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Greyhounds Unleashed

When I arrived at Jennifer Bachelor’s blog a couple of weeks ago for a visit, the post I landed on had me ready to click the back button and run the other way. Don’t get me wrong – I love this blog. But Jennifer was brave enough to tackle a topic that often gets those on the rescue side of the Greyhound equation quite fired up, and I was expecting a flame war.

Luckily I was wrong, and Jennifer was kind enough to let me share this post with you. It’s a hot topic for those who run in Greyhound circles, and I’d love to know if there are any other unleashed Greys out there!
*the comment thread from the original post is here.

                                                                     Katie, hand me your leash!

So far I have avoided the subject of greyhounds off leash. It is quite obvious from my pictures and writings that my greyhounds are often unleashed. It has sort of been a don’t ask, don’t tell subject, but some readers do ask about it privately.

As you know, if you have adopted a greyhound, that all the ex-racing greyhound adoption manuals, books, websites, FAQs, meet and greet attendees, screening and placement coordinators, the adoption contract, and dedicated greyhound adopters will tell you that you are never to unleash your greyhound in an unfenced area. “Get a Labrador Retriever if you want to take your dog off leash” they say. What do I think about this rule? At the risk of causing an uproar, I think it is silly. There are so many factors to consider…. the trainer, the dog, and the area, but not the breed.

The truth is that most people should keep their dogs (regardless of breed) on leash. Most people do not allocate the time necessary to train, reinforce, proof against distractions, and practice recalls. Most dogs are simply not conditioned and trained well enough to deal with distractions one encounters outside the home and backyard.

I consider it extremely bad manners to have a dog off leash that you cannot stop from approaching people or other dogs. The unleashed dog may be the friendliest dog in the world, but it does not make someone afraid of dogs feel any better as the unleashed dog ignores all commands and continues to approach. The same goes for someone walking a dog aggressive dog on leash. That person is trying to be responsible, but they are unable to control their dog’s attack if an unleashed dog comes into their space.

Unfortunately, a lot of people give unfriendly dogs freedom from the leash too. The neighbor dog I pepper sprayed had no business being off leash. My husband’s greyhounds have all had marks left on them from the Weimaraners that are completely out of control and out of sight of their owner most of the time at the place they all visit. An unleashed dog should never put someone at risk or interfere with some one’s enjoyment of the same area. I could rant all day about this, so I won’t.

Also, try as they may, some dog lovers just plain suck at dog training. Their timing is off. They forget to reinforce or they have no authority. Dog training is not a recipe you follow exactly to ensure a perfectly trained dog. The combination of ingredients is different each time. Some things take longer and each dog responds differently. The trainer has to have a good feel for when the dog is ready for the next step or when to take a step back. There are just so many factors to consider.

Katie, please don’t run away! Ha!

And recalls (coming when called) are not trained off leash! You train them on leash, on long lines, and in fenced areas! Your dog should not be taken off the leash until you are certain of the outcome.

It also depends on the dog’s personality, drive, and motivation. When I adopt, I choose greyhounds that I think will be easy to train because some dogs can be very difficult. A breed such as the greyhound will contain more individuals that are harder to train than individuals from the working or herding dog groups. If you are looking for an off leash companion, you are more likely to be successful if you choose a dog from a breed that tends to have a high percentage of easy to train individuals.

Locations and areas available to you are also a factor. I am blessed to have access to a variety of areas for exposing the dogs to different environments and for training. I strive to take my dogs somewhere away from the house everyday. I want them to lose interest in the environment and to find me and my rewards to be the most interesting thing on the planet. “You have to be able to compete with the world for your dog’s attention and win.” If you cannot, your dog needs to be on leash.

There are also certain areas I do not consider safe or suitable. I would never allow one of my dogs off leash in my front yard if she might harm my neighbor’s cat or cross the street after a squirrel (which most of my greyhounds will and therefore wear leashes from the front door to the van). At age 11, Katie (pictured in my front yard) is extremely reliable and she was focused and working in these photos. She can work with cat and squirrel distractions even though she is not cat safe.

