Will greyhounds disappear if racing is banned?

Greyhounds are a truly ancient breed, whose origins can be traced back to antiquity – the first records of them appeared in ancient Egypt around 8,000 years ago, and they are the only dog breed to be named in the Bible – whereas the racing industry itself first began in 1919 in the US, and in 1926 in the UK : a blink of an eye when seen in the context of the longevity of the greyhound breed type. So it would be wrong to assume that racing was ever the ‘original function’ of greyhounds in the same way that, say, sheep herding was for shepherding breeds or guarding for guard dog breeds: greyhounds were instead primarily used as hunting and coursing dogs. 

Bas-relief of a greyhound in ancient Egypt
‘Gray hound’ in a 1658 English woodcut
Detail from ‘the Hunt in the Forest’ by Paolo di Dono known as Uccello (c.1464-1470)
Detail from a panel depicting a Nursing Madonna by the Master of the Embroidered Foliage (Netherlandish, active Brussels, late 15th century)

 Greyhound owners in England began initially entering their dogs into coursing competitions in the 18th century – but racing on circular tracks only developed after the invention in the US of the mechanical lure in around 1912 by Owen Patrick Smith, who opened the first circular greyhound track in 1919 in Emeryville, California and later opened 25 more tracks around the US, from where the idea caught on in England with the opening of the first British track, Bellevue, in 1926.

Prior to the 1920s, greyhounds kept for hunting and coursing were also present inside or close to households, as illustrated through the centuries by numerous depictions of greyhounds in both hunting scenes and domestic settings showing that they were clearly highly valued not only for their hunting and coursing prowess but also as companion animals and often even status symbols, frequently depicted at the heels of members of the nobility alongside their favourite purebred horses. Earlier, the Forestry Laws of 1014 England even made it illegal for anyone outside of the nobility and Royalty to own one.

‘Boy with a Greyhound’ by Paolo Veronese, c.1570
‘Lady Sitting with Two Greyhounds’ by Alfred de Dreux (1810-1860)
Prince Albert’s greyhound Eos with Princess Victoria, by Sir Edwin Landseer (1841)
Portrait of Anna Palmer Draper (1888) by John White Alexander.

 In the centuries prior to the advent of commercial racing, as shown in the vast array of depictions handed down through the centuries, greyhounds had to be tough and able bodied hunters capable of negotiating irregular and difficult terrains. In racing however their requirements developed into something quite different, and over the past century they have been increasingly bred to specialise in running at full speed in a single direction, and  selected for speed without regard for endurance or agility, since track racing does not require the changes in speed and direction needed when coursing or hunting live game over varied terrain. These differences in purpose inevitably led to structural differences between greyhounds used for coursing, modern show greyhounds and those bred for the track.

Vintage photo of greyhounds in the 1920s – probably used for coursing, given the surroundings.

 Over time, as racing gradually became the main activity commonly associated with greyhounds in the 20th Century (in addition to coursing which is still practised in Ireland but is illegal in Great Britain), the breed itself however continued to have a parallel presence in show rings and to be bred outside of racing as both show and companion dogs, both in countries with a commercial racing industry and those without one. So a greyhound type not associated with racing has always existed and actually predates it  – though all greyhound types of course ultimately share the same ancestors. Therefore, there would be no reason to assume that it would not continue to exist, as the continued presence of the show type at least has never depended on the existence or continuation of the racing industry anyway but, like any other breed, on the love of the breed itself and the wish to see it perpetuated.

Show greyhound Broadwater Banker, Crufts winner in 1910

So in that context, without entering here into the differences in type between show greyhounds and racing greyhounds, the answer to the question ‘will greyhounds disappear if racing is banned ? would logically be no – or at any rate they are at no greater risk of disappearing than any other breed of enduring and long standing appeal to match that of the greyhound. 

Indeed, the vast majority of dog breeds were all originally bred for a ‘purpose’ that has long ceased to exist, yet most of these dogs continue to be bred and cherished as pets: for how many Mastiffs are still used as combat dogs in gladiator rings, Dalmatians as carriage dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks as lion hunters, Staffordshire bull terriers as bull baiting dogs, Irish setters as hunting dogs or Pekinese as temple guards?

