HOW TO SPEAK GREYHOUND
Your Greyhound is always communicating with you. Human communication is mostly verbal, and while some Greyhound communication is vocalizing, much of it is body language. In any case, you will want to pay attention to the whole dog: body language gives the vocalization context. Here is some inside information that may help you understand your hound better.
Greyhounds are very quiet as a rule, although some do bark, particularly after they become comfortable in their new home. You may hear a bark when they see a person or animal going by outside. They may learn to bark at the doorbell, especially if another dog in the household does it. Then you can get a bark if they want something – this is usually accompanied by a direct stare, perhaps a lowered head and stiff posture. To figure out what they want, ask yourself, is it dinner time? Is it treat time? Do they think it’s time for bed? Or is someone already in their bed? Or does someone have a toy they want, or did they throw their toy under the sofa again?
Greyhounds seldom bark to go outside, but if they are also standing by the door, take the hint! Most often they will ask to go out in very subtle ways – staring at you intensely, as though waiting for your ESP to kick in. Or perhaps, they will whine or pant and look at the door then back at you. We always had the best luck just letting them out or going for a walk on a regular schedule.
Greyhounds don’t growl often. When they do, it can mean several things, so we need to consider the whole of their body language to figure it out.
First, the growl can mean that you have invaded their personal space. You may have disturbed him while he was sleeping or dozing. Believe it or not, Greyhounds often sleep with their eyes open. You may think the dog was awake, but he was in fact not awake. The phrase “Let sleeping dogs lie” certainly applies here. If you think he might be asleep and you need to approach, speak his name in a firm friendly voice to wake him before touching.
Generally, Greyhounds love physical contact with their people (aka “Velcro Syndrome”), but sometimes they may issue a warning growl when hugged or when touched in a certain spot. Their head may be lowered, and they may be giving you the “Stink Eye” (white showing below the irises). They may have an old injury that no one is aware of, or maybe arthritis is taking its toll on some part of their body. Pay attention to which spot elicits a reaction – either a growl or even just eyes darting to the side - and try to avoid that spot if possible. If the sensitive area is face, feet, or ears, you can try to gently condition them to being touched in these areas. Start slowly by just putting your hand in the vicinity for a few seconds, then take it away and give a treat. Repeat several times. Next try touching very gently for just a second, take your hand away, and treat. Gradually increase the time you are touching the spot, but always stop if it distresses your hound.
When it’s time for fun, you may hear the play growl. This is commonly issued in combination with the play bow – a clear invitation to play. This can happen with people, other dogs, or even with just a toy! In addition, sometimes you will hear this vocalization when they want your attention – in combination with tail wagging, staring at you, and maybe even stamping feet!
MOANS, GROANS OR WHINING
You may sometimes hear a moan or groan. If it happens while getting ear scritches, you know that signals pleasure. Likewise if that noise escapes your hound who is settling into a nice comfy bed or the sofa.
It could signal discomfort or pain, however, if it happens as they are getting up from their bed or the floor. This is cause for concern and you will want to keep an eye on this and maybe even consider a visit to the vet if it continues.
Whining means your Greyhound is trying to tell you something – they want something (begging for a treat?) or they are having pain. It could also be that they want you to stop doing something you are currently doing. You need to be a sort of detective sometimes!
Not all Greyhounds do this, but if yours does and you are not prepared, you are in for a surprise! Greyhound lovers call it the “Roo”, but it is a type of hound howl or bay. It is also called “singing” or “siren”, maybe because sirens have been known to set off the behavior. The most common time it occurs is when a group of Greyhounds are together. It just takes one to start it off, then most follow, joining in “ArooooooooOOOOOO”. It is a basic means of communication for dogs, most likely confirming companionship. They do not use this sound to find each other, nor to alert that they are on the trail of game. To me, it was one of the highlights of the Reunion picnics the local group had (and hopefully will have again soon). You can find clips of examples on You Tube. If you play one with the sound up, it will most likely prompt your houndie to join in if they are “Roo-ers”.
