Due to their instinct to chase and training for the racetrack, many people are surprised to learn that greyhounds can live with cats and other small creatures, if they have an appropriate introduction and training. HUG has recently noticed an increase in requests for greyhounds that can be adopted into homes with cats, all in Ireland, which is a great sign both for the perceived value of greyhounds and cats as pets. However, it is very hard to assess the suitability of each dog to live in a cat resident household in the normal method of “cat testing” undertaken by most rescue groups. Cat testing usually involves walking a muzzled, leashed greyhound past a cat or into a room with a cat and observing the greyhound’s reaction to the cat. If the greyhound ignores the cat, or appears afraid, they are generally considered to be a possibility, but if it lunges towards the cat, licks it’s lips, growls or shows too much interest, we would generally classify them as having too much prey drive to live with cats. There are many factors that can skew these results however, as it is a very brief introduction for a dog that like likely undergone a lot of changes in a short time, coming out of the racing kennel environment into a completely new world which can be very intimidating and cause behavioural changes. For this reason, many people feel this is not a reliable method to properly assess the ability of a greyhound to live peacefully with cats, where a carefully observed and controlled introduction to a cat, and a programme of reward based training can lead to a much more successful result for a majority of greyhounds.
When I first brought Bella home to Penny, she was quite overwhelmed by all the new sights and smells, so she mostly ignored Penny at first, and although Penny was not well pleased by the whole situation to begin with, her curiosity soon overcame her disgust. Bella was an easy dog to teach, as she was never terribly inclined to chase, so she and Penny soon established a sort of mutual acceptance, never cuddling up together, but tolerating each other, like fairly peaceful siblings.
Despite their positive start, it was a long time before I would leave them unsupervised in a room together, and I always kept an eye on their interaction for any signs of changes in their behaviour. By the time Sweet Pea came along, I felt confident that Bella was very accepting of cats, though a kitten is always a new experience and can be strangely intimidating, despite her small size. What I didn’t expect was Sweet Pea’s instant attraction as she decided that Bella was her new best friend and would curl up with her at any opportunity, which Bella took in stride and never seemed to mind.
Since Bella passed away just over a month ago, I don’t feel ready to adopt again yet, but not having a dog in the house is very strange. With a waiting list of families who are hoping to adopt greyhounds into cat homes, I’ve come up with a plan to foster one HUG dog at a time, carefully teaching them how to live with cats, so they will be better prepared to go to a new home with cats in the family. I’m calling this my Kitty Bootcamp for Greyhounds, with the help of my dog-savvy assistants, Commander Penny Lane and Lieutenant Sweet Pea.
My first candidate is pictured above, little Nicole, a greyhound who was too nervous to race and is still quite young, not turning two until October. Hopefully we can work on improving her confidence as well as teaching her how to live peacefully and safely with cats. Of course there will still be a process of training involved for any family that adopts a dog who will be living with cats, to learn that the cat is part of their pack and should be respected as a family member. Stay tuned for updates on Nicole’s progress in the coming weeks!