Greyhound racing in Britain today is a welfare conscious sport for people who love the breed and love watching racing greyhounds enjoying what they are born and bred to do.

Despite the tremendous progress that has been made to raise welfare standards, over time, the tiny minority of people opposed to greyhound racing in Britain have tried to build up myths about the sport. In this section we seek to dispel many of these myths, misconceptions and misinformation about the sport – and put the record straight.

How is a greyhound trained?

Chasing an artificial hare comes naturally to a greyhound. The role of a greyhound trainer is to channel that innate ability and ensure that the dog is kept fit, healthy, happy and mentally stimulated.

A typical daily routine for a greyhound in training is likely to include a mix of galloping, walking or even swimming exercise followed by massage and grooming. In fact a greyhound’s training regime is not dissimilar to that or a race horse. It is of course in the interests of the trainer and his team of staff to look after their greyhounds properly if they want them to form a race-winning partnership.

How old are greyhounds when they begin and retire from racing?

Greyhounds are not allowed to race in Britain until they are at least 15 months old and physically mature. The majority of greyhounds retire from racing between the ages of three and five years – although some continue as veterans as they love to race.

How often does a greyhound race?

Typically a greyhound will race once every 5-7 days.

Do greyhounds enjoy racing? Is it natural for them?

The vast majority of greyhounds have an innate ability to chase. They are sight hounds, built for speed and athleticism. Greyhounds love to run and race and are one of a relatively small number of breeds that are able to enjoy what they have evolved to do. Often you will see a greyhound get very excited and start wagging its tail furiously when it goes onto the track to race.

What do greyhounds chase in a race?

Greyhounds chase a mechanical lure that travels round the outside of the track on a ground rail. The lure is normally either a stuffed toy or a small plastic windsock in a variety of colours. Greyhounds chase it by sight and by sound.

Why do greyhounds wear muzzles when they race?

Greyhounds wear lightweight muzzles when racing as a precaution against injury or should they try and damage the artificial hare at the end of a race. Most greyhounds would only wear muzzles when they race.

How long is the average greyhound’s racing career?

Greyhounds cannot start racing until they are at least 15 months old. Greyhounds usually retire from racing between three and five years of age.

Is greyhound racing safe?

Yes. Greyhound racing is highly regulated to ensure that both greyhounds and public can enjoy their racing safely. Greyhound racing at tracks is conducted under the supervision of a qualified veterinary surgeon that checks every greyhound before it races. Like all athletes, occasionally a greyhound may get injured, and they will receive immediate and appropriate treatment from the vet. The majority of injuries are minor and in many cases the greyhound will return to racing, fit and well, very quickly. Prevention of injuries is a top priority and tracks are built and maintained to keep the risk at a minimum. The sport also invests considerable resources each year in track improvement work and research.

It is possible to show a continuing downward trend in the number of injuries, which goes hand in hand with the investment to improve the safety of tracks. The number of greyhounds coming into racing each year is going down, and this is at the same time as the number of races is increasing.

What happens to greyhounds that don’t make it to the track?

The breeding of any breed of dog is not a mechanical process and nothing is guaranteed. Before the birth the breeder will not know how many puppies are expected or the sex of the puppies or indeed whether in the case of greyhounds, any of the will be destined to race.

Whether or not a greyhound goes on to be successful in racing, eventually, most racing greyhounds will reach a point where they are retired. Sometimes a young greyhound becomes available for rehoming before he or she has started racing. This may be because the greyhound is too slow to race, because he or she is disinterested in chasing the artificial hare or because he or she simply interferes or plays with other greyhounds whilst running on the track. Fortunately, young greyhounds can be rehomed very easily.

What happens to greyhounds when they retire from racing?

Greyhounds make fantastic pets and a very large number of greyhounds that retire each year are rehomed, either directly by their owners and trainers or by a rehoming charity such as the Retired Greyhound Trust.

Some of the best greyhounds will be kept for breeding and some may return to their native Ireland. Others will continue to race on the unlicensed, independent greyhound tracks.

Like people, all greyhounds will be different and a small percentage of retired greyhounds may be unsuitable for rehoming into a home setting. These will live in kennels on retirement. Some may have to be euthanased by a vet due to reasons of temperament.

Why do some greyhounds have bald patches on their back legs?

Bald thigh syndrome is common in dogs with short hair and light coloured skin, including greyhounds. Research continues to be carried out into causal factors but it appears that contrary to belief, it is only rarely linked to a lack of bedding, poor diet, mange, worms, thyroid disease or stress. Many perfectly happy and healthy greyhounds will have bald areas on the back of their legs, in the same way that some men are bald.

How is greyhound racing regulated?

In Britain, the licensed sector of the sport is regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. It enforces a comprehensive set of rules and regulations to ensure the sport meets strict welfare and integrity standards.

Supporting the self-regulatory framework will be a set of secondary legislation pertaining to greyhound racing, under the Animal Welfare Act. The sport is currently working with welfare charities and the government to develop this legislation that is expected to set out in law minimum welfare standards for greyhound racing.

Those involved in greyhound racing must also comply with all other relevant legislation as appropriate. This may include the Gambling Act and legislation relating to liquor licensing at tracks, health and safety and transport of animals.

