By Andrew Copley
Robert Britton, trainer of million-dollar greyhound Fanta Bale, features in a comprehensive new video series about training greyhounds.
The first lot of videos centre around detecting injuries to greyhounds. They include a standard, basic check which Britton performs on all of his greyhounds two days after a race or trial, and again after the greyhounds’ final exercise session before a race.
Britton’s basic check takes about two minutes per dog, and includes an assessment of the toes, stopper bones, wrists, shoulders, metacarpals, monkey muscles, scapula, chest muscles, saddle muscle, triangle muscles, pencil muscles, groin, fibula, hock, back muscles, calves and metatarsals.
“I think every trainer should learn a really basic check,” Britton said. “It’s something you should be able to do in about one to two minutes and then be satisfied that the vital areas of a greyhound, which can finish its career, are absolutely spot on. It’s not hard to do, and you’ll pick up 90 per cent of things that have gone wrong, or detect them before they go wrong.”
“It (Britton’s checking process) is not what you get at a vet, where they thoroughly go over the greyhound (from) head to toe. It is what I call a basic check for all the vital things, and make sure everything is in place.”
Britton said that doing a basic check on a greyhound the day after a race is premature.
“I don’t believe in checking a dog the day after a race, because I think there’s always some general soreness there anyway. I like to let them recover and have a day off. In an ideal world you should check your dog a couple of days after it races, and again after it has finished all its exercise before its next start,” he said. The Lara trainer said it is important to gain an understanding of each greyhound’s pain tolerance level, and then keep just under that when checking for injuries.
“You can make most dogs sore if you want to make them sore, so you’ve got to find the dog’s tolerance level. If you push too hard you’ll make him sore. If you find the dog’s tolerance level and keep just below that, you’ll then be able to detect if there’s any soreness. The other thing to note is that the more a greyhound gets checked, the more he gets used to you, and his tolerance level probably goes up,” he said.
Britton added that there were some tell-tale signs in detecting injuries through checking, other than a dog simply showing pain or discomfort.
“If a dog has got a fresh injury, quite often you’ll feel it when checking in that there’s heat, and there’s a feeling of softness or puttiness, whereas on the other side it is nice and toned, and everything is feeling normal. By checking against the other side, quite often that’s when you feel there’s something a little bit different, and not quite right.”
A trick to checking ‘nervy’ greyhounds for injuries
Greyhounds are known for their cooperative nature, however this isn’t always the case when it comes to being checked for injuries, according to Britton.
“Most dogs are pretty good, but you do get a lot of young dogs that are very, very difficult (in that) they’ve got no pain threshold to start with. Every time you touch them they’ll whimper…every time you cut their toenails they’ll whimper. But that all comes through practice and persistence,” Britton said.
“What you do in that situation is you get over the dog and perform a normal check, but you don’t exert any pressure on the dog the first few times you do it. You don’t apply any force at all. That way you get them used to you going over them, and it takes any fear away because they know they’re not going to get hurt.”
Britton stressed the importance of taking safety precautions whenever you are checking a greyhound for injuries. “You might have to get someone initially, when you’re trying to check a dog that doesn’t like being checked, to hold their head so that you can go over them. And I always check a dog with a muzzle on. Even if he’s your best mate and you know they’ll never bite you, if you find a (sore) spot, you just might frighten them into turning around and grabbing you, so it’s always safety first,” he said.
Victoria has the world’s best greyhound vets
Robert Britton has commended the quality of greyhound vets in Victoria, saying they are second to none, thanks largely to Greyhound Racing Victoria Hall of Fame inductee, the late Dr. Jim Gannon.
“We’re very lucky in Victoria, we’ve got the best (greyhound) vets in the world. A lot of them were trained by Dr. Jim Gannon, and that’s the legacy he left, in that we can be really confident that we can go to these vets and they really know what they’re talking about,” Britton said.
Despite many years of experience as a trainer and having the confidence he can detect and treat most injury issues with a greyhound, Britton will always seek a vet’s advice for serious injuries and if there’s a problem he can’t find.
“I’ve been in the game a long time and I think I can find most things, but there is sometimes a mystery, such as a dog’s not performing well and you can’t find the problem, so you might need a blood test because there may be another issue. When I believe there’s an issue that I can’t solve myself, a good talk to a vet and a check by a vet can sometimes solve that,” he said.
“A lot of new people (to greyhound racing) will feel more comfortable going to a vet on a regular basis to get their dog checked, but I can’t emphasise enough, they should also learn their own check so you’re satisfied that your dog is 100 per cent in your own mind.”
“Once you start going to a vet all the time, they then start training your dog. Unfortunately, then sometimes you give your greyhound 10 days off or three weeks off and you’re always interrupted, and you’re not actually getting any work done. Eventually you can become confused (with regard to) what’s serious and what’s not.”
Observation is critical
Britton insists that knowing your greyhound well and closely observing his or her movements is an imperative aspect of detecting injuries, particularly after a race or trial.
“Checking is not everything…observation is also very important. In other words, the day after a dog races, the next morning you should watch it very carefully. Watch the way it gets off its bed, the way it goes out into the empty yards. You learn more doing that than you ever do checking a dog, if you know his habits,” Britton said.
“If your dog gets up normally, goes out and he’s spritely on all four legs, there’s usually not a lot wrong with them. But if you can see that they’re slightly depressed or they’re not walking with the same zest – it (detecting an injury) can be everything from simply that or you could see some lameness.”
Britton said any lameness in a greyhound should be treated with the utmost caution.
“Usually when there’s lameness, it’s reasonably serious. It can be something minor such as a spike wound or a cut or something like that, but if you learn to do a basic check, you’ll learn pretty quickly where that soreness, or that lameness, is coming from.”
“If it’s structural, such as a bone or anything like that, it is quite serious and that’s when you’ve probably got to get an x-ray or get your greyhound checked by a vet,” he said.