Typical walkie

Had a typical walkie with the dogs the other day. Typical meaning that we went to the forest and the dogs ran freely for the whole time. Typical in the way that I walked for a 1.5 hours. Typical that it was over 7 km in length for me.

Typical walkie for the dogs too, if I’m not counting the fact that the three of them who were with me took of to the woods at least three times to chase something I didn’t see. Saw only one big bird which they chased, though I couldn’t but laugh to the poor dogs who still don’t get it that they cannot catch a bird by running.

Untypical, though, because they took off the first time after only 10 minutes of walking. This is the part that scares me: the dogs take on chasing without proper warming up and tear their muscles. That is a lesson I don’t want to give my dogs, for whom the chasing should be fun, rewarding and -during the training season- should only enhance the chasing instinct by not resulting a catch.

Typical walkies this time. 

How is your typical walkies?

The holy triangle for healthy dog

The breeder of our youngest Irish Wolfhound told to me when I was fetching the newcomer to her new home, that the worst hereditary disease of an Irish Wolfhound is it’s rapid growth. Almost at the same breath she told me about the Holy Trinity, which would help to keep the young puppy healthy and safe from other ailments. As I have thought more and more about it, the same trinity actually applies to puppy growing, children and even physical exercise of a grown up.

And training of a runner, be it man or beast.

holy-triangle

It is very simple ideal, but very hard to apply properly. The three most important things to remember when training yourself, the dog or growing an giant breed puppy are:

1. Nutrition

Proper food with proper nutrients. Enough energy to compensate either the need for the rapid growth or the energy depleted in exercise. Adequate amount of protein, fat and energy. What makes this problematic is the fact that every dog is different: the same amount of same food makes one dog gain weight while another loses it. You have to know your dog and monitor it constantly.

2. Exercise

I already touched this subject yesterday and earlier, but I cannot emphasize this enough: the best possible exercise for any dog at any age is to run freely with her mates. They play may seem rough at times, but it seldom goes over. Also the dogs will be able to regulate the strain, resting when necessary. The less we have to force them to move, the better it is for the well being of the dog as whole.

3. Rest

I have crossed this subject many times already, and most probably will, but the dogs know inherently when to rest and when to go on. We have to give the growing pup or sprinting ‘trainer’ the luxury to rest if they think it’s necessary. Also, the muscles and nervous connections grow during rest, so it is more than advisable to have a full day of rest after a hard training or a competition: the less the dog suffers pain from the exercise, the more enthusiastically it will run the next time.

As long as the triangle is served well, the dog will move adequately, digest as much as needed for exercise and growth and rest to repair and grow the musculature. Usually the new Irish Wolfhound owners (and probably to all giant breed owners) are given the advice to prohibit the movement and exercise of a puppy so that the bones and joints don’t suffer any strain or injuries. The funny thing about that is the fact that the bones and joints actually need exercise and adequate strain to develop hard and flexible enough to carry the giant body later on! The bones actually need the ‘gentle beating’ the gallop provides.

Instead of confining the dog inside the four walls, take her out and let her enjoy the life. Feed her the food that suits her and allow her the luxury of rest and solitude.

The dog, afterall, is the man’s best friend. It’s our job to be her best friend in return.

Dog doesn’t need exercise, right?

My wife went to a Match show with our second youngest bitch called Fiona. Fiona is an adorable young Irish Wolfhound with the demeanor of a princess and manners of a queen: she is also beautifull, though yet immature in composition, as she is just a bit short from 2 years of age. She is also a bit shy and doesn’t want to have any stranger touching and meddling with her, so we have decided that she has to train the show side, too.

 

Fiona 3 months in 2007

Fiona 3 months in 2007

Match shows are excellent for that: a dog show in which the breeds are mixed and the main idea is to train both the dogs and the trainers to act accordingly in a real show. So it’s a play on its own right.

And the results are unimportant because of the fact that the match shows don’t hold any official status.

The main thing is that Fiona got a lot of self-esteem and courage from the show, which we saw later that day on our normal walk in the woods. But now I’m going ahead of myself and neglecting the subject.

In the match show my wife had to talk a lot with people interested in Irish Wolfhounds: this is normal, as the breed isn’t very well known nor doesn it exist in very large numbers in here. She told about a lady who stopped her and started the discussion by asking: “That dog doesn’t need much exercise, right?”

She was astounded.

In her own words (later to me when she told about the incident): “Show me a dog that doesn’t need exercise at all”.

Every dog breed needs exercise according to their breed specific and individual need. Whereas a tiny Tibetian Spaniel with arthrithis might get along fine with three 15 minute walks a day, a working German Shepard wouldn’t be able to do it’s work without a several hours of training and exercise in a day. The question sounds absurd in it’s most innocent meaning which I could imagine hearing from a young kid who just wants to play with the dog, inside while it’s raining outside. But from a person in a dog show?

Outrageous.

I have been asked several times after the time our male, Ness, entered the first lure-coursing competitions and started to make good performance time and again, about how we train and exercise him. Thus far I have been quiet about it, because as far as we can see it, we don’t train our dogs at all. We don’t have an exercise plan or anything. So all we do with the dogs goes by what we think the dog needs as a trained athlete to perform in a competition so that it will not get hurt nor feel discomfort while running or after the competition.

