The more you think you know, the more you realize how little you really know. That is a truth that reminds of itself from time to time and makes this hobby with the dogs extremely interesting. It also makes the successes even more rewarding, as you can only rely on the knowledge you have gained and the training you have settled upon.
Earlier I wrote that you can make any dog chase the lure: for some it comes naturally, while others need more work to be ‘lure-fast’. What I didn’t take into the account back then was the mentality and personality of the dog. Sure, the dog will learn how to chase and even kill the lure with simple positive enhancement techniques, and will do the work by herself like an angel. But what happens when there is another dog chasing the same lure, like in the competition?
For Fiona the first competition ever was part success, part failure: the qualifiers she ran like an angel, making a really flashy debut on the field. In the finals, however, the other competitor collided with her and they both quit the chase without completing the trial. The veterinarian in the competition checked her and stated that there were no visible injuries. Nor did we notice anything later on: not even muscle soreness which usually follows this kind of contact.
But this weekend proved us wrong in one sense or another. Fiona started very well, but didn’t chase the lure any further without checking the whereabouts of her competitor. And quit.
Is it mental or physical?
Irish Wolfhounds are known to remember nasty things that have happened to them, and to avoid such situations. Then again, any sane dog would do the same, regardless of the breed, but sighthounds seem to be extremely particular on this. So if it’s mental, it may go with age and positive experiences. If it’s physical, it may go with massage and physiotherapy.
Let’s go deeper into the mentality side. Fiona is very gentle, calm and easy as a dog: one could describe her as being soft. Very soft, in fact. In addition to that, she’s having her spooky age, which has resulted the fact that she cannot be taken into shows: the shuns away from the judge, who in turn cannot evaluate her.
On the track the situation is quite similar: she has had the bad experience of being touched by another, unknown dog in the coursing, and she thinks all strangers are a threat to her. So the game is settled in the start already: one look from the competitors is usually enough to tell the pair who does what and how. Which one is the chaser, which the killer. In Fiona’s case, enough to tell her that she may be in jeopardy.
This is something we are going to treat as a challenge: how to grow a sensitive soft Irish Wolfhound into a competitive lure courser. As far as I understand, it requires some good, positive experiences in the lure coursing, encouraging her to take her position and gain some self confidence. She is just about 2 years old, so she’s still growing, which may have it’s effect on her mind, too.
Anyone happen to know good books or articles about dog’s mentality and mental training?
Last weekend was the first competition I was working in: for two days (and 200 dogs) I was either cheking the identities of the dogs before start or starting the lure coursing pairs on track. What a terrific learning experience as whole! About 200 starts of dogs, qualifiers and finals combined, with all the variety from a clean start to several starts on a trial.
If you really want to learn about lure coursing and how the gear should be, the muzzles and mantles set and how to avoid the common mistakes, go and join your local sighthound club and volunteer for the next coursing event. It’s such a learning experience that you will thank yourself for a long time after that.
What you will see: nervous handlers with patient and focused dogs, anxious dogs with trembling newcomers, excited dogs with very relaxed handlers and all the possible mixes and variations of these! You’ll see excellently fitting muzzles, adequately or poorly fitting ones (which have to be fixed before the start) and speedy changes of muzzles from one dog to another withing the few minutes the returning of the lure takes.
And the best of it all. You will see some fantastic and spectacular performances of the lure coursing dogs of different breeds and for certainly you will learn what is the difference between a mediocre performance and a superb one. And you will most certainly begin to appreciate the variety and difference of the multitude sighthound breeds, and their capabilities in dealing with the chase and the kill. I admit, that this experience has opened my eyes to the whole lure coursing the way I had never expected.
Highly recommended experience. Just remember to take it easy, give ample guidance to the competitors and remain calm when the competitors feel they have been treated wrong – sorry, when they feel that their dog has been treated wrong. That is the job of the judges to take care of, within the rules and such.
And the best part?
You can be of help without having your dog in the competition, so your dogs may rest the day in peace while you enjoy the show. And you will appreciate the people working in the next competition way more than before, making their work as easy as possible, thus speeding up the whole competition on your part!
Off you go!
This competition was also the European Championships qualifier, though it seems that none of these dogs will attend to the European Championship. Due to this status, the competition was coursed by the FCI rules.
The competition was ran on two grassy fields connected by a narrow passage (4-5 meters wide) and a short passage between some woods. The weather was wet as it was raining mildly every now and then, so the field was very slippery and soft.
