Identifying and managing abnormal behaviours in greyhounds
Abnormal behaviours, often also called stereotypies are behaviours that are:
- not normally seen in behaviourally healthy greyhounds; or
- normal behaviours repeated excessively; and/or
- normal behaviours that are being performed when they normally would not be.
Common examples include pacing, excessive barking, bopping, licking, panting or destructive chewing behaviour.
Some of the common reasons for the development of abnormal behaviours include boredom, prolonged anxiety or excitement, repeated or prolonged fear, a medical condition, an ongoing or repeated physical reasons such as heat, cold, hunger or thirst and frustration from a lack of opportunity to engage in normal behaviour.
Abnormal behaviours indicate that there is, or was, a problem with a greyhound’s environment at some time and is a coping mechanism. They allow the greyhound some relief from how it is feeling, and to adapt and cope with their environment. Yet, these behaviours use important energy and will impact on the greyhound’s ability to learn, race and enjoy life.
It is important not to suppress these coping behaviours as this will make the stress worse. The Abnormal behaviours in greyhounds FACT SHEET has some valuable information on identifying and managing abnormal behaviours. Once you understand why a greyhound has developed or is developing an abnormal behaviour, you can consider appropriate training, exercise and environmental enrichment strategies; as well as possible infrastructure or husbandry solutions.
Managing barking in the kennel environment
Excessive barking is one of the most common disruptions to a greyhound kennel. Often it is only one or two greyhounds who bark excessively, but their barking behaviour can influence and even teach younger dogs to bark.
They may be barking at other dogs, people walking past, seeking attention or alerting you to a threat. This is normal barking behaviour and is the way greyhounds communicate with each other and with people.
Abnormal barking behaviour is where a greyhound continues to bark long after they have made their communication. It may also be where they bark for extended periods of time for no apparent reason. It can be a sign that something is not quite right.
In a kennel where there are excessive barkers, the noise can be stressful and interfere with rest time for the whole kennel. This, in turn, can interfere with learning and race performance.
If you can get to the bottom of why your greyhounds are barking, you can put in place steps to reduce the barking triggers and address the barking response.
This booklet Barking in the racing greyhound kennel environment discusses excessive barking and presents different options for managing and retraining excessive barkers. With persistence and patience they should provide good results that are enduring through to retirement and re-homing.
Anti-barking electronic collars – Legal Requirements in Victoria
The use of electronic anti-barking collars is highly restricted in Victoria. There are very specific laws under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations which govern who can use electronic collars on dogs, when and for how long.
Participants must NOT use electronic anti-barking collars on any dog. If you wish to utilise this tool to manage barking behaviour, please carefully read the information on the Animal Welfare Victoria Website and the Code of Practice for Training Dogs and Cats to Wear Electronic Collars; and contact Animal Welfare Victoria on 136186 for more information.
Behaviour and racing success
The behaviour of the adult greyhound is affected by its early experiences with people, other dogs and animals, and a range of different environments. A greyhound’s ability to confidently cope and adapt to different situations as it prepares for, and undertakes, a racing career is key to racing success.
A well socialised greyhound:
- will recognise other breeds of dogs, particularly small dogs, as a dog and not as prey;
- is calm and relaxed in a learning (rearing, education and training) environment, as well as in the race setting;
- will interact in positive way with other greyhounds and humans; and
- copes well in a variety of environments and situations.
This Socialising greyhounds for racing success provides valuable information on how to expose your greyhounds to positive experiences through socialisation and habituation. It talks about what socialisation means for racing success and what you can do to socialise greyhounds at any stage of their lifecycle
Greyhounds, stress and boredom
We have probably all experienced at some time situations where our greyhounds, particularly those in a kennel environment, are behaving in a way that does not look normal. These behaviours are referred to as abnormal behaviours because they are often repetitive and/or are displayed in places or ways they would not normally be seen; for example, pacing, yawning repetitively, pawing, barking and chewing are just some examples of these behaviours. You may have seen a greyhound chewing on its bedding or the wire or wood in its kennel. It may have been pacing, bopping or barking excessively. In addition, a normally robust greyhound may be very withdrawn or submissive, they may become aggressive, they may have their tail tucked or ears flattened. Abnormal behaviours are often a sign that your greyhound is stressed. Stress can be both physical (your dog is injured or ill) or environmental (the environment is preventing your dog from displaying normal behaviours).
Abnormal behaviours can be both annoying and stressful; not just for us, but also for the greyhound and other dogs in the kennel and as a result, can lead to copycat behaviours in other greyhounds.
Often, boredom is the reason (the stressor) a greyhound displays behaviours such as chewing and excessive barking. Boredom is the result of a greyhound not having enough physical or mental stimulation. Greyhounds suffering from boredom-induced stress utilise valuable energy when they should be resting; they produce stress hormones that slow injuries from healing, muscles from repairing and adapting to training, and growth.
Chewing behaviours can have serious consequences for both the greyhound and you. Greyhounds can damage their teeth and mouth from biting on their metal cage, or be exposed to poisonous chemicals in treated timber, particularly arsenic, which can also cause a positive swab.
Boredom is relatively easy to resolve. The key to reducing boredom is to give the greyhound something quiet and stimulating to do – to enrich the kennel environment.
