time out or other punishment). A lack of understanding of what the owner wants and communication inconsistencies in how owners respond, including random punishment such as chastising or water spray bottles can lead to conflict, anxiety and uncertainty. Also, read the following article for more information; What is the best training for my greyhound?
However, if the undesirable behaviour increases in severity or frequency, then it is time to contact a veterinary behaviour consultant for help. They will do an examination and perhaps some tests to ensure there isn’t an underlying health issue which is causing the problem. For example, inappropriate urination may be due to a bladder infection. Or if your dog is fearful and anxious, special medication may be required to help ‘kick start’ their behaviour modification program.
Fear and anxiety can manifest in different ways. Please seek advice from a veterinary behaviourist if your greyhound is showing signs of anxiety such as:
For further information, read the article ‘Understanding anxiety and its implications for pet greyhounds and Why do greyhounds need help with toilet training?
Mouthing and nipping
A simple way to prevent mouthing or nipping is to re-direct this behaviour so that your dog mouths something else and remember to always reward. A toy is the best option. It may also represent anxiety, so if the behaviour is excessive or concerning, please seek advice from a veterinary behaviourist.
As with mouthing, chewing is a common way for explore a new environment, exercise teeth and jaws, and it is fun. However, when the focus of attention is your best shoes, then it is time to step in. As with mouthing, redirect this behaviour with suitable chew toys or bones and prevent access to anything precious.
Digging can be a big problem with some dogs but again can be re-directed to an appropriate area by setting up a sand pit just for digging. To entice interest, place food treats under the surface. Preventing temporary or permanent access to vulnerable areas in the garden may also help to limit damage. Not all dogs choose to dig, so this may not be a problem.
Generally, greyhounds do not bark much but this is not a guarantee. The main thing is to find out what is causing the barking and to address this. Boredom can be a common cause, so walking in the morning before you leave the house can help tire your dog so that they are more inclined to rest during the day. Enrichment toys will also help to relieve boredom.
If it is a warning bark when people walk by then changing the perception that this is a not threat will help alleviate the problem. It may seem counter intuitive but giving a reward when people walk close to the house does work. When voices are approaching, ask your dog to go to their mat and then reward. By doing this consistently, this will help your dog to focus on a new behaviour which has a positive outcome and even though they are aware that people are in close proximity, they are not considered to be a threat.
It may take a few weeks to finally achieve your goal together but if you are consistent and persistent, it will work. If the barking occurs after you leave the house, then this may be separation anxiety and you may need advice from a reward based trainer or veterinary behaviour consultant.
Some dogs of any breed may show aggression, when approached whilst asleep or even whilst awake on their bed. However, it is relatively common in greyhounds. This condition could be due to an underlying behaviour disorder and therefore, it is recommended to seek advice from a veterinary behaviour consultant. To ensure you and your family are safe, it is best to have a rule that no one approaches or physically interacts with your new greyhound whilst they are on their bed. Trying to fix the problem by frequently approaching them on their bed or using punishment such as saying a stern “NO” or imposing a timeout may make the problem worse.
Dogs will sometimes react to other dogs when they are on lead, including lunging, barking and growling. This may be due to predatory aggression, fear or both. It is essential to determine the cause as each needs a very different management approach. It is recommended to seek advice from a veterinary behaviour consultant or authorised Greenhound assessor.
An interesting quirkiness of some greyhounds is that many collect various items, such as shoes, soft toys, etc. Invariably, they do not chew or destroy these things but their collections can be quite impressive. The exact motivation for this behaviour is unknown but it may be a comfort or coping strategy. Therefore, if it is not harmful or destructive, it shouldn’t be discouraged or be of undue concern. Manage it by keeping precious items out of reach, rather than chastise the dog for it. Be sure to prevent access to remote controls and glasses, as these items are often a target for chewing.
Acknowledgement: Image of Chloe, courtesy of Dr Karen Dawson.
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