Many Greyhounds are Drama Queens (regardless if they are male or female). The Greyhound Scream of Death (GSOD) will curdle your blood and make you come running to see who is getting killed. Often, it is a dog who “thinks” it is going to get hurt, witness Jacki during nail trimming. It is of course good to check it out, just in case, but the majority of the time, it is not a life-threatening injury (thankfully!).
COMMON BODY LANGUAGE
Greyhounds speak with their whole bodies, not just by vocalizing. We need to tune in to their wave-length to understand what they need or want and to avoid misunderstandings. The Five Cues that we need to interpret canine body language are Posture, Tail, Eyes, Ears, and Mouth.
The most common posture for Greyhounds is a relaxed stance, tail loosely down, maybe wagging slightly, ears folded close to the head, eyes soft and mouth closed or open slightly seeming to “smile”. This is your normal happy Greyhound.
Many Greyhounds excel at leaning. Greyhounds usually desire to be close to their people. They like to show their affection with their whole body by touching you. They might spend most of their time curled up against you or leaning their weight against you. People who have never met a Greyhound before and are leaned upon by a dog they don’t know are usually entranced. It’s the Greyhound version of hugging!
Be careful of a stiff posture; this can be the beginning of aggression or dominance. The body will likely be erect, the legs stiff and slightly spread apart and ears up. The dog probably isn’t going to attack; it just wants you to know that she is there, is on alert, and is something to be reckoned with. He – or she – is more likely saying “Hey, look at me” in an uncertain situation. Aggression is not common in Greyhounds, but it does happen. The body will be held with quite a lot of tension and the dog will try to make itself as tall as possible. The animal will usually be very still initially. The hackles may be raised.
Another show of dominance (and this can be with people or other animals) is the paw on the shoulder or other body area. It can also mean “You are mine.” Just be aware that there may be some jockeying for alpha position going on here, above and beyond affection. Sometimes it’s very obvious: we had a female Greyhound who “claimed” her brother by standing over him as he was lying down outside. He was fine with it (what a mellow boy!)
Nervous greyhounds will tend to tuck their hindquarters under giving their back a curved appearance.
Submission: If your dog won’t look at you, lies on his back and shows his belly, urinates when he sees you, a visitor or an animal, he is being submissive. Be patient; time usually cures this when the dog becomes more trusting. This lying on the back is not to be confused with “roaching”.
Sometimes Greyhounds can have a silly way of lying on their backs with their long legs pointing out at weird angles. Not all Greyhounds do this, but if yours does, that means he is happy and trusts you. It’s called “roaching,” after the resemblance to the appearance of a dead cockroach. If they are roaching with one front leg straight up in the air, that is a “flagpole”.
A relaxed or confident Greyhound will commonly wag its tail in greeting. The tail will be held away from the body either straight out or raised slightly. A wagging tail tip held low means the dog needs comfort and is being submissive. If the dog is nervous or fearful, the tail will be lowered and even drawn between the back legs. If the tail is wagging stiffly, straight out or raised, this could signal aggression, so be careful.
Greyhounds stare as a major form of communication. You may have heard or read that canine staring is aggressive or confrontational. Greyhounds are sighthounds, or “gazehounds”, so staring is a big part of their nature so they can be communicating many things with different types of stares. Staring is a Greyhound’s way of starting a connection, bonding with you, and maintaining that connection with you over his lifetime. Many owners say your Greyhound stares at you because he loves you, and that’s true, but that soft, adoring look is only one type of stare.
One type of Greyhound stare you will see many times a day is The Request. This is a hard stare, often in the direction of what they want. Greyhounds are generally very well behaved, but when they are not, it could be because your dog has made The Request, or multiple requests, which have gone unheeded. The dog becomes frustrated, and mischief can ensue. You will find something shredded, or worse, a puddle on the floor. To figure out what he wants, try to do the exercise as above in the “Barking” section.
Your Greyhounds like to watch you, and gauge your moods. If you are the type who gets impatient about life’s little trials, your hound will gaze at you sympathetically, hoping to soothe you. Same if you are feeling under the weather.