Enrichment is essential for the mental health of your greyhound, supporting their racing success. There are many cheap and simple ways that you can provide enrichment for the greyhounds in your kennels. In addition to providing plenty of daily exercise, grooming and positive handling, and regular opportunities for your greyhounds to play and socialise with other appropriate greyhounds, some enrichment examples are listed below:
- Provide large raw bones weekly which are excellent for maintaining dental health and greyhounds will spend hours chewing them to reach the bone marrow in the middle which is also excellent nutrition. (Note: small and cooked bones present a risk for splintering and causing injury to your greyhound. Always provide large, whole, bones so your greyhound must work for the bone marrow)
- Hide food in different objects to keep your greyhound stimulated throughout the day between training and their night-time feed. The best way to do this is to replace a portion of their morning feed with a food puzzle or treat activity later in the morning. You could, for example, feed some premium kibble delivered in a treat ball or kong. Chew toys and food puzzles, if provided to all dogs at the same time, can result in a quieter kennel, as most greyhounds should settle down for a rest after completing it.
- Frozen food treats are also an option, and an excellent way to help greyhounds manage the heat in summer. To prepare these: place some premium kibble, meat or other food items in a 1 litre plastic container, cover with water or broth, then freeze. These frozen treats can be given to greyhounds on hot days or hot evenings in place of their normal meal to help keep them cool and occupied.
- Playing a radio or classical music has been found to reduce stress in greyhound kennels and support greyhounds in settling down for a rest after morning and evening activities.
As a rule of thumb, small and regular variations to routine and environment are more effective in reducing boredom than large or drastic changes in routine. Simple changes can include reversing feeding order once or twice a week, providing regular opportunities to leave the kennel and experience different environments (e.g. walks, trips to the track or trialling), meeting new people, and spending time with different compatible dogs.
More enrichment ideas can be found in these two documents:
While, enrichment should reduce the abnormal behaviours fairly quickly, you may not see them stop all together. This is because the behaviour, once it develops, becomes a coping mechanism for stress. This means that every time your greyhound feels stressed, despite the enrichment items you provide, they may resort to this learnt behaviour. However, if they do, it is a sign something is still not quite right for them and you many need to look at other ways to help them.
Is there something else wrong? While abnormal behaviour can be a sign of boredom, it can also indicate something else is wrong, particularly if there is a sudden change in behaviour. A trip to your veterinarian can rule out other causes of abnormal behaviour, such as illness or injury.
If enrichment does not yield an improvement in your greyhound’s behaviour, you may also consider seeking help from a dog trainer or a veterinary behaviourist.
For more information on abnormal behaviours in greyhounds and how to identify, monitor, prevent and manage them, please visit the Abnormal Behaviours in Greyhounds Factsheet here.
Fear of Loud Noises
Fear of loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks or gunshots is quite a common complaint from dog owners of all breeds. The worst times of the year tend to be around New Year’s Eve when there are lots of fireworks, and in spring and summer when significant storms are more likely to occur.
This can have significant racing implications associated with a greyhound showing signs of distress during storms or loud noises. Fear responses to a thunderstorm the night before a race could derail their whole racing program. Instead of resting, your greyhound is using essential energy as part of the fear response and tiring themselves before they race.
It is not uncommon for a greyhound to develop noise phobias as they age. Age-related changes in hearing and/or sight, or in older greyhounds, chronic pain due to arthritis are all thought to affect the way greyhounds respond to sudden loud noises.
For some greyhounds, the fear of loud noises is based on ‘one-event learning’; where the noise has been paired with a very frightening experience, such as something falling on them during a storm. For others, the fear develops gradually with repeated exposure. If you notice your greyhound becoming more sensitive to noises, please seek help!
What you can do to prevent and treat a greyhound developing a noise fear or phobia
With each exposure to fear-inducing noises, there is the potential for a greyhound to become more fearful. The first step is to look at ways in which the fear-inducing noises can be avoided or exposure to them minimised. The most obvious way to achieve this are to:
- move the greyhound away from the sound e.g. board the greyhound in a different area away from the area where you are – this can be a good idea if you are able to anticipate an event such as fireworks;
- stop the sound occurring when the greyhound is nearby (e.g. avoid using power tools, lawn mowers and/or whipper snippers); or
- avoid the situation entirely (e.g. don’t walk your greyhound near busy roads or take your greyhound for a walk when a neighbour is about to mow the lawn or use the whipper snipper).
When it comes to storms, most of the above options are not suitable as you cannot control or avoid the weather. The following options can help to reduce the fear response:
- using music, or white noise CD in the kennel block to help dull the sound;
- blocking out light (e.g. covering windows to block out flashes of lightening).
For serious responses to thunderstorms, you should consider creating a safe space for the greyhound within their kennel where they can feel protected. A large crate could be placed inside their kennel covered in blankets and their bed moved into the crate. The door to the crate must be left open, but the dark small space may provide a sense of security and reduce their fear.
If you cannot limit your greyhound’s exposure to the noise to a level that they can cope with and remain calm, then you must seek help from your veterinarian to develop a medication plan. Failure to address noise phobias can derail your entire racing/training program and can result in pups failing to race at all. Remember, medication is not a cure so it is important to combine it with professional advice on behavioural treatments.
Some final tips for dealing with fearful or noise phobic greyhounds
- Always seek veterinary advice early on if your greyhound is becoming increasingly fearful of loud noises – treatment is more successful if started early.
- Always seek advice from a veterinarian with expertise in dog behaviour for identifying the best options for a phobic greyhound.
- Do not use Acepromazine (ACP) to sedate fearful dogs. This drug sedates the dog but does not stop the dog feeling fearful, which results in an increase in the phobic response over time.
- Thundershirts and Adaptil collars are useful relaxation aids for fearful greyhounds.
- Thundershirts or similar rugs can be used in race day kennels to help calm fearful and anxious greyhounds.
For more information
There are a range of resources out there to help you. GAP offers a more detailed fact sheet on fear associated with thunderstorms, fireworks and loud noises. You can contact GAP to obtain a copy. In addition, the following resources may be useful: