Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Being an Ambassador

When I adopted Argos, I knew that I would grow fond of him, and love him dearly.  What I wasn't expecting is for me to feel the same way about greyhounds in general.  While I will always push friends and acquaintances to adopt their dogs instead of getting them through breeders, and am happy when ANY dog gets adopted, I feel somehow RESPONSIBLE for the greyhound breed.

Which means that I've always got my eye out for potential greyhound adopters.  No, no, I am not going up and down the street knocking on doors, or asking everyone I meet if they would like to adopt a greyhound.  That would be super-annoying, and I would expect people to start to avoid me!  Most of the time, if someone is at all amenable to the idea of adopting a greyhound, they approach me, not the other way around, and I make a point to patiently answer all of their questions.

And of course I volunteer to do Meet & Greets, and do my best to give a good yet accurate portrayal of the greyhound breed to potential adopters.  The term that I've heard used to describe Argos, who is with me throughout all of this, is an "ambassador dog."  People look at him, and how he behaves, and use what they see to help them make a decision.  No pressure!

But that has caused me to start thinking:  yes, people at the Meet & Greets are looking at Argos, and to some extent me, and using what they see to help make decisions, but the same thing happens out on the street, when we take our walks, or out in the woods when we run into hikers or other dog owners.  Since we live in an urban(ish) area, it is nearly impossible to NOT run into people when we go out walking.  So, what can I do to make sure that people walk away with the best possible impression of the breed?  What can ANYONE do to give people a good impression of their dog's breed, without going overboard and being overly concerned about what people think?  

This is what I've come up with so far:

1.  Poop.  Everyone's favorite subject.  Every time I've heard a non-dog person complain about a dog, it's because the dog is allowed to poop on their lawn.  I try very hard not to let Argos poop on anyone's lawn, making him walk between me and that little strip of grass beside the road.  And of course no matter where he poops, I have a roll of little blue bags with which to clean up our mess.  I mean, do I really want someone's most lasting memory of a greyhound was that there was one that pooped on their lawn every morning?  Not exactly an impression that would drive someone to the nearest adoption group, even if it is somewhat irrational to blame the entire breed for the "sins" of one.  

2.  Empathize.  This is where I try to read people as we approach them.  Someone who is interested in Argos will light up when they see him, and usually be smiling and engaged before we even get within petting distance.  But not everyone does.  If someone looks closed, or hesitant, or especially scared, I make a point to shorten his leash, put him on my other side, and make it clear to the person that he's under my control and won't be in a position to bite.  Greyhounds are not known for being a vicious breed, of course, but not everyone knows their breeds - they just see a big dog!

3.  Be Friendly.  While I'm not the type to bound up to people and start conversations, I try to be friendly and approachable.  I've resolved to answer breed questions no matter what, even if it makes me run behind a bit.  Or to at least point them in the right direction.  

4.  Kids.  Children nearly always want to pet Argos, so if I see one of them pining for him, I always offer to let them pet him.  I can't count how many adults have warmed to Argos, and to greyhounds in general, when they see how gentle and friendly he is with their kids.  This is obviously something that you would have to decide for yourself and your dog, on a case-by-case basis.  I feel like I can do this with Argos, because he LOVES children.  I think, in general, he likes them better than he does adults.  Not every dog is comfortable with kids, so this would not be an approach that everyone would want to take.

And that's all I have so far.  I had dreams of a list of ten items, but I guess those four are what I tend to concern myself with on a daily basis.  Any others that you can think of?


  1. Those four things are a good start, and a great way to show people that greyhounds are wonderful dogs. Yours is so beautiful!

  2. We like your list! Argo sounds like a great ambassador for greyhounds everywhere! Our Mama knew a greyhound who would come to the nursing home where she worked. The doggie was not an official therapy dog... she was there visiting a specific person... but everyone sure loved her! Our Mama used to rub her belly for hours! Now Mama wants a greyhound... but not until we have our own place and don't live with Gramma. ;)

  3. I really think dogs in general should give a nice impression to people we meet on the street. This is because so many have the wrong impression. Especially in my city, that impression can lead to a stray dog being hurt.

    I also try to make Aschiuta seem like a good girl, even if her jumpiness and clinginess tend to take people aback.

    One thing people are concerned about is getting their clothes dirty if the dog wants to give them a hug. I don't know if you have that issue, but it would be a good thing to add to the list.

    Keep up the good ambassador work! :)

  4. I agree with your points! We get asked so often that I actually printed up business cards for our blog, and I put the websites of Greyhound adoption groups in our area on the back so that people can look them up if they want to. That way if they ask, they don't have to worry that they'll forget. It also helps in those instances when people really have questions and I'm short on time.

    We also do a fair amount of volunteer work with our hounds. Before they start making public appearances, we do basic obedience with them. I think it's good for a lot of reasons. But, when we're out doing nursing home visits, I expect them to be on their best behavior, and they generally are.

    I also try to take them out with me a lot! The more exposure they get, the more people know about them. If we need dog food, they can go in Petsmart with me, so I'll bring them along. Plus, we try to be pretty active with them on the weekends, so they could be out on the hiking trails or at the dog park or a variety of other places. And I think people need to see that they can go out and be active and do things with them. Just because they're retired doesn't mean they have to spend the rest of their days on the couch! I think people need to see that they can be active companions.

  5. That picture is positively saintly! I love it! Grace defined!

  6. I came over from Houndstooth!

    This is a great post, and yes, though everyone's dog is an ambassador for their breed (in a way) I feel as you do: as a greyhound owner, I feel responsible for the way he behaves in public, and the impression he gives of greyhounds in general. We do Meet & Greets too, and everyone loooooves Sid! Often, he's the only adopted greyhound there, because the charity I work with most often likes to get as many kennel dogs out there as possible. So people can see just how chilled they get, and how soft their fur gets, and how loving they get, once they have their home.

    Good manners and picking up the poop are vital. The other thing I do is to let people know that Sid is a registered therapy dog, at every suitable opportunity - it's a great way to get the message across that greyhounds are a very gentle and loving breed.