Even breeds still bred as ‘working dogs’ such as Welsh Border Collies, German Shepherds, working Spaniels and Labradors etc are also bred as pets. With the gradual demise of commercial racing, why should it be any different for greyhounds? In Italy, where greyhounds are not raced commercially and where the last commercial race track was closed in 2002, greyhounds are hugely popular as companion animals and are currently both adopted as discarded ex racers from Ireland and bred as pets within Italy itself.

However, if one were to ask ‘will the modern racing greyhound in the form currently bred disappear if racing is banned?‘ the answer is likely to be less clear cut, as much will depend on the individual countries involved and whether breeders currently breeding racers for the industry would be open to differentiating their source of income by continuing to breed considerably smaller numbers of dogs as pets for people who specifically love the quiet temperament and docility of the breed type, many of whom as rescued dogs have blossomed into extraordinary PAT dogs around the world, gifted at communicating with autistic children as well as the elderly thanks to their gentle temperaments, as well as making great family pets – as anyone who has ever adopted one would readily agree. 

In Great Britain, much would also depend on the situation in the Republic of Ireland, where the majority of dogs racing in the UK are bred (around 83%), and where most of the dogs adopted in the UK originate from. Nonetheless, it would not be implausible to speculate that a phasing out of racing in the UK – and consequently, a diminishing of the demand for racing dogs from Ireland and hence a reduction in the overbreeding taking place there *  ­- might eventually lead to the establishment of smaller numbers of breeders willing to differentiate by breeding for the pet market.

In conclusion, given the huge popularity of ex racer greyhounds as pets throughout the world and the growing awareness of their talents outside of their ability to chase a lure around a racetrack for the benefit of the gambling industry, their continued existence as pets rather than as racers after the eventual demise of the racing industry would logically, according to our analysis, seem no less likely than that of any other breed whose so called ‘function’ has now elapsed.  The answer to the question ‘will greyhounds disappear if racing is banned?’ is therefore highly likely to be no.  

What is certain is that a responsible and phased ban of greyhound racing would put an immediate stop to the unacceptable suffering and premature deaths of thousands of dogs each year, even by the statistics provided by the British racing industry.

‘Elegant Lady Walking her Greyhounds on the Beach’ by Edmond Louis Dupain (1882)

*  Disappearing dogs – Alliance Against Greyhound Racing (


Why is greyhound racing cruel?

  • Racing puts dogs at risk of doping, unnecessary injury and death.  
  • Greyhounds are raced in extreme weather: heatwaves up to 33℃ and harsh winters alike, when pet dog owners are advised to take extra precautions.
  • Thousands of greyhounds are redundant every year. 
  • Thousands of puppies are bred to supply a racing pool estimated to be 16,300 dogs serving 19 greyhound tracks in the UK, which includes Shawfield, Glasgow, where the greyhounds are protected by AHWA (Scotland) Act 2006. 
  • Not all puppies make the racing grade.  There are no statistics or explanations about the fate of failed ‘saplings’. 
  • Greyhounds can be destroyed because an injury is too expensive to treat or because a home cannot be found. 
  • Greyhounds are companion dogs and should not be exploited for multi million pound gambling profits.

Why is the racetrack configuration risky?

  • Any number or type of injuries can occur. Areas of congestion significantly increase risks of high speed, dangerous collisions.
  • Repeated racing on oval tracks in an anti-clockwise direction can bring about injuries in the left foreleg and right hind leg. The left foreleg is the pivot and right hind leg provides propulsion. The dog’s skeleton adapts to the increased forces by resorbing calcium in some areas and depositing in others (‘bony remodelling’).  Bones on the right side are depleted of calcium and still subject to stress increasing the likelihood of fracture.
  • An inquiry undertaken by New Zealand’s Racing Integrity Unit concluded that 68 per cent of injuries, and 75 per cent of fatalities, occurred around the first bend, where congestion is often at a maximum.

