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The Greyhound

Close-up head photo of a Greyhound.

The Greyhound

(A version of this article previously appeared as several Breed Columns in the AKC Gazette.)

My name is Patti Clark and I have been involved in various aspects of the sport of dogs since 1978. My interest in the Greyhound began almost 35 years ago and, in 1991, I co-bred my first Greyhound litter under the Willomoor prefix with June Matarazzo. Professionally, I have been a clinical microbiologist, laboratory administrator, professor, and dog handler, juggling these careers simultaneously. I have recently retired from the role of full-time laboratorian and have some time to write about the things I love, so let’s get to it!

What Makes a Greyhound a Greyhound?

People often ask why a Greyhound is shaped the way it is and why they look like baby dinosaurs when they themselves are babies. Here is why. The outline of a Greyhound shows us the parts and pieces that allow the Greyhound to do his unique job of hunting and chasing prey of various sizes and speeds, and over varied terrain, for long periods of time. The parts and pieces must come together in a single unit that speaks to balance, symmetry, and oneness. That’s a mouthful, but let’s break it down a bit.

We know from various writings dating back to the ancient Greeks that the Greyhound was used to course a wide variety of game. We know Greyhounds were found inhabiting areas of sand, mountain, rocky hills, and terrain in between. We see in canine art through the centuries that the dogs were used in these places and for these purposes. How fortunate we are to have this documentation of an ancient breed!

So, back to the outline; so smooth and with seamless transitions from head to tail and brisket to loin, often described as the shape of a pair of “S” curves. Our Breed Standard calls for a slight rise over the loin that is both a curvature of the spine and muscling. This configuration allows for the contraction and expansion of the double suspension gait, acting almost as a hinge. No breed does this better, in my opinion; a deep chest that allows for good lung capacity and a tuck-up to the loin that allows the rear and front legs to pull up tightly under the body and then explode out, propelling the Greyhound forward.

A functional Greyhound has a strong neck which transitions into the shoulders, allowing for capture of game on the move. This neck is not only functional but adds to the elegance of this breed with its length and arch. At the other end, a long, sweeping tail that curves slight upward on the move completes the outline. Add to this long legs under the body, forelegs that are as long from the elbow to the ground as the length from the withers to the elbow, and a strong, moderately angled rear to match. Hopefully, you can see a picture of an elegant, functional, well-muscled Greyhound in your mind from this description.

Greyhound Judging Priorities

I would like to focus on judging priorities as seen by members of the Greyhound Club of America’s Education Committee. Contributors include June Matarazzo, Pamela Noll, Cynthia Swanson, and myself. These committee members have over 125 years of Greyhound experience combined and have these thoughts to share. While the term judging priorities indicate that this information is for judges, it is also for breeders, exhibitors, and the public that may be choosing their first Greyhound.

There was total agreement in the first item to be considered and that is the Outline of the Greyhound. The Greyhound has a distinct silhouette, with smooth, flowing curves from nose to tail, including a slight rise over the loin. The Greyhound is both elegant and substantial, with the appearance of great power, agility, and speed. This athlete has an overall appearance of balance, with nothing extreme. Said another way, the appearance of a curvaceous body is the hallmark of the breed. Every good Greyhound is a collection of curves and powerful muscling from neck, topline, underline, front and rear angulation, and tail. All must be curved properly and with muscle. Curves and muscling in the right places are necessary characteristics for this breed to function as the fastest sighthound, coursing after all types of game in all types of terrain. What is incorrect and should be considered faulty? The lack of proper curves, ewe necks, completely level toplines, flatness across the loin, straight up-and-down shoulder angles, forearm assemblies set on forward of the breast bone, straight underlines from brisket to loin, straight stifles and hocks, and a stiff, straight tail are all faulty and should be penalized according to the severity.

Movement. The Greyhound is the fastest of all sighthounds. Greyhound movement is characterized by the double suspension gait, not the trot. That gait is not practical for the ring, so to that end, what should you see at the trot? You should see smooth, long, and low strides with the appearance of moving effortlessly. Movement in the ring must be purposeful, elastic, and light. The topline is relaxed and not rigid. Tremendous reach and drive should not be rewarded. Incorrect movement that can be seen in the ring today includes short, stiff, or choppy strides, pounding on the forehand, single-tracking, hindquarters tucked-under so the dog lacks drive, and a hackney gait.

Balance. Our dogs are called the long dogs and are said to stand over ground. A Greyhound is a rectangle, slightly longer than tall but not a lot longer than tall. A Greyhound should be up-on-leg with a medium-sized body on long, strong legs. A Greyhound with a very long mid-piece, or body mass, compared to his leg length is losing breed type. A well-laid-back shoulder, consistent for a sighthound, with a humerus of sufficient length to avoid the straight-up look, and balanced angulation in the rear are all necessary components of balance. Greyhound angulation, front and rear, is moderate and should never give the impression of being extreme. Evaluating the outline, the movement, and balance, in both what you see on the stack and on the move, tells you what you need to know!

Greyhound Toplines

There are many things that have been said about Greyhound toplines over the years. One of the questions I am asked as the Greyhound Club of America’s Judge’s Education Coordinator is how much topline is too much and how much is not enough. Recently, a GCA member reported to me that a judge told her that her dog, with a truly moderate topline, had too much for her and looked like a Whippet. This leads me to believe that there is a genuine gap in the understanding in this important feature of the Greyhound.

The topline of the Greyhound is all about the curves, from the arch in the neck, through the smooth transition into the withers which should not be steep, into the lumbar vertebrae that start to slowly rise from the anticlinal vertebrae through the lumbar vertebrae, to the croup which slopes gently down into the tail vertebrae. By the way, if you think the previous sentence runs on, it illustrates the continuous flow of the topline of a Greyhound! None of this flow should be abrupt or steep, nor should it be angular or flat. If you dropped an imaginary droplet of water onto the head of a Greyhound, it should flow nonstop from the head to the tip of the tail.

A flat topline can only be met by angles at the shoulders and the croup, disrupting the flowing curvaceous outline. Now, what makes the topline flat on a Greyhound? Usually, it is too much length in the loin or lack of muscling, which is not unusual in puppies. The dogs appear long, even for a dog that is rectangularly shaped, and out of balance. This excess length and imbalance make the dog work harder to propel itself forward in the double suspension gallop. Energy is not efficiently passed from the rear to the front through that short spinous process vertebra, known as the anticlinal.1 This area between the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae is a hinge for the double suspension gallop. Let’s not forget the good muscling of the loin that contributes to the rise over the lumbar vertebrae and assists to propel the dog in the gallop.

The GCA Standard describes the loins as such: good depth of muscle, well arched, and well cut up in the flanks, referring to underline. So, what is the appropriate amount of curvature in the topline? Excessive curvature can be seen on the move. I often refer to these dogs as looking like a croquet wicket, an exaggerated rise over the loin that is immovable as you watch them go around. There is very little flexion in these spines, ruining the smooth, balanced look of Greyhound side movement. These dogs also exhibit too little drive behind.

In a Greyhound that has the correct topline, you will see flexibility in the topline as it goes, remembering that this dog’s working gait is a double suspension gallop. As you assess the dog in front of you, for judging and breeding, ask yourself, “Does this Greyhound look like he could course for hours with the topline that he has? Is he smooth and flowing, with the “S” curves typical of the breed? Does he move with balance and fluidity?” If so, you have a Greyhound with a correct topline and an animal of extraordinary beauty and grace.


1. Brown, CM, “Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis,” Wheat Ridge, CO: Hoflin, 1986