How My Greyhound Overcame an Impossible Fear

by Tommy Leung on April 4th, 2018

Greyhounds are a unique breed of dog as pets.

You won’t generally find them at shelters and there aren’t many breeders selling puppies. Although greyhound puppies are just as adorable as any other breed.

Yet many are in need of homes. Most greyhounds are bred for a career as a racer and then retire as house pets. The best way to find one is through a greyhound-specific adoption agency.

A greyhound's whole life before retirement is about racing. They live in a kennel with many other greyhounds. They are never alone. They don’t know about stairs, elevators, traffic, or other norms of life outside the racetrack.

Adapting to life as a pet is a big change.

I live in an apartment building and when I got my greyhound, Otis, he was deathly afraid of elevators. I lived too high up for stairs to be a reasonable alternative. And he wasn’t very good at stairs anyway.

He was scared of the stairwell.

The only way to get him into the elevator was to pick him up and carry him in. Picking him up wasn't difficult but that isn't a long term solution. Greyhounds are large, long, and usually weigh more than 60 pounds. He would also become more scared as he was forced to do something he didn't want to.

The only real solution was to get him to overcome his fears and learn to use the elevator.

It took 2 weeks and a lot of treats but he did it. He now rides the elevators like it was never a problem.

Except is was a problem. And a big one. He wouldn’t even go near the elevator doors in the beginning.

At times it felt like it would be impossible for him to overcome his fear of elevators in those 2 weeks.

First we got him comfortable with just being by the elevator doors. Then we had to get him comfortable sticking his head into the elevator for a treat. Then for him to take 1 step in. Then 2 paws. Then 3. Then all four.

Only for him to immediately back out once he got the treat.

And the elevator doors would close or complain that it was being held for too long. So we had about 30 seconds for each attempt. And if anyone was in the elevator when it arrived we would wait for the next one.

A new obstacle appeared each time progress was made.

But we kept at it. We spent 15 - 30 minutes each time we would go out for a walk or come back. We tried to think of different approaches. Watched videos on YouTube. Read other people’s experiences online.

Progress wasn’t obvious or steady. Some days he would get 4 paws in and others he would only get 2. He never consistently went into the elevator for the entire 2 week period until the end.

That's when we discovered a different strategy.

There was 2 of us and Otis did not like it when either one of us left. So we thought to use his fear of losing one of us to conquer his fear of elevators.

We would try to get him into the elevator with treats as normal and if he didn’t then one of us would just stay in and ride it.

Other residents would get on and one of us would be in there with a Ziplock bag of turkey and no floor pressed. They thought we were crazy.

Otis would whine as soon as one of us disappeared behind the elevator doors. He would become agitated and his ears would perk up. When the elevator came back he would be very excited see the missing person and that excitement led him to walk into the elevator voluntarily.

We did this for a day or two and that was all he needed.

We never knew how far from the goal we were during the entire 2 weeks. It could have been 1 day, 4 weeks, or 2 months. Or he could have never gotten over his fear.

But we really had no choice. Our only option was to keep working at it.

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

- Christopher Reeve, Actor (Superman)

Few things are truly impossible if we believe they can happen. It might feel and appear hopeless when we are in the thick of it but we just have to take it one step at a time.

React to each failure with a new idea and eventually one of them will work. It is always possible that we are just 1 attempt from success. We have to keep trying to find out.

Greyhounds have track names but they don’t generally respond to those names. Our greyhound didn’t know his name so we had the opportunity to give him a new one.

Our building has elevators from the Otis Elevator Company. We decided on "Otis" a week into his elevator conquering journey. We didn't know it would take another week but we were sure he would eventually conquer it.

Naming him after a fear he would successfully overcome just felt right.