And your dog has to “earn it”! Off leash freedom is not a right. It is a privilege and it has to be earned, respected, and valued. For example, Riley did great this winter and earned her wings as she was extremely responsive and focused. However, this spring she has lost the privilege simply because she ignored me twice which is completely unacceptable in all scenarios. I think animals must be crawling out of their holes because Riley is obviously very distracted again and in need of more training.

So there you have it. My name is Jennifer and I take some of my dogs (greyhounds) off leash. If you do the same, please make sure you are responsible and that your dogs (regardless of breed…. even greyhounds) are well trained. If not, please do us a favor and keep them on leash.

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  1. An arbitrary rule that no greyhound is ever to be off-leash outside a fenced area sounds like a legislator’s draft of breed-specific legislation–legislation (and a rule) that does not take into account the dog, the area, and the trainer/owner.

    Are my SEGA hounds ever off-leash outside a fenced area? No. I’m an indifferent trainer, and I have a massively high-prey boy, a cat-zapping-wannabe girl, and neighbors who are unimpressed by leash laws for their pets. After all these years, my two now will stand quietly on leash at the sight of my neighbor’s two cats, but that’s force of habit at work, not training, and I’m smart enough to realize that.

    In fact, my boy would not be safe off-leash even in a fenced area. If he saw prey on the other side of the fence, he’d hit the fence head-first at speed. (He put a foot through the glass of the living room window when he saw a cat outside.) And he’s not the only high-prey dog I know. But while some dogs could hurt themselves, I’d never dream of insisting that greyhounds not be allowed off-leash any time they’re outside. That’s arbitrary, the equivalent of BSL, and fails to consider the dog, the area, and the trainer–all the things Jennifer emphasizes.

  2. No Pam. I haven’t misunderstood a single word you’ve written. I’m not sure that you understand.

    “What do I think about this rule? At the risk of causing an uproar, I think it is silly.” This is the most irresponsible statement I’ve ever heard a greyhound rescue person make. Don’t look for my name among your blog fans.

    Welcome to the final word on this subject. I’m quite done.

  3. A very well written piece! I got my off-leash privilege revoked last week when I ran away from my mommy and wouldn’t follow my return command….so on the leash I go until I can be trusted.

  4. Bev, I think you misunderstood. I absolutely do not think average dog lovers should take their dogs off leash. Everything you said about the dog being focused and doing a job versus potty in the front yard is absolutely correct. With greyhounds, there are many folks out there doing it secretly and it drives me crazy because many of them haven’t done any training at all. So I’d rather open up the discussion so I have the opportunity to educate someone and maybe convince them that its really not a good idea OR encourage someone who is interested in obedience and agility. To tell them not to be discouraged by the greyhound leash rules… that they really won’t be off leash until they are ready and focused on the job.

  5. I agree with her. I don’t think it matters what the breed is – it is the manners of the individual dog that should dictate if it is allowed off leash. Some of the scariest moments I’ve had are from dogs whose owners think they are ok and they aren’t. I’ve often heard of the greyhound rule (I love all dogs – not just Goldens) and have wondered why! Thank you for posting!


  6. I believe I referred to the ‘average’ adopter allowing a greyhound off lead as the adopter I would repo from in a heartbeat. I cannot imagine that SEGA wouldn’t do the same thing. In fact, SEGA’s adoption manual says: “The absolute, unbreakable rule for Greyhounds is NEVER LET YOUR GREYHOUND OFF A LEASH UNLESS IT IS IN A FENCED AREA. You may think you’ve taught your Greyhound to come when called and that you have had him for a number of years that now he can be trusted off leash. That is wrong. Even trainers with Greyhounds that are extensively trained for obedience and/or agility competition take certain precautions when their Greyhounds are performing off lead. Much care is taken in training, practicing, and reinforcing recalls continuously for every possible situation that might be encountered. Also consider that Greyhounds performing off lead are focused on
    their job and less likely to notice their surroundings. Allowing a Greyhound off lead to
    potty in your front yard is so much more dangerous because he is much more likely to
    notice the cat across the street. All adoptive families sign a contract with SEGA stipulating,
    among other things, that they will observe this rule. SEGA reserves the right to reclaim the dog if we find that he is being allowed to run free.”

