By Andrew Copley
Some posties fear being chased by dogs on their run, but Brown Hill postman Peter Gavin has made an art form of teaching greyhounds to chase.
When greyhound racing found itself at the crossroads in early 2015, Gavin saw an opportunity open up before him. At the time, Gavin had been involved in the sport predominantly as an owner, however having grown up on a sheep farm in Hamilton in Western Victoria he saw an opportunity to apply his knowledge to educating young greyhounds.
Photos: Clint Anderson
“When you’re training a sheep dog, you have to teach them about 20 different things such as chasing sheep, rounding up sheep, jumping on the back of a truck and climbing on top of sheep…the list goes on and on. But when it comes to educating a greyhound, you only have to teach them two things – to come out of the boxes and to chase a lure,” said Gavin, who lives in Mount Doran.
Since that lightbulb moment, Gavin, who works a morning round for the Brown Hill Post Office (near Ballarat), has been flooded with business from greyhound owners wanting him to educate their greyhounds.
“In the last two years I’ve had over 200 greyhounds sent to me for breaking-in and of those, there has only been two of them I haven’t been able to get to chase,” he said.
Using animals to encourage greyhounds to chase is not only illegal, but it is completely unnecessary, according to Gavin.
“From my experience, greyhounds don’t chase the lure with 100 per cent commitment unless they are 100 per cent happy, so they need a lot of love and a lot of patience,” he said. “I just love educating dogs. I offer a six-week breaking-in course rather than the standard four-week course. I spend the first week building the greyhound’s confidence, giving them a hydro-bath, worming them and showing them plenty of love and attention. Then I start the education process with a happy, more confident animal, which I believe is extremely important to the dog’s chances of breaking in well and, ultimately, making it to the racetrack and winning races.”
Gavin could be described as a new-age breaker, with his methods of teaching greyhounds to chase including plenty of playtime chasing a variety of toys, frisbees and rags. He constantly encourages the greyhounds in his care, including the use of a two-way radio in his bullring (which he refers to as a mini-track), with one receiver planted safely inside the lure allowing the greyhounds to hear his words of encouragement.
“From my experience, greyhounds don’t chase the lure with 100 per cent commitment unless they are 100 per cent happy, so they need a lot of love and a lot of patience.”
Educating limited numbers of about 12 greyhounds at a time also allows Gavin to spend the necessary time needed to get each animal chasing, and he has a friendly domestic dog roaming the property for the purpose of socialising the greyhounds so they can more easily be re-homed once their racing careers come to an end.
Gavin also uses his six-week breaking-in course to introduce pups to race day experiences at his local track at Ballarat, so the dogs are comfortable with their surrounds when they begin racing.
“Once the six-week course is finished the owner has a young pup he or she can take to the racetrack knowing that the greyhound has been past the grandstand, past the finishing post, in the race kennels and over the vet’s table numerous times,” Gavin explained.
Gavin was rewarded for his educating prowess when a greyhound named Shantui, whom he trains and owns in conjunction with his partner, Kathleen Boyle, came from the tail of the field to win a semi-final of the Group 2 Launching Pad (515m) at Sandown Park in April before running fourth to Suffragette in the $210,000 final.
“Shantui was given to me just over 12 months ago by Paul Abela. He was only 16 months old at the time, and Paul was struggling to get him to chase after picking him up from a rearing farm in NSW. He said that if I could get him chasing I could keep him, and being bred by Paul Westerveld I thought I’d give him a go,” Gavin said.
“I got him chasing after six or seven weeks, and being a bigger dog (38 kilograms) I took my time with him before racing him. After about six months I felt he was finally ready to start racing, however I couldn’t find anyone that was willing to train him, so I decided to train him myself. My passion is educating greyhounds rather than training them, but training Shantui has been worth it because he made the Launching Pad final and it looks like he might develop into a handy stayer.”
Gavin has also bred and reared his first litter of greyhound pups (seven of them), now 16 months old and by Premier Fantasy, whom he insists ‘will all win races’ having been raised on copious amounts of tender loving care. He has thought about the re-homing of this litter from birth, inviting a number of families that live in the local area to meet the pups with a view to following their racing careers and eventually adopting them as pets.
WHAT PETER GAVIN’S SIX-WEEK BREAKING-IN COURSE INCLUDES:
- Spend first week earning dog’s trust, worming and giving a hydro-bath before undergoing any training
- Offer plenty of encouragement and gamesmanship including chasing a variety of toys
- Use of a two-way radio in the mini-track (bullring) with one receiver planted safely inside the lure
- Socialising with a domestic dog to assist with eventual transition into life as a pet
- Introduce greyhound to race day experiences at a racetrack including trials at Ballarat over 300 metres
- A detailed progress report including an assessment of the greyhound’s potential emailed to the owner upon completion of the six weeks, along with video footage of the dog’s most recent trial if the owner is unable to attend