WHY WE ARE AGAINST BOTH COMMERCIAL AND AMATEUR DOG RACING AND ANY FORM OF COURSING
There’s a question that reappears on a regular basis, like the seasons, on the pages of greyhound and sighthound groups, and that is whether it is right or wrong to run sighthounds on amateur race tracks. In other words, apart from betting, whether racing greyhounds (or other sighthounds) is wrong in itself.
I believe the answer to this question cannot and should not be ideological, i.e. based on morals or principles, of the kind “a dog who has run all his life up to now is entitled not to have to do it anymore”.
And I don’t even think one can rely on one’s own experience, as experience in itself does not necessarily make one wise, even though it’s helpful.
I believe that the right question is whether it’s good for our greyhounds to run on a track, from a physical and mental health viewpoint. And I think the answer must be based on reason, facts and the nature of greyhounds and track racing.
If we look at things from the point of view of physical health, it’s a definite no: track racing is by its very nature dangerous.
I’ll clear up a possible misunderstanding on this point straight away: some people could say that even running free in a field could be dangerous. True, but it’s a different kind of danger. What counts here is the risk that the dangers may turn into injury. Now, the risks for a dog of running on a race track far outweigh those of running in a garden or a field.
The reasons for this are well explained by the trainers themselves. Darren Morris, in ‘Training and Racing the Greyhound’ writes that greyhounds are animals capable of reaching nought to maximum speeds very quickly, and the possibility of warming up beforehand is very limited. This subjects their bodies to huge stress, compounded by two factors: the shape of the tracks and the competitive nature of racing.
With regards to the shape of the tracks, the dogs reach the first bend at maximum speed and this is incredibly dangerous. In fact, this first bend is often lethal. Also, dogs running at top speed after the mechanical lure run side by side, and the slightest contact at top speed can have lethal consequences.
All this without even considering the condition of the tracks and the physical shape of the dogs: but we’ll speak of this later.
Now these problematic aspects are also present in amateur racing, generally. The dog doesn’t know there aren’t any bets being placed on him, he just runs like mad after the mechanical lure.
Enthusiasts of amateur racing argue that their dogs are trained, but this argument is counterproductive for the fans of amateur racing themselves, because actually the dogs in commercial races are highly trained. Trainers have many faults, but they know how to do their job, precisely because it is a job for them. Racing greyhounds – in countries where there is a racing industry – are “athletes”, and although sometimes they may be trained by improvised characters, they are more often trained by professionals. Not very sensitive, perhaps, but very competent.
From the viewpoint of psychological wellbeing racing has no benefits either, on the contrary. Speaking of rescued sighthounds, whether greyhounds or galgos, these are dogs with a highly developed predatory drive. And if they have been raced they also have a highly developed competitive drive. Now, both of these motivational drives are harmful in the kind of home environment offered by adopting families. Dogs whose predatory instincts are too strong or who are extremely competitive can encounter big problems when settling into an environment where other types of motivation are positive, like collaboration. A dog who takes off like a shot after a cat or a small dog is a problem, as is a dog who competes, instead of collaborating with other dogs or with us.
Some people say “but the dog is happy when he’s racing”, but that doesn’t mean anything. Even a dog who kills a cat can be happy, but we don’t think that this kind of happiness is desirable. Apart from anything else, everything that satisfies a motivational drive brings happiness, so if happiness were the problem we should leave our dogs the freedom to do anything they wanted to do. My dogs are happy even when they eat beyond any limit, but allowing them to eat beyond any limit is wrong and is not desirable.
Certainly there are so many ways to make our sighthounds happy, much healthier ways than racing them on a track or getting them to participate in a coursing competition. We can take them for nice walks, we can let them run in freedom, we can enrol them in agility workshops, also outdoors in nature.
Generally, we can do so many wonderful things and above all we can do these activities with them, participating in their experiences instead of making them run after a mechanical lure while watching them from a distance, like we watch Formula One racing cars.By Massimo Greco (translated by Isobel Deeley)
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