    Sending the message that it is in anyway okay for the ‘average’ adopter to do this is, IMO, irresponsible. While you may be on the board of SEGA, perhaps you are not the person who receives those dreaded calls from adopter’s who’s dogs are dead, mangled, or lost because they thought they had recall down. Most adoption groups actually insist that board members publicly set the example of complying with the group’s rules, expressly for the benefit of the ‘average’ adopter. Performing greyhounds are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to being off lead. I respectfully disagree that bringing this issue out of the closet in any other context is appropriate for the ‘average’ adopter to toy with. While SEGA may be affiliated with a ‘club’ that courses, promotes agility, etc., the ‘average’ adoption group has no such affiliation and therefore very few hounds in their programs that perform. Surely you recognize that you’re expertise is exceptional among greyhound adopter’s overall. If placement is part of what you do for SEGA, and you discuss anything but the greyhound ‘leash law’ with potential adopter’s, SEGA is operating much differently than most adoption groups across the country, particularly GPA groups.

  7. I’m glad folks seem to be receiving the post in the spirit it was intended. I know there are greyhound folks doing it in secret so I think it is time to talk about the right or wrong way. I did smile at Bev’s comment saying she’d repo a greyhound in a heartbeat…. I can just see SEGA knocking on my door to repo the first Master Agility Champion greyhound who also has a Utility Dog obedience title. Luckily, my group is fully informed and I’m on the board. But it is funny to think that there are groups that would actually turn me down when I have a proven record for working with and providing a quality life to hard to place, high drive, high energy greyhounds.

  8. It’s a rare adopter who is also a dog trainer, but those who are may just succeed in achieving reliable recall, and their not going to ‘ask’ before doing it. I’ve actually known adoption group people who let hounds off lead, and are perfectly comfortable with doing so. IMO, anyone who’d give the average adopter the idea that they can train a gh to be off lead is irresponsible. The average adopter will get lazy, quit training way too soon, and call the group in tears when their greyhound gets hit an killed in front of their own house. I’ve gotten those calls, which is why this blog makes me cringe. Don’t ask, don’t tell works for me. If the ‘average’ adopter knew how many loving VOLUNTEER hands their dog passed through before it got to them, they wouldn’t risk this. If they love their hound, they wouldn’t risk this. If they were my adopter, and I found out they were doing it, I’d repo the dog in a heartbeat. Period.

  9. I love this post, as it reflects my attitude very closely. Part of why I have Labs is that they tend to be very trainable. I do have one small difference from the author – that is, I don’t think that ANY dog is ever 100% reliable. Just like you and me, dogs are living sentient beings who make mistakes, especially when faced with a distraction that they’ve never been trained to deal with (my 6 yr old Lab has only blown me off completely on one occasion since puppyhood – to gorge on a deer that had just been killed by a lion. I couldn’t have foreseen or trained for that.). But, I do insist that my dogs are reliable around every distraction that I can foresee before they get full off-leash privileges.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  10. My neighbor lets his dog run loose all the time. She’s friendly but she’s a big dog and not everyone likes big dog. Plus she’s a pit bull which many, many people are scared of. He’ll just open the front door and let her out. He doesn’t have a fenced-in yard. She’s usually pretty good about not running off but still… It just really bothers me that he does this.