Our normal walk in the woods takes something around 2 hours at a time. The dogs run free all the time, finding their own amusement in the bushes, sometimes -if they’re lucky- chasing some deer who come too close by. But they are moving on their own, making their own decisions about speed and distance which they go.

Lately, due to the fact that the first competition of the year for us is the qualifier to the European Masters, we have done some sprint trainings: one of us stays with the dogs at one point and the other walks further for about 200-300 meters off. And the dogs are called to the one standing alone. They take a fast sprint, speeding up to the maximum speed and then slowing down.

And this is only done after about an hour of free roaming, just to make sure that the muscles are fully warmed up and ready for the strain.

It has worked for us so far. 

But still I cannot understand a person who asks the question this lady asked.

 “That dog doesn’t need much exercise, right?”

The most proper answer, I think, would have been that not more than any other breed. Which in itself is pretty much,  really: any dog should have at least 1.5 hours of exercise a day, all put together. That means at least 6 times 15 minutes walkies, if you don’t have the time for any longer. And most of that she should he running free, unleashed, for the exercise to be effective….

Oh, yes, Fiona, who has usually been one of the pack, was actually the one trying to find prey to chase during the whole 2.5 hours walk, even though we had some very hard downhill pulls on them. She still had stamina to play with the youngest of the pack (Duana, 1 yr.) after we came back home, whereas our ‘older’ two decided to rest. She was the active one, full of self-confidence and spirit. 

Just the way I like my Irish Wolfhounds to be on the walkies. Active, keen on everything and moving free.

Not exercising. Nor training.

Moving free.

Evaluation of coursing

Several times, when I have told people about our dog’s competing in lure-coursing, the response has been a bit confusing to me. They are running after a lure, right, but not on a track. Not like the one you can see greyhounds running, or whippets, around the world. The most common response has been that the dogs must be very fast, as people usually think that the fastest runner wins. However, that is not the whole truth, as the dogs are evaluated in five categories and the combined points are calculated to gain the final score of a trial. So the fastes dog doesn’t necessarily win, but the best in all categories.

The categories are:  Speed, Enthusiasm, Intelligence, Agility and Endurance. 

  1.  Speed: The speed necessary to catch the prey. Naturally this means that the dog has to adjust it’s speed according to the speed of the prey and try to catch the lure. The breeds that hunt alone (greyhounds and whippets for example) will try to catch the lure by themself, but the breeds who drive the prey as pack will take their pair as an asset. This will lead to situation in which the fastest dog will not necessarily even kill the prey, but secure it.
  2. Enthusiasm: “Enthusiasm in the pursuit whatever the conditions of the ground (rough or with obstacles) and whatever incidents occur such as overshooting the turns, falling and losing sight of the lure.” This usually can be seen in situations in which the dog loses the sight of the lure, but still continues to pursue it at the direction it disappeared: some dogs just quit.
  3. Intelligence: The ability to read the track, terrain and the position of the other competitor and gain the best possible route to the lure. Especially with Irish Wolfhounds this leads eventually to the situation in which the dog ‘predicts’ the track just by seeing the terrain and guesses where the lure will turn. Usually dogs who have competed -or have been trained- too much in one season are prone to do this. Also working as a team is considered to be intelligent: there is nothing more enthralling than to see a well working pair to switch their lanes to keep the prey from getting away.
  4. Agility: Sighthound’s agility is shown in it’s rapid turning according to the turns of the lure, clearing obstacles and the final ‘kill’, sliding to the lure. Irish Wolfhound, being so big and heavy, this causes some problems as the tracks are usually designed for all breeds from Italian Sighthound to Irish Wolfhound: the turns and twists are pretty steep from time to time for this gentle giant.
  5. Endurance: “Endurance is the ability of a Sighthound to finish its course in good physical condition. It is the end sum of its physical and mental abilities.” Taken into account the fact that Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and Borzois (Russian Sighthounds) have been bred to hunt big game, namely deer, elks, moose and wolves, the track can only be seen as the final stretch of the lengthy hunting trip. 

The quotations are directly from the FCI Lure-Coursing rules, all else is from my personal thoughts about the rules. As I have stated above, the rules are very general and the competitions are a sum of several compromises due to the fact that they usually accomodate several, very different breeds which have very different needs to be rated by their hunting performance.

Currently the lure-coursing track is 500-1000 meters long, usually around 700-900 in International competitions. However, that track is devised so that it can be used for all breeds and thus the amount and cornering of the track is compromise to all except maybe the mid-sized breeds. For smaller ones the straight parts may be too long, and they may well get too much speed for the next corner. For larger breeds, the corners may be too tight and they will overshoot them, maybe even break themselves while trying to follow the lure.

About the ruling, still: there are three judges giving 20 points for each category in each trial. In a competition there are two trials: qualifiers and finals, to which the best of the qualifiers are entered. Usually the dogs who have received over half of the maximum points from the qualifiers are entered to the finals: this means 150 points from the qualifiers. In the end, the qualifier and final points are added together to get the results. Usually the points for the dogs completing both trials range from 350 to 500, with some exceptions, even though the maximum is 600.

As you can see, it’s not easy to explain the competition to a person who knows nothing about it: alone the evaluation of the performance is pretty difficult, and we haven’t even entered the competition yet.

And all this is to evaluate the ability of a sighthound to hunt in a manner typical for the breed.

Go figure.