Sighthounds are special. Of course, all dogs are special and we all think our dogs are unique in some way . . . but as a group, Sighthounds are just a little outside the realm of normal. If you've never owned a Sighthound before, below are some useful pointers. If you have, then consider this an opportunity to commiserate and nod along -- or add your own pointers in the comments section!
Q. Can I ever let my Sighthound off-leash?
A. No. Nope. Never. Absolutely not. And did we mention, NO! No matter how much your dog loves you or how well trained they are, they have thousands of years of instinct that tells them to run after things they see moving. And they can see things moving very, very well. Your Sighthound can see movement up to a mile away. You can't even physically see the thing they just took off after . . . at 45 mph. Within a minute they'll be too far away to hear you call their name. And it will be several minutes before they realize you aren't right beside them. So, please, do NOT let your Sighthound off leash in an unfenced area. For more information, please read the article here.
Q. Can I take my Sighthound to a dog park?
A. If you don't have a fenced yard, you're probably bummed about the off-lead thing and are thinking about heading to the local dog park. Well, don't dive right in! Being in a fenced area is only part of the equation. Now you need to consider what's inside that fence. Always walk the dog park the first time and identify any hazards. Walk your dog around the perimeter and past any tables or benches so they know they're there. Also think about the people and other dogs in the park. We always recommend basket muzzles for Sighthounds when they run, especially in a group. (Here's an article with more information on the ever useful basket muzzle.) We also recommend finding a private dog park that screens the attendees or at least a park with a separate area for little dogs. Be alert when you're with strange dogs. Not only might your perfectly cat-safe Borzoi suddenly decide that little Shih Tzu looks an awful lot like a bunny when it starts to run, but that Rottweiler might decide your Greyhound looks an awful lot like a deer when it starts to run, too.
Q. Why can't I use a retractable leash with a Sighthound?
A. Remember that 45 mph? Well, they can reach speeds like that IN THREE STEPS. By the time your dog reaches the end of that retractable leash, they can be going close to 45 mph. No matter how good your grip is, you're going to lose that leash. Even if you didn't, most retractable leashes are very lightweight and would probably snap anyway. Another reason we think these things are a bad idea is the "rope burn" they can leave. If you've seen the damage a retractable leash can leave on a human, imagine on the super thin skin of a Greyhound!
Q. What kind of leash and collar SHOULD I use on my Sighthound?
A. Martingales! There are several different types of martingale collars. What they all have in common is that they are a "limited choke" collar. Don't be confused with a traditional choke collar. Those are still bad. The "choke" part just means that when you pull on the leash the collar gets tighter; the "limited" part means that it doesn't get so tight it strangles the dog. The martingale adjusts so it just gets a little tighter—enough for the collar to not slip over those pointy Sighthound heads but loses when it isn't being tugged on so it's comfortable. As for the leash, we recommend a ½ inch or 1 inch nylon leash four to six feet long.
Q. Can I use an Invisible Fence with a Sighthound?
A. Another big fat no, unfortunately. Here's how an invisible fence works: your dog runs up to the barrier and their special collar starts to buzz. The closer it gets the more it buzzes. As they cross the line, it zaps them. Now imagine this dog is a Sighthound . . . and all of that happened in less than a 10th of a second because—you guessed it!—they were running 45 mph! And the worst part is that after they felt the buzz and slowed down, they tried to get back home and couldn't! Now that they aren't chasing anything they're at regular speed and the collar is working the way it should to keep them from crossing the barrier—except your dog is on the outside! Not only do Sighthounds require a physical fence when off-lead, we recommend 6-foot board-on-board privacy fencing. (SHUG does not, however, require a fenced yard to adopt. We have plenty of adopters who leash walk their Sighthounds and they get along just fine.)
Check back for Part II soon!