Greyhounds were originally hunting dogs because of their speed. Modern grayhound racing traces its origins to coursing. Coursing is the pursuit of game or other animals by dogs that chase their prey with speed, based on sight, not on scent. Coursing was a common practice among nobility and commoners alike going all the way back to the early Greeks.
The earliest attempt at actually racing greyhounds took place in 1876, beside the Welsh Harp reservoir in Hendon, but it did not develop any farther at that time. Greyhounds were imported to America in the late 1800's in order to help farmers in the Midwest control the jackrabbit population.
In 1912, Owen Patrick Smith invented the artificial, or mechanical, hare. His aim was to stop the killing of jack rabbits and to see grayhound racing in the same way that people see horse racing. The mechanical lure made it possible to race around a circular or oval track. The first of these tracks opened in Emeryville, California in 1919. The track was not very successful, but it did pave the way for the start of the grayhound racing industry in the United States.
In the 1920's the certificates system led to pari-mutuel betting. Greyhound racing was then introduced to Great Britain in 1926. By 1927, there were forty tracks operating in the UK. This sport was very attractive to working class men as the tracks were mostly in urban locations and the races were in the evenings. Betting has always been an important part of the event, both on course and off track.
The highest attendance levels were just after the Second World War, when there were up to 34 million paying spectators annually. The sport saw a decline in attendance in the early 1960's due to the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act. However, some television coverage and sponsorship have helped to offset the decline.
Today grayhound racing remains popular in many countries around the world. The main countries are the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. Greyhound racing in each country is regulated by an association, such as the Greyhound Racing Association in the US. The racing industry actively works to make sure dogs receive care and to prevent unlawful practices like doping. Violators are subject to penalties and the loss of their licenses. In addition, many organizations now exist to help with finding adoptive homes for retired racing dogs.