What are “independent” greyhound tracks?

There are still a small number of “independent” greyhound tracks in Britain that are not regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. These tracks may not maintain the same standards of welfare that are seen at the licensed greyhound tracks. For example, there may not always be a veterinary surgeon present when racing takes place, not all tracks have ventilated kennels and not all greyhounds are permanently identified.

However, the government is committed to introducing legislation in the near future to close this loop hole and ensure that there is one set of minimum welfare standards across the entire sport in Britain. The sport’s governing bodies and animal charities continue to work closely with government to develop this legislation.

What happened at Seaham?

In the summer of 2006 a Sunday newspaper revealed that a man called David Smith had been killing dogs in Seaham, Co. Durham and burying them on his land. Some of the dogs involved were retired racing greyhounds. Whilst some media claimed that as many as 10,000 dogs (including greyhounds) were involved, this has never been substantiated. Indeed, the prosecution during Smith’s subsequent trial on an environmental offence at Durham Crown Court stated that it did not have a figure for the number of dogs involved. Smith denied that the number he killed was anything like that number. Since David Smith’s prosecution, the sport has moved quickly to heavily fine and ban those individuals within greyhound racing found to have been involved.

What is the APGAW report?

In 2007, the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare published a report following its own inquiry into the welfare issues surrounding racing greyhounds in England.

The sport welcomed this report as insofar as anything that aims to contribute to a better life for greyhounds is welcomed. Many of its recommendations are already under consideration by greyhound racing. Many others have been developed in the thorough, independent and objective report by Lord Donoughue.

However, the government is committed to introducing legislation in the near future to close this loop hole and ensure that there is one set of minimum welfare standards across the entire sport in Britain. The sport’s governing bodies and animal charities continue to work closely with government to develop this legislation.

What is the Donoughue report?

In 2007, Government gave the sport clear riding instructions with regard to self regulation. It made clear that it required radical and substantial reform and root and branch changes if the sport is to retain its self-regulatory framework.

Greyhound racing took this instruction on board and the British Greyhound Racing Board and National Greyhound Racing Club jointly commissioned the eminent Labour peer, Lord Bernard Donoughue, to carry out an independent review of the greyhound racing industry in Britain. Lord Donoughue was assisted by Patrick Nixon, Secretary of the Bookmakers Committee at the Horserace Betting Levy Board, Clarissa Baldwin (Chief Executive of the Dogs Trust), Jim Cremin (former Greyhound Editor of the Racing Post) and Jim Donnelly (Head of Sport at PA Sport).

Lord Donoughue’s report was published in November 2007. A full version can be read at www.greyhounds-donoughue-report.co.uk . In summary, the comprehensive report recommended that the sport should remain self-regulated but should create a new single entity to conduct the governance, administration, finance and regulation of greyhound racing. Lord Donoughue also made thirty six other recommendations designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of regulation and raise welfare standards still further.

Is there a case for greyhound racing to be banned?

There is no case for greyhound racing to be banned. It is a sport enjoyed by millions of people each year that involves thousands of greyhounds and that creates jobs for thousands of people across Britain.

If greyhound racing suddenly ended, many thousands of greyhounds would suddenly need to be cared for. Equally, the sport may go “underground” with tracks operating informally and illegally and in those circumstances, there would be no regulation and no monitoring of welfare standards. The vast majority of welfare groups, including the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs Home and Blue Cross do not want to see the sport banned. They all agree, as does the APGAW report, that well regulated greyhound racing is compatible with good welfare.

What is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights?

There is an important distinction between those interested in animal welfare and those involved with animal rights.

Animal welfare advocates may at times be critical of greyhound racing but they are usually very happy to work with the sport and its stakeholders to generate improvements. Much of this work is carried out through the Greyhound Forum. Animal welfare groups will generally issue more balanced, accurate and reasonable literature and will fundraise to benefit greyhounds, rather than to finance protests and political action.

Animal rights groups on the other hand are opposed to sports and entertainments that involve animals, which includes wanting to ban greyhound racing altogether. They regularly confront the sport and refuse to cooperate with it, dismissing and failing to acknowledge the substantial progress that has been made in recent years to improve welfare standards.

Often animal rights groups will promote misinformation that can mislead the public. For example, they may twist or exaggerate statistics to claim that isolated and rare incidents occur on a regular basis. Some groups have in the past used highly offensive and disturbing pictures in their literature that are either NOT taken in Britain at all and are from other countries such as Spain, or are more than ten years old and therefore completely outdated. Language used in animal rights propaganda is often misleading, highly emotive and offensive.

Animal rights groups may engage in threatening or disruptive behaviour. Some may go as far as promoting or even committing criminal acts such as vandalism, but normally they confine themselves to noisy and abusive protests.

Animal rights groups have no interest in entering into reasoned debate. Many have no interest in working with other charities and with the sport to raise welfare standards and help rehome greyhounds. They are a small minority of fanatics who feel they can make their mark on the world by attempting to ban a sport - by making a lot of noise and distributing misleading propaganda. They are not a credible source of information about greyhound racing.