More information & references: 


Isn’t greyhound racing unpopular and in decline?

  • True. Track attendances are in decline but that is not the point.  
  • The live streaming of greyhound racing worldwide around the internet and into high street bookmakers relies on thousands of dogs and does not need the presence of punters at the track.
  • More than 5,000 greyhounds race every week to fulfill bookmakers’ contracts daily from early in the morning to late in the evening.

How is a redundant greyhound recorded? What is wrong with the process?

  • A paper form recording retention, transfer of ownership, homing or death of a greyhound is used by the racing owner to inform the GBGB about a redundant racing dog.
  • The form allows healthy dogs to be killed: on “economic grounds”; if “unsuitable” for homing or no home found.  The form asks if the dog was destroyed by a vet and, if not, for an explanation of the circumstances.
  • There are no published uniform behavioural standards supporting decisions about unsuitability for homing.
  • The form is too weak in welfare terms.  It reveals a comfort with permitted killing of healthy dogs within a multi-million pound gambling industry.

How many dogs die? How many get injured? How many get homes?

  • Greyhound racing started in 1926 in the UK. By 2017 the GBGB started to publish ‘retirement’, death & injury statistics.
  • This data is partial, rendering a satisfactory analysis difficult. More comprehensive, transparent data is required. For example, it omits the full number of dogs involved.
DOG RUNS419,385426,139410,607
Hock & Wrist Injuries1,5501,6181,557
Foot injuries8338881,088
Hind & Fore Long Bone148148123
Fore & Hind Limb Muscle1,6501,6251,608
TOTAL INJURIES4,8374,9634,970
% Injuries of Dog Runs1.15%1.16%1.21%
Source: GBGB Annual Injury / Retirement Data
On Track Fatalities257242207
Deaths Due to Injury Treatment Costs370175123
PTS on Vet Advice (off track)142
No Home Found2350
Designated Unsuitable for Homing30719083
No Viable Option Away from Racecourse144
Sudden Death567291
Medical & Other30See Natural CausesSee Natural Causes
Terminal Illness36See Natural CausesSee Natural Causes
Natural Causes2110464
TOTAL DEATHS1,100932710
Source: GBGB Annual Injury / Retirement Data
Retained by Owner/Trainer1,037878783
Homed by Charity/Greyhound Trust5,1844,5884,716
Homed by Owner/Trainer (& breeding in 2017)1,440936679
Breeding/Independent Racing365280
Other (incl. Private Homing Non Charity)62
TOTAL ANNUAL “Retirements”7,6616,7736,460
Source: GBGB Annual Injury / Retirement Data

What is the solution (to end the suffering of racing greyhounds)?

Greyhound racing should be phased out.


If greyhound racing did not exist, what would you offer instead?

  • Virtual or simulated dog racing would work just as well.  It is realistic and used if live racing has to be abandoned.
  • Sample e-racing videos are available on YouTube
  • E-gaming/sports have significant potential to be billion pound industries with revenue for the Exchequer.

How many greyhound tracks are there in the UK?

  • There are 19 tracks regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB); and
  • 3 independent greyhound tracks (also known as “flapping” tracks).   
  • The independent tracks are overseen by local authorities. 
  • Having parallel systems is problematic. The dogs race interchangeably on both sets of tracks.

Who are the key players in self-regulated greyhound racing? What do they do?

  • Bookmakers: offer gambling on dog racing. 
  • Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB): governing body for licensed greyhound racing. Track standards set by GBGB. 
  • British Greyhound Racing Fund (BGRF): collects and manages voluntary levy from bookmakers. In 2019 51% was allocated to welfare.  Sample spend: £1.3m to Greyhound Trust; kennel works at stadia; tractors; starting traps.
  • The Greyhound Forum was set up to improve the lives of greyhounds.  It comprises Battersea, Blue Cross, Dogs Trust, Greyhounds In Need, Greyhound Rescue Wales, Greyhound Trust, Kennel Club, RSPCA, Wood Green, Greyhound Board of Great Britain, the Society of Greyhound Veterinarians.