They’re considered docile and low maintenance but a vet is warning that adopted greyhounds may be in a chronic state of fear and ready to bite.
“I see the bites on the child’s face,” said vet Dr Karen Dawson, who specialises in animal behaviour.
“I see the nose that’s almost been bitten off by the person silly enough to rub their face into the dog.
“I know this is the kind of story that people don’t want to hear, but this is the reality.”
Dr Dawson addressed the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists conference on the Gold Coast this month about the situation with adopted greyhounds in her home state of Queensland.
Dr Dawson owns three greyhounds and has spent a decade studying the racing breed.
“Greyhounds do make very good pets,” she said.
“They can be docile and low maintenance and easy to care for from the human perspective.”
But Dr Dawson said in some cases the dogs, which were mostly bred on rural properties and trained to race, could struggle in an urban family environment.
“The greyhounds are often in a state of fear and anxiety â€” often chronic fear and anxiety â€” and that means that they are often quite stressed in the home.
“Because of their inhibited, or shut down responses, passive coping style, often it’s not recognised.
“We are seeing a lot more incidents involving greyhounds biting children, biting people and attacks on small animals as well,” she said.
The Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner (QRIC) Ross Barnett said the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) had rehomed 541 greyhounds as pets since the commission started in July 2016.
“The GAP has not experienced an increase in the reported biting incidents from greyhounds adopted through the GAP,” he said in a statement.
“Dogs rehomed through the GAP have successfully passed ‘green collar assessment’, which means that they can be kept without muzzling [where local council regulations permit],” he added.
The former chief veterinarian of Greyhound Racing NSW Dr Liz Arnott said the greyhound rehoming industry needed vast improvement.
“When you look at the advertising and promotion around greyhound adoption, I think it can be misleading,” she said.
“When you look at the scientific literature indicating greyhounds are overrepresented compared to some other breeds for behavioural issues,” added the welfare scientist.
A 2016 dog behaviour study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, found greyhounds were overrepresented when it came to visits to behavioural clinics in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
The study looked at 7,858 dogs which presented with behavioural problems between 2001 and 2013.
The greyhounds ranked fifth behind the Mastiff, German Short-Haired Pointer, Belgian Shepherd and Maremma Sheepdog breeds.
Dr Arnott said the likely cause of the behavioural problems, including aggression towards humans and other animals, was that the dogs had been bred and trained for racing and not as family pets.
“So rather than setting these dogs up for failure and referring to them as perfect pets, or great with kids, or ideal apartment dogs, we need to promote these dogs to experienced dog owners which are prepared to deal with any of the assimilation issues,” she said.
A council report of dog attacks in New South Wales in 2011/12 showed greyhounds were involved in 18 incidents and were ranked number 75 on a list of pure-breeds involved in attacks.
Last year, greyhounds jumped to 27th on the list with 35 incidents involving the race dogs from July 2017 to June 2018.
But on the Gold Coast, the city council’s head of animal management, Michael Smith, said the breed was generally viewed as passive.
“There has been no increase in incidents involving greyhounds as a breed on the Gold Coast,” he said.
“Our records don’t even show that breed registering in our database for attacks on either humans, or other dogs,” Mr Smith said.
Dr Dawson said not all greyhounds were suitable for adoption.
“It’s a complicated problem and you can’t adopt your way out of a complicated problem, there’s a lot more that needs to be done,” she said.
The behavioural expert said if breeders spent more time handling and socialising greyhounds as pups, they would transition more easily into a home.
“Maybe having rural properties where dogs can spend their life might be a better option for them, because that’s what they know,” said Dr Dawson.
Mr Barnett said the majority of dogs presented for adoption were deemed suitable for rehoming.
“For the small number of dogs that fail to pass the assessments, the owners and trainers are given the opportunity for the dogs to be returned to them along with advice on how to increase rehoming chances for their dogs,” he said.
“However, if these dogs cannot be rehabilitated, unfortunately they will have to be euthanased,” he said.
Editor’s note (14/7/18): This story has been updated to reflect that Dr Karen Dawson’s home state is Queensland, not New South Wales.