    I would never consider letting my dogs roam free unless they’re in the back yard. Most of the time they’ll come running when I call them but every once in awhile they’ll be caught up in something and ignore me. I know because they’re in a fenced in area, I can easily grab them if I need to. I wouldn’t have that same sense of security if they weren’t on a leash in a non-fenced in area. I don’t care how much training your dog has, they may decide not to follow it one day. And that could be the day they wander away without a leash when you’re calling their name. I’m not willing to lose my dogs like that. I lost a cat letting him run around outside on his own, I’m not going to lose another pet that way! JMHO

  11. As the adopter of 4 retired racers, I agree with the article that you have to know your dog and know the environment. Of my 4, I only have 1 I “trust” to take off leash in certain places. She is very well trained and I can recall her even if she is chasing a squirrel. However, I would never walk her around off-leash in my neighborhood or anywhere else vehicle traffic exists. Even though she recalls very good, a greyhound can be into the street quicker than I have time to initiate a recall. I don’t care how well-trained she is, I know I take a chance each and every time she is off leash, no matter where we are. But its a chance I am willing to take and know I will have to live with the consequences of her freedom. The thing I have found is the more freedom they have, the better dogs they become. I guess its just a tradeoff in the end!

  12. I had the same reaction that you did when I first opened the thread, but I have to say that I thought she was absolutely right. Not just about greyhounds, but about any breed.

    We help teach dog obedience to the 4H kids in our county and have for many years. We always go through the spell of people swearing to us that their dog knows how to sit/down/stand/ stay or whatever the command du jour is. It takes a lot of training and practice to have your dog at that level, and even after you reach it, it takes constant refreshers. I applaud her for saying what she did. I’ve also followed her blog for about a year now, I think, and her greyhounds are amazingly well-trained. She really knows her dogs and she knows their limits and abilities, I believe. Those are things you have to have to be able to do what she does.

  13. I’ve fostered/adopted 5 different retired racers. Greys are a special breed. Their prey-drive is so high, they aren’t safe off leash. I was often “tricked” into dropping the leash, (by my own mind, thinking there was no one around & I had the area to myself. They consistently were able to spot “game”, & killed squirrels, a nutria, & an injured kitten (put it right out of it’s misery)! They are tricky-smart, fast, WHAM! and it’s over. Be careful. I LOVE the breed, by the way. They are a big job.

  14. Awesome post. Thank you for putting it out there.

    I am a professional trainer and agree with the fact that some people simply suck at dog training. Timing is off, they don’t see the importance of repetition, they give the dog four things to do before the first thing is even completed. That being said, not ALL dog owners are this way and many have the skills or seek the skills of a professional trainer and do a great job with their dog… NO MATTER what the breed is.

    I get really tired of “breed specific”. It doesn’t matter to me if it is a Lab, Wiemaraner, Greyhound, or what… should the step to training a strong recall are the same.

    Granted if those steps are not taken consistently and safely, you should not attempt to have your dog off leash.

    Generalizing that all dogs (or certain breeds) shouldn’t be off leash is sad to me. I look at dogs who get to stretch it out, run in that beautiful way that allows them to use their body the way it was designed is a picture of pure content. Sad to say it gets taken away because of the over generalizations as well as bad training.

    True, if you don’t have a well trained recall, DON’T have your dog off leash… and well trained means that your dog does not go charging up to another dog on leash, a person etc.

    Anyway… thanks for putting it out there knowing that some people are going to have a big problem with it!

    Good training means more freedom to enjoy the movement of life…


  15. Very well written article. I, personally, do not let me greyhounds off-leash, and likely never would in an unfenced area. To me, the risks outweigh the benefits. All the training in the world may not always win over prey drive. Besides, we live in an area with leash-laws, as nearly all of our adopters do. I have to take a similar stance to the comment by Michele above regarding the attitudes of many adopters. I am not no off-leash, never, at all costs, but I think the dog and place must be carefully considered, as the author obviously does. I find most people just don’t take that kind of care. I’m just not willing to take that kind of risk. Very nice article though.

