Bringing Your Prison-Trained Greyhound Home
You have just adopted a friend for life. And that friend – let’s call him or her Speedy – is a good citizen by both nature and training. This introduction tells you a little bit about Speedy’s training and how it can be maintained and advanced.
Other Sources and Materials
This introduction does not contain information about the commands themselves, and is accompanied by short videos available from our website (Resources), which demonstrate the voice and hand commands that your dog knows. You may also have received similar instructions at your dog’s prison graduation, or by your dog’s sponsoring adoption agency.
Your New Friend’s History
The Greyhound breed is unique in both its nature and its life history. An ancient sighthound breed, the Greyhound has been bred for centuries for speed and (until recently) eyesight. In nations where Greyhound racing has been common, almost all Greyhounds have been bred for the purpose of sport. In the United States that has meant almost exclusively track racing.
So the odds are that Speedy was bred specifically for racing, and raised and trained from birth to be successful at racing. Of course, very few dogs are successful, and even those have relatively short careers before injuries or younger competition end their racing days. But almost all of these dogs have shared a common lifestyle until they left the track at an age of 19 to 60 months. And that history includes some elements that shape your dog’s behavior, and even how they are trained.
What Your Dog Knew Before Prison Training
As a result of its background, your dog was already comfortable in the company of humans, and is accustomed to being handled by them. Speedy was also accustomed to being fed by people, and rewarded by them for good behavior (mostly winning races). They are accustomed to being transported in vehicles. They have lived the vast, vast majority of their lives in crates in the company of dozens of other greyhounds. This means your dog has been very well crate-trained, which is a short distance from house-trained. And it means that Speedy is comfortable with the company of other greyhounds, which translates in most cases to other larger breed dogs. Speedy was handled by many people for feeding, turnout, nail cutting, training, transport, etc., and thus is likely to allow you and virtually any friendly person to do the same unless uncomfortable in his environment.
What Your Dog Learned in Prison
As noted above, other materials will detail the commands learned. But beyond the commands, your new friend has learned some other things during training.
Because of the way life is structured in the prison, crate training progresses toward house training, but may need some reinforcement in your earliest days together. This includes your bending somewhat toward their ‘turn out schedule’ while adjusting them toward yours. It is best to get this right for a variety of reasons, and one of them is the disruptive affect on other training.
Speedy has also learned to be comfortable with humans in ways he had not been previously. That includes simple things like sharing living space for extended periods, as opposed to being crated and separated from people except during specific activities. So to some extent, your new friend may be comfortable with you when you are seated or lying down with them – but don’t be surprised if they still don’t quite know what to make of that arrangement in your first days together. Again, this type of bonding can also affect how much training and reinforcement you can do at first.
Usually for the first time, dogs in training stayed with people who were devoted exclusively to their care and training, rather than an ever-changing group of trainers and handlers who are caring for dozens of athletes without much time or incentive to be dedicated to a single dog. This means your dog may need a short time to transition from its “inmate family” to yours. From a training perspective, the only association s/he has with training is with a couple of individuals, and s/he may not automatically carry that connection to you as the new owner. This means that it is important to immediately reinforce that you value their competence in performing those commands.
Training After Prison
You may not care that your dog does a perfect and classic ‘heel’ command. Many of us do not – we just want a dog that is comfortable to walk with in many situations. But Speedy doesn’t know that, or make such fine distinctions. He will, however, want to please you. Dogs love to have a job and perform it well. So please don’t wait a month until your dog is wandering around on the leash or starts pulling to try out the commands. He will have concluded by then that you don’t care about the commands. As a result, in his mind, those commands are now ancient history and related to a previous part of life and a different group of people. On the other hand, neither do you want to overstress your newcomer. So it is important to work on commands from the very outset, but work in very short periods of a few minutes at a time several times per day. It is best to work with both voice and hand commands.
Also keep in mind that Speedy actually starts out knowing these commands better than you. And that he is also learning the new family structure, and where he fits, and what is socially acceptable in this new family and environment. If you show happiness, and a reward for a job well done, you will establish expectations not just for obeying commands, but for family life in general.
The more you keep Speedy with you, in as many situations as possible, the more opportunities for training. And if good citizenship is established early in public situations, your dog will thrive and grow and start to learn how to behave even without any commands – but please remember to reinforce with your happiness and rewards. Try not to postpone these opportunities – you may find that your dog actually performs better in public; and it may be partly because you (and others) show your pleasure with them more quickly and easily in that setting.
What Your Dog May Not Know After Prison
Unless Speedy has been fostered in a home, he will know nothing about a household. He has lived in a kennel and/or prison setting until now, operating on fairly strict routines in confined places. In most cases, every morsel of food seen has been expressly for them. So you will need to teach Speedy that is no longer true.
Walk your greyhound on a leash when you first arrive home as you introduce them to your home. Tap on the sliding glass door to help them figure out they cannot walk through the door. Use sticky notes or plastic decorations at eye level so they can figure out when a sliding glass door is open or closed. Ordinary household items such as televisions, laundry appliances, dishwashers, disposals, vacuums, etc. may frighten newly adopted dogs. Plants, certain furniture, and certain carpets may look like ‘outdoors’ to them, and up till now, most time they have been free and off leash has been ‘turn out’ time, so keep a close eye at first, and make frequent trips outdoors to avoid a first mistake, as that can have an adverse effect on training as well as other things.
Remember that your new friend doesn’t really know you or your family or your house very well, either. But Speedy will quickly learn that you are the center of his new life. At first, he may be ‘clingy’. This is actually handy, since you are going to want to keep a close eye on him in his new surroundings. Dogs in general, and certainly Greyhounds, seem to like to be talked to. Talk to them just like you were teaching them things about their new surroundings by voice as you move around your home and neighborhood – they will learn your voice, and that you are paying attention to them, and mostly importantly that you expect them to pay attention to you. Throw in a command every once in a while, and reward Speedy’s response.
Normally, the best time to rename your dog is directly after his arrival. However, in the case of a newly-delivered prison-trained dog, you may want to defer. The reason is that the training necessarily is associated by name (see the article and video on commands to see how to use the name). It is more important, in this case, for you to keep some continuity and establish that commands, and training in general, are something you care about. Once you are comfortable, if you still object to the current name, just start using the new name and old name together on commands, substituting “Speedy – Fred” for “Speedy”. Gradually, you can phase out “Speedy”. It can help if, after a few days, you start just using “Fred” when you are just talking as opposed to giving commands.
Rewards and Treats
Dog Treats were used during the prison training program. In general, treats are used more frequently in early training, then gradually reduced over the training period. This is similar to many other training programs. You have your choice in using treats when training. But following the same basic pattern is recommended. Let your new friend see that you are interested in his commands, but gradually reduce them to occasional so that he is not responding only for treats. Remember that dogs like having a job and doing it well for you.