The first steps when bringing a new dog home are to build a secure and strong attachment and integrate them slowly into their new surroundings. Any fear or anxiety related behaviour while the dog settles in is completely normal and a degree of stress is to be expected. Almost all hounds have lived rurally in kennel environment for their whole life and there will be so many ‘firsts’ they’ll need guiding through.
Initially, just being present and available to guide your greyhound is invaluable as they navigate this strange new world, however it takes more than that to build a rock-solid friendship.
Here are the building blocks for a strong relationship with your hound:
Set up a routine where you reward the greyhound for any desirable interaction that they have with you. An easy way to do this is have a pot of delicious treats on the countertop, in your pocket, or wear a treat pouch, and reward the hound for interacting with you so they learn you are where all the good stuff comes from. We want them to think “looking at the human is the key to them tossing me a treat, throwing a toy, opening a door, unclipping my lead” etc. If you prepare a pot of 50 treats in the morning to use, you can easily reward the dog 50 times throughout the day for engaging with you; this will strengthen the relationship and create a positive association with your presence.
Equally if reward the hound with a tasty treat whenever you see them doing something you like e.g. laying down, walking into their crate, having a wee outside and they’ll be more likely to keep doing these.
Training also provides a way for us to communicate with our dogs by creating a set of gestures or words (cues) that can be used to request behaviours. Training a few simple cues such as down, eye contact, and coming back when called, will help you to feel more in control and mean you can give your dog more freedom.
We control nearly every aspect of our dog’s life; when they eat, what they eat, where they walk, who they get to hang out with. Giving some control back to the dog and allowing them to make decisions can strengthen your relationship.
This can be as simple as a choice between food, what toy to play with, what direction to go for a walk (e.g. wandering along sniffing rather than marching down the road) or choosing when they are brave enough to investigate something new. This can get more complex when we look at cooperative care handling protocols for vet visits or grooming.
Touch can help to release oxytocin, a chemical that plays a role in social bonding. Studies have shown that oxytocin is released when a dog picks up the scent of a familiar human, and that the gaze between a trusted human and a dog also released oxytocin, not just in the dog, but in the human too…. Just like physical contact.
However, it may take some time for your hound to approach you to solicit physical contact and to find touch enjoyable. Dogs get to decide what they find pleasant and unpleasant and while many hounds will love the touch and affection, for others you will need to take things slower. Some dogs might only ever be comfortable with familiar people patting them and find strangers doing this to be unpleasant or scary.
Play can be one of the best ways to build a relationship. Playing with a dog isn’t difficult, but it is a skill that needs to be taught for people and dogs.
Through years of breeding Greyhounds have had the ‘sight’ and ‘chase’ aspects of predatory behaviour enhanced and this is important to remember because it gives us an indication of what games they are likely to enjoy more.
Keep a couple of the best toys stored away so they only come out at playtime rather than laying around the house; this way they stay super interesting. Greyhounds are more likely to prefer chasing a fleece tug toy on the end of a flirt pole, chasing possum tail dog toys, or doing long distance recall games with having one person hold the hound while the other sprints off, let the hound go and rinse and repeat.