Off leash dog parks are a no for greyhounds. A hard NO! We are not speaking from a soapbox without reason or even without firsthand experience. Yes, GGA staff have made the mistake of going to off leash dog parks and yes, we have the physical and emotional scars to prove it.
If you choose to ignore your adoption group's advice to avoid off leash dog parks, then we suggest that you fully understand the risks - financial, physical, and psychologically - and then decide if it really is worth it. There are reasons why we recommend greyhound-only off leash playdates. The two main ones are dog language, and injuries.
When compared to other breeds, greyhounds spend more time with their moms and siblings, months longer. During this time, their dam instills appropriate behaviour and corrects inappropriate behaviour. Littermates also correct behaviour that they don’t appreciate. This means that they learn the greyhound “language” and what is proper and acceptable pack behaviour. They learn what an ear flick may mean, what holding a tail a certain way means. They encourage their littermates to play by nipping at them and by mouthing each other’s necks.
Greyhounds “speak” another language. Have you ever travelled somewhere that you don’t speak or understand the language or know the customs? That’s essentially what your greyhound has to deal with when you take them to the dog park.
Non-greyhound puppies, that were usually weaned from their moms at eight weeks of age, do not have the opportunity to learn the same language or the same proper pack behaviour. At eight weeks, they are now in a world of humans, and in most cases, not even another resident dog. Even with the help of socialization at puppy school, growing up with humans is not the same as growing up in a pack. If that puppy is brought into a home with another dog it still may not learn proper pack behaviour as that dog would have also been removed from its mom at an early age. Please do not think that we are saying that other dogs cannot be well behaved or balanced. They absolutely can be and a lot are…but they speak a different language than our retired racers. Their imprinting and upbringing are simply different.
It is true that at the end of the day greyhounds are dogs and they of course have the ability to learn to interact with non-greys. But it does come with risks. A responsible adoption group will screen an application and each individual greyhound for potential interactions with all-breeds. Some are absolutely fine with non-greyhounds - and some are NOT.
Not all dog owners, both grey and non-grey, are educated in or understand dog behaviour, and not all are responsible. We have seen the dog park ‘grab a coffee and gab’ owners that are not paying attention to their own dogs bowel movements, let alone how their dog is behaving. Owners do not always recognize the signs that could turn a situation into a disaster. The owner's “don’t worry my dog is friendly” attitude is not always helpful or accurate. What some non-grey owners see as a friendly lab, for example, may be an overbearing rude and “in your face” unbalanced dog to your greyhound - and one that your greyhound may correct! Furthermore, not all greyhounds will accept non-greys as “friends”. Overall, non-greyhounds look strange and act strange. They speak a different dialect of “dog speak”. It’s not a judgment of good or bad - it is just a fact. This difference in language can be dangerous for all parties involved.
Non-greys can and do act in ways that are just not acceptable. Non-greys may not “greet” your greyhound in what is deemed appropriate. If you ever watch a group of greyhounds coming together, they instinctively go to sniff each other’s rear ends first in a calm manner to say hello. There are no paws on their face or body, no jumping, no barking. Generally we do not see the same in non-greyhounds. Interactions that start like this can have dire consequences.
Your greyhound may not speak the same language as other dogs - but it does know what is appropriate and not appropriate behaviour. Does the non-grey act like a lure? Does it sound like the squeaky lure making its way around the track? Is it acting aggressively? Is it overly excited? Your greyhound will act like a greyhound in its response which can mean injury and sometimes even death to those involved. Your greyhound has onion-paper thin skin that can tear super easily, they lack a sufficient fat layer and a puncture or tear can easily reach muscle and internal organs. An overly excited dog can cause significant damage with its nails and teeth to a greyhound's thin skin. And, if your greyhound is unmuzzled, your greyhound’s large canines can do some damage as well.
To muzzle or not to muzzle? Muzzles are your friend! When we run our greyhounds at a greyhound only play day, you should absolutely use a muzzle. Why risk the vet bills?! Why risk a potential friendship-ending incident? Why risk the trauma to your beloved greyhound? However, if you choose to go to the dog park and let your greyhound interact with non-greys, should you muzzle? In our opinion? YES. A muzzle could give you the advantage in a potential suing incident due to injury or death. For those saying NO, it’s probably because if your greyhound is attacked it will have no way of protecting itself. So then we ask why are you putting your beloved greyhound in any situation where it might need to defend itself?!?! Why risk it?
Some adopters will argue that "off leash dog parks are fine as long as you go when no one else is there".
First of all, we have all heard stories of greyhounds running at the dog park, in the empty large dog side and all of a sudden a small dog comes running by. Not all owners make the best decisions.
Secondly, dog parks are not like racetracks. The surface at the dog park is not a surface that your greyhound is used to. Greyhounds only run on perfectly groomed, perfectly even, perfectly graded sand. Before every race, the racetrack was groomed and watered to make the surface as smooth, soft, packed and safe as possible. When racing, they are focused only on the lure. They have not needed to look for dips, divets, twigs, obstacles to jump over, etc. Can you remember what it was like the first time you went hiking, or watched a baby learn to walk or even when a child removed the training wheels from their bike? You are unsteady, you trip, and you might even fall. Now add upwards of 40+km/hour to that (as we know they slow down after retiring!). Learning to run on an ungroomed surface can have devastating results. A cracked dew claw, torn nails, a split web, a laceration, sprains and strains, and broken legs can be costly consequences.
"But my dog runs in my backyard." Your backyard is still (hopefully) better cared for and groomed than a dog park. But you should use caution every time that your greyhound runs, and never allow them to run unsupervised.
Accidents can happen anywhere. There is unarguably an increased risk if you choose to let your greyhound run at a dog park. We don’t mean to be buzz killers with this post. We just ask you to ask yourself “Is it worth it?”