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Greyhounds in Agility

Never say never...

Part of the agility lore is that any breed of dog can do it. While the herding breeds tend to dominate in agility in the UK, you will find more people in The States training and competing their favourite dogs regardless of the breed. Jennifer Bachelor is partial to Greyhounds and she's had quite a bit of success on the agility circuit with them. She's learned a lot from them and she never misses a chance to tell people about them.

Like many other people, I started agility with my pet dog. The dog just happened to be a Greyhound. We had mastered basic obedience and I thought agility looked like fun. 

All of my Greyhounds have been former racers. My first two agility Greyhounds were strictly pets. I did not choose them based on any performance potential. I made a lot of mistakes but have found a lot of joy in the process and eventually did earn a few agility titles. In early 2001, however, I began searching for my next agility dog - a greyhound, of course. This would be the first time I would choose an agility dog specifically for characteristics that I thought would be found in a competitive agility greyhound.

Selecting a greyhound
Agility is a great way for greyhounds and their adopters to bond with them, get some exercise and just have fun. 

I think there are benefits to choosing an adult dog that you do not get with a puppy. A puppy can change so much, but an adult is what it is. You can look at an adult Greyhound and immediately determine the size, soundness and personality you are dealing with. Personally I prefer a small to moderately sized greyhound. My largest Greyhound, Travis, was 69cm tall at the shoulder and weighed about 32kg. A moderately sized Greyhound is going to be able to navigate an agility course and negotiate obstacles more efficiently than a large one.

Regarding temperament, I like a Greyhound that is bold and curious. I do not want to see any fear or shyness when I am evaluating a Greyhound for agility purposes. I prefer Greyhounds that have a lot of prey drive, but if you have a cat or other small pets, you will need something with less prey drive to be compatible with your family. However, just make sure the Greyhound has play drive and an interest in toys.

Lastly, the most important, number one requirement is that the dog is very food motivated. I do not compromise on that. I want a Greyhound that will eat anything anywhere at anytime. If I am evaluating food motivation in a Greyhound, I offer food outdoors. I test to see if the Greyhound will follow the food if I lure the treat away from his or her nose. I am especially impressed if the Greyhound shows interest in the treats in my pocket and is more interested in food than any other distractions.

Overall, I pick a Greyhound with qualities that make a dog easy to train. I am training a personality, not a breed. There are a wide variety of individuals within each breed. Some Greyhounds are very high drive and motivated. My goal is to find one.

Training a Greyhound
Once I have my greyhound, I begin training, using many of the popular training methods. I have been very successful with developing a lot of focus and willingness to respond using clicker training. I am not 100% positive and will gently correct if I am ignored. I usually train contact obstacles with two feet on and two feet off. I have trained weave poles using Weave-O-Matics, channel weaves and guides. The training method depends on what works best for the particular Greyhound.

I tend to use a lot of food when I train Greyhounds. I am generous with jackpots and I use high quality food like a variety of cheese, real meat, canned dog food, and anything else with a strong odour. Eventually my Greyhounds learn that a tasty jackpot follows each agility course.

I rarely use toys as a reward except at the end of a training session. I have not had any Greyhounds that found tugging to be a reward, but instead enjoy running laps with a toy or retrieving it for a treat. Both activities can tire out a Greyhound if you use them as a reward in the middle of a training session and can be counter productive.

Over the last ten years, I have thoroughly enjoyed competing my Greyhounds in agility. We have had fun proving the Greyhound stereotype wrong and encouraging other Greyhound owners to do more with their hounds and to try new things.

Agility offers everyone some measure of success even if your greyhound is not the most food motivated or the most active.  There is much to be learned from every hound, so start by training the one laying on your couch. If your greyhound is more of a troublemaker than a couch potato then you might have the next agility superstar in your house. Often the greyhound that actually needs training is the easiest to train. This type of greyhound is crying for a job and welcomes the challenge. 

About the author...
Jennifer Bachelor
lives near Atlanta, Georgia in the United States with her husband and six Greyhounds. 

She recently started competing her fifth Greyhound in agility. Her dog, MACH Never Had Braces UD (Katie) is the first Greyhound to earn an Agility Championship and MACH2 Never Expected CDX (Travis) is the first Greyhound to earn two agility championships from the American Kennel Club.

Over the years there have been a number of other Greyhounds that have competed in agility, but Katie and Travis significantly raised the bar and proved that Greyhounds can be just as successful in agility as any other dog.

For more information, go to www.neversaynevergreyhounds.net.

Footnotes

From Louise Mallett, Toby & Wilf...
I had been training my JRT x collie with Staffs Agility School for a couple of years before I was brave enough to approach Lorraine, who runs the club, about bringing along our rescue lurcher Wilf.  Staffs Agility has always encouraged everyone and every type of dog to have a go at agility, so of course the answer was yes. 

When it comes to sighthounds and agility there are no rules. Even after six years of training with Wilf, we can never predict how he will behave!  The unique challenges that Wilf has provided us with have not stopped us falling head over heels for sighthounds though.

It is through Wilf that my husband and I found ourselves supporting the charity Greyhound Gap and the fantastic work they do. Greyhound Gap rescues sighthounds and their crosses who would otherwise be put to sleep, providing them with foster and permanent homes all over the country.

The registered charity uses commercial kennels as a stopgap between rescue and new homes, costing Greyhound Gap between 2000 - 2500 per month. This huge monthly cost encouraged the charity to look for alternatives. A commercial mortgage on their own property would cost far less and mean that the hounds would get even better care. The downside to this is the 100,000 deposit needed! Not to be put off the charity recently launched a 'Pound for a Hound' campaign, aiming to get 100,000 people to donate just 1. So far they have raised nearly 17,000 towards this target.

Some of that money has come from the generous agility community, not just those who compete with sighthounds but everyone! I and other Staffs Agility Club members have run fundraisers at the KC International Agility Festival and Dashin' Dogs and contributed nearly 1000 to the pot.

I am hoping that the agility community will get behind our latest fundraiser as part of Pound for a Hound and contribute 1 to put a photo of something really important to them - it could be a dog - on our photo collage.  All you have to do is log on to www.poundforahound.co.uk, pay your 1 and send us your photo and caption. The image will then be put onto our website where you can view it. When we reach our target of 100,000, the collage will be printed and displayed in the Greyhound Gap kennels as a tribute to everyone who supported the great cause.  So far over 400 images have been contributed, ranging from a pile of chocolate to a baby scan and of course many gorgeous dogs.

We have also been fortunate enough to have support of celebrities such as Joanna Lumley, Griff Rhys Jones and greyhound lover Jilly Cooper.  You will have to visit our website and view the collage to find their photos!

If you would like to know more about our campaign or other ways to support Greyhound Gap please log onto the Greyhound Gap web site or email me at infopoundforahound@me.com Thank you! (31/10/09)