The Babysitter: Greyhounds are good with children! If your pup appears, and stands there, alternately staring at you and back in the general direction of your child, you may want to check on that. Yes, your Greyhound may very well tattle on your children!
The Stink-eye: You know your Greyhound is unhappy when his head tilts down, but the eyes are locked on you, and he stands very still. Something is not right. It’s usually not hard to figure out; the answer may be as close as the empty water bowl, or the fact that you have not left enough room for him to sit next to you on the sofa. This is similar to the Whale-eye (looking at you, whites showing below the iris, head tilted down). The Whale-eye when his head is tilted up and away from you means “I’m not doing to do what you want me to do!” i.e., not taking that pill!
The Thousand-Yard Stare: watch out! Greyhounds are extremely amiable animals, but any dog has the potential to lash out. When your Greyhound stiffens and stares hard at a small animal or a cat, watch out! That’s his prey drive kicking in, and your Greyhound is playing for keeps.
The dog that won’t look at you at all is showing you submission. This is the look of the recently-adopted Greyhound who doesn’t know you or where it is living and is still nervous about its new life. Be kind but firm with this dog.
The average Greyhound has ears that hug the head for aerodynamic reasons. Their ears do, however, do many tricks. They stand straight up like the Shepherd or Doberman; they go out like your average mixed breed; they go back tight to the head like a normal Greyhound. And, often one ear will go one direction and the other in a totally different direction and position. All the better to listen to two things at once!
If a Greyhound’s ears are straight up or out, it is listening, versus other dog breeds which may indicate aggression or dominance with ears held in this position. The Greyhound is far more likely expecting something, like a treat or a trip outside.
When a Greyhound holds its ears folded back close to the head, it is showing its normal ear position. Greyhound ears don’t give the same clues as do other breed dogs. A set of ears held low with head down is showing tension or anxiety.
The Greyhound smile is beautiful and varied. Some actually pull their lips back and show you a disarmingly human type of smile with teeth together. A few lift their upper lips and look so nasty you’d swear they about to bite you. They’re not unless you have good reason to believe something is wrong. They’re actually smiling! Other smiles look like panting, but there is no hard breathing.
Smiling can mean submission. But for Greyhounds and some of their sight hound cousins, smiling is an art form. A smile means just that; a smile. Normally, when a dog shows its teeth, it is assumed there is going to be a snarl. Not with a Greyhound.
Chattering is a lovely little movement when the lower lip/jaw vibrates very rapidly. This is anticipation/excitement and happiness. Teeth snapping and clicking, also known as “nitting” or “nittering”, is an unusual Greyhound behavior that is telling you how happy it is to be with you. No, your pup is not trying to bite you! Sometimes, it means “How about a cookie?” or “Let’s go!” And, if she clicks or snaps at your hair or throat, it means “I love you.” The click/snap is actually a replacement for the lick; most Greyhounds don’t lick their people.
Grinning (not snarling) donates a facial expression shared with other breeds but also frequently misinterpreted. Grinning is usually a submissive expression although it looks very much like a snarl. The clue is in the rest of the Greyhound’s body language and the circumstances surrounding this. Sometimes, however, these traits don’t appear till the Greyhound has been in their new home long enough to be settled and relaxed.
If you see that a dog’s pupils are dilated, if the corners of the mouth are down and the tail is now still and straight out, watch out; you have a dog about to attack on your hands. (The hound may also be drooling at this point.) If this happens to you, do not stare at the dog. Back away slowly and sideways. At this point, the tail will be held out stiffly; the tail is not wagging anymore. If this happens and is directed at a cat or other small animal, separate them quickly and be sure the dog is on a leash.
Hopefully, you can take away something helpful from this information. The number 1 tip I can share is just pay attention to your whole Greyhound, and you will soon have insights that you didn’t have before.
If you are interested in reading more about canine-human communication, try HOW TO SPEAK DOG by Stanley Coren - Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication. On sale now.