Forced to Race?

by Dennis McKeon

I came across an interesting article today. The thrust of it is something breeders of sporting and working dogs have known for a long time.
“New research from Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.”

But of course, there is a heritable and collective consciousness within species and breeds of animals. Not all things they do are learned. Not all behaviors they exhibit are simply to please us, or in spite of us. Some things are just etched upon their DNA, and they couldn’t care less what we think of it.

That’s why Doberman Pinscher dogs warn and protect. It’s why Huskies mush. It’s why Shepherding dogs herd. It’s why Labradors retrieve. And it’s why Greyhounds race.

It’s also why greyhound breeders, trainers, and others who are truly knowledgeable of the breed, take extreme exception to the oft-repeated fable and fallacy, that by some sinister spell of dark magic, greyhounds are “forced to run” by their breeders and handlers.

Like most of the popular mythology of the Racing Greyhound, nothing could be further from the truth. A greyhound who doesn’t revel in the gifts of his own speed and grace, a greyhound who isn’t inclined to compete with his littermates and pack mates, or a greyhound who does not choose to chase after game or lures—they are the anomalies.

For a breed of considerable antiquity, such as the greyhound, these things are self evident, to anyone who has even the slightest familiarity or experience with the modern, racing Greyhound.

I have no idea why it has taken science so long to catch up with what King Canute and his subjects knew in the 11th century (see: The Forest Laws by Martin Roper), and what rural, agrarian, wide-open-spaces America has known since pioneer times. Greyhounds are running, hunting dogs, who are furiously competitive when doing so, and who are completed — made whole–by the very act of partaking in the chase.

Far from being “forced to run” by humans, a greyhound’s every nerve, fiber, sinew and cell demands that he run. He is compelled to do so, by voices so ancient and powerful that we, in our suburban idyll, cannot even imagine their resonance.

As a former professional greyhound trainer, I would love to be able to sit here and tell you all that each and every greyhound who was placed in my hands, owed all of his/her success to my consummate skills and intuition, as someone who trained them, impeccably, to run and compete. But that would be yet another myth to add to the litany of greyhound mythology already out there for public disinformation.

The truth is that the trainer’s job is to give the greyhound ample opportunity, repetitions and time to hone the skills he already possesses, and to nurture the drives and desires the greyhound is born with. We merely allow them to express themselves. We don’t teach them to race and to compete. They already know how to do that. We simply evaluate where they are, physically, mentally and competitively at any given time, and we try to maximize each greyhound’s competitive potential and physical conditioning.

A greyhound who does not wish to race, simply doesn’t race. They either refuse to break from the starting box, or they quit the chase shortly after the race begins. I have never known anyone who could “force a greyhound to run”. Neither has anyone else.

It might surprise you to learn that some great greyhounds, even breed icons like Rinaker and Dutch Bahama, declined to race at one point or another in their careers. And no one could force them to do it. They decided for themselves, if and when they would or wouldn’t. Greyhounds are like that, as many of you may know.

So, contrary to insidious, popular mythology, greyhounds are not forced to run or to race. It is simply impossible for a handler to do that. Period. The greyhounds we see racing on tracks do so because they love to, and as the researchers from Emory University have surmised:
“… experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.”

Inasmuch as that is certainly the case, by whatever mechanism, and has been for hundreds of generations of sporting Greyhounds, it behooves us to ask ourselves what the real “cruelty” is.

Breeding and enabling them to race? Or forcing them not to?

Copyright, 2015