  16. I used to run into a man at the river that had 3 greyhounds. He let them run loose down there with my dogs. They had a blast and never ran off. They were beautiful to watch run! They seemed to have so much joy to be able to run. It was a pleasure to watch.

  17. OK, here is my comment as a person who runs an adoption kennel, placed over 2,500 Greyhounds, is a dog trainer, hiker and has performance Greyhounds. I make all adopters sign a contract for on leash unless in a fenced area. As stated above, most pet people suck as trainers. Especially when it comes to recalls. Rarely does anyone even liveon an area that would be safe for any breed and most towns have leash laws. That said , I do have some dogs I hike off leash with , out in the boonies only. I also have some dogs I keep on leash. My dogs are not cat safe, not small furry anything safe and thats ok with me . I want that kind of drive in my dogs.
    The trouble with adopters is that they think they know more than we do and I try to remind them that I’m the one that gets the calls about dead Greyhounds along the side of the road.
    I do have a few friends that hike their dogs off lead with no issues, but also some that have lost their dogs when they have gone after deer.
    Anyway, well written post .

  18. Very well said! I wish all dog owners were this informed AND aware. I guess greyhounds have a high prey drive and that is why this is more taboo with greyhounds than other breeds? I have a HIGHLY trainable lab who I can train (with my moderate) skill level to do all sorts of things but coming when called when he is out in the real world is something I don’t think I will ever get from him reliably so he will be on leash or fenced at all times. I do practice still so that if he does get out I at least have a slim hope that he will come to me and it is paying off but he is so stubborn and independent that I will never consider it bomb proof. Regardless of your chosen type of dog the key as an owner is to KNOW your dog. When you encounter an owner (such as the author here) I trust their judgement regardless of their dog’s breed.

  19. I have a Greyhound and he goes off leash when I feel our surroundings are safe to do so. For the most part I go to an off leash area that is entirely fenced in but we do go for walks in the neighbourhood where he is off leash. It took some time but he was easy to train, including not chasing anything even rabbits. I know my Greyhound really well and there is a bond and trust between us that is extremely strong plus he’s been with me for a very long time now. I still watch everything around me to make sure that all of my furry kids are safe. I feel so lucky to have him and my other two rescues.

  20. Thanks everyone. Sam, I definitely mean that someone with an off leash dog must respect everyone else and their space. A person has every right to walk their unfriendly dog on leash and they have every right to do so safely and without off leash dogs approaching.

  21. A great (oops – grey’t)topic that Jennifer (new blogger to us) handled so, so well. She reads like Sam’s and my obedience instructor sounds, who we adore and respect so very much! I can’t think of a thing that she omitted, but I was distressed to learn about the mauled greys by pitbulls – horrible… And thank you Jennifer, for the pepper spray idea. Maybe we’ve just been lucky for quite a long time. (Just posted about a hike – offleash – we took a couple of days ago. Would love to say, “oh, we’ve never had a problem – responsible dog owners around here,” but how naive. Thanks for sharing this story.
    xo Sammie and Ma

  22. Very well written. I couldn’t agree more. I am constantly on the look out for unleashed dogs when we go camping. Higgins does not like strange dogs and, though we are working on this daily, if an unleashed dog approached us he would try to attack. Bear and Emma are fine off leash, although the Queen sometimes is a bit of an air head and will wander if I stop paying attention 🙂

    The Duchess

    PS The Duke is also trustworthy off leash, but I still pay attention 🙂

  23. Awesome post. Like she said, a person shouldn’t adopt a greyhound with the expectation that it will be an easy-to-train dog. BUT, given the right dog and the right trainer, a dog of ANY breed can go far.

    I’m a little confused about what she said about walking an aggressive dog on leash. Is she saying that aggressive dogs should not be walked because of the possible consequences of an offleash dog coming up to them? Or, is she saying that potential aggressive dogs mean that those who walk their dogs offleash must be extra careful to respect other individuals? (I agree with the second statement, and I THINK that’s what she means.)

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