Many factors influence the temperament of adult dogs including genetics, whelping environment and the dam’s experience in the last trimester of pregnancy, but most importantly, experiences during the first year of a greyhound’s life can make all the difference to future temperament and character.
We know that puppies go through a particularly ‘sensitive’ period between 6 weeks and 14 weeks of age when the brain is developing and entering a ‘peak’ learning phase. Socialisation means exposing and allowing the pup to interact in a positive manner with different people, environments and animals during this critical time and can help shape their future ability to develop into a well-adjusted, sociable adult dog.
We know that confident, social dogs are more successful than shy, timid dogs and many scientific studies show a link between confidence, trainability and performance.
Greyhounds that are not well socialised can grow up to be fearful and may bite or act in other socially-unacceptable ways when exposed to normal stimuli that are perceived as being threatening.
Although genetics are important in the development of fear in dogs, most commonly, what a dog will become frightened of depends on what the dog has encountered and the nature of its experiences in the early stages of its life.
Socialising greyhounds as pups can also assist with their transition to becoming a successful pet once they finish their racing career.
With breeding comes a responsibility to raise healthy, happy and well-adjusted dogs.
This information is written to provide guidelines on the best ways to socialise puppies, but is also applicable for habituation (the process whereby an animal becomes accustomed to non-threatening environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them) of under-socialised or maladjusted (but not overly fearful or aggressive) adult greyhounds.
Excessively fearful or aggressive dogs require more specialised behavioural interventions and expert advice should be sought.
Guidelines for socialising your puppy
Socialisation simply means exposing pups to anything a greyhound may encounter in racing or later on as a pet including new people, places, dogs, other animals, environments and noises.
It is important to ensure this is done in a safe and encouraging way and that the pup associates these new experiences with positive things such as food, praise or play.
Begin slowly at first, gradually increasing the number of encounters and the time spent socialising as the puppy becomes more confident.
Observe your puppy for signs of anxiety or fear and remove your dog from the situation if the encounter is causing signs of negative behaviours.
An anxious and fearful puppy will try to look smaller, avoid eye contact, hold the tail low, put ears back and keep away from the new person or thing.
Try to engineer encounters that will be successful and rewarding
When should socialisation start
The optimal time to socialise a pup is between 6 – 14 weeks of age. This is the time when they are more likely to approach anything or anybody new willingly and without fear.
Older puppies become more cautious with new experiences and by the time the dog reaches about 14 weeks of age, anything not yet encountered is approached with caution and apprehension.
It is also important to continue to socialise beyond 14 weeks to ensure pups do not become fearful again if socialisation stops.
Continued, sustained and consistent efforts are required until the puppy is at least one year old to achieve optimal socialisation.
Greyhounds need to be confident when being handled by many different types of people, both familiar and unfamiliar, for example the veterinarian on track.
Handle the pup every day, practice running your hands over their body whilst they stand quietly, looking in their ears and mouths and handle their feet. Ensure a pleasant experience and reward them with food, praise and play.
People – adults and children
Meeting many different people (of different ages) in a positive way is the most important part of socialising young pups. Regularly encourage visitors to play with and pet the pups, rewarding with food, praise and play.
Introducing greyhound pups to children (under supervision) should also be encouraged to help transition them to family life once they retire from racing.
Other dogs and pets
Pups should be introduced to adult dogs as well as other puppies outside their litter, including breeds other than greyhounds. Interactions should be closely supervised to ensure a positive and safe experience.
Aggression is detrimental to a greyhounds’ career, retirement options and general welfare and can occur as a response to fear and anxiety. Therefore take care to only introduce other dogs and puppies you can trust to ‘play nice’.
Greyhounds should be allowed to eat in an environment free from competition to promote relaxed, non-competitive or aggressive behaviour around food.
Puppies should meet a variety of other animals where possible, including cats, but should be kept under strict control to prevent them being injured or learning to chase these animals.
Pups should become familiar with wearing a collar and accepting a leash without fear or anxiety by 16 weeks.
Progressing to compliantly walking on a leash next to a handler through the rearing process.
Gradually introduce pups to a vehicle or trailer. Start by simply feeding them in the back of a stationary trailer progressing to trips of increasing duration.
New environments and noises
Experiencing different environments that will be encountered during racing and beyond is an important part of socialisation. Start with quiet environments and build up to more challenging ones as the pup remains confident.
For a pup to learn to be interested in chasing a lure they must become accustomed to visual and noise stimuli, they can’t be afraid of them. In young pups start with toys that are not too loud but build this up over time.
Expose pups to many different sounds (there are CDs available to do this: e.g. police sirens, birdsong, music, roller doors, ringtones, banging pots and pans, doorbells, intercoms)
Allow pups to become familiar with indoor environments, with exposure to things such as the TV, vacuum cleaners and other household items. This can help dogs transition into a post-racing pet home.
Exposure to stairs and different floor surfaces – concrete, carpet, tarps, lino, tiles, and rubber should also occur.