- Sapwood’s Play of Colours – Fiona : 500, Certificate
- Wusillus Amicus Magnus – Hukka : 266
- Wusillus Animus Apricus – Hilla : 150
- Siofra’s Wolfmann Fairy – Fiona : 60
- Sapwood’s Amusing Autumn – Mimmi: 0
The winner was excellent: fast, agile and very keenly on the lure. In the finals she ran even better to my eye, but the strain of the soft and wet track started to see. Only the two top dogs were in the finals, as the rest of the dogs didn’t achieve the required points. It would be a shame if the winning Fiona wouldn’t attend to the European Championships, as she has all the qualities an European level lure coursing Irish Wolfhound should have.
Our Fiona seems to have suffered on the mental side from her first competition in Lieto earlier this year, where she got collided in the finals: in this competition she ran with Hukka, who is slower. After about 200-300 meters Fiona started to look for her competitor and finally quit, as if waiting for another hit. At least we really hope it is only mental, but with the collisions and falls you never know the depth of the muscle strains and pains until you really have to look for them. According to the competition veterinary there wasn’t any, though, so that’s the ‘expert opinion’ we have to rely on.
This means that even though our Fiona is very sure with the lure and has good enough stamina and fitness, her character is of the softer side and she needs some training to get more sure on herself. I’m seeing this as a challenge: mental training isn’t my strong point, so I have to learn a bit… Which in turn means, that it’s off to the books to learn more about this subject.
Yesterday we did a rehearsal pull to our youngest runner, Fiona: it was just a few meters, but the idea was to teach her to kill the lure and not just neglect it like she did in her first competition. Natural reaction to the lure which just stopped. She jumped over it and went for mommy.
This brought to my mind the age old discussion on how to enhance the chasing -or killing- instinct of a lure coursing Irish Wolfhound. In greyhound side they say that the dog either has or doesn’t have the instinct: you cannot teach it to an older dog, anyhow. While I agree with this in the degree that you cannot teach a dog to chase at older age, at least with the ferocity and enthusiasm a ‘natural chaser’ would have, you can condition the dog to do this.
The best would naturally be to teach a puppy with natural affinity to chase. The puppy should be tested before making the selection, in the puppy bin, to see that it really is interested in the moving ‘prey’ and is hungry enough to do it’s best to catch -and eat- it. Of course, the puppy has to be old enough to see and walk on her own to make this work.
But this is only the beginning: now we have tested the puppy and made sure it has the natural affinity to hunt. The later life of the puppy should reflect to this in a way that the play with the puppy should contain small chases of a rag or something, so that the play would keep the affinity alive. The play should always be stopped at the point when the puppy gets excited. This way the instinct and desire isn’t fulfilled, but the basic need to chase and kill is only enhanced. The puppy will become even more fearce in her chasing and killing, leading to secure chasing and kills at the later age.
Of course, you can always see if the dog is interested in living prey by following her actions at a garden. Or at home. If she tries to catch flies, butterflies or bees, she surely will try to catch the lure! Living, four-legged fly-trap is a sure sign of chasing affinity.
If only it was this easy. The dog may resent the lure with vengeance. For some peculiar reason or another, she may chase it with all the interest in the world only to leave it untouched after the race. It may be the odour (strange, not like home), the feeling it doesn’t reward the ‘kill’ or that catching it causes pain or miscomfort. The last one may be a result of catching a bee or an earlier experience of a competition/training in which the dog has gotten sore muscles or something.
How to proceed from this? The dog chases but doesn’t kill?
Our approach is to use positive conditioning. The action should be rewarded immediately after completing. We tie a treat to the hand lure we have and pull only so that the chasing starts: the dog catches the lure, finds the treat hidden in it and gets an immediate reward for killing it. Next time the treat is tied into a more difficult place, so the dog has to dig -or tear- it out of the lure, making the killing more ‘real’.
But only one pull at a time: the more you do this, the more the dog will learn and the easier she gets bored. Especially Irish Wolfhounds with their big heads (containing at least some brains) get bored so easily, so you have to be carefull not to over exert any training. Too many training pulls, and the dog loses her interest in the competitions. Too many competitions and the dog loses it’s interest to chase the lure: instead it starts to read the field and anticipates the lure movement according to the obstacles.
Our dogs are not stupid: they will optimize their gain from any exercise.
Use that to your training benefit!
Thus far my entries have been pretty much on a topic: this is the first, though not the last ‘diary type’ posting I’ll make in this blog. The reason? I’ve covered the crude basics in the earlier posts, so now it’s time to move on.
Last week was merely recovering our male, Ness, from his paw injury: seven stitches in one toe is enough to keep this guy reasonably still for a couple of weeks still. However, the less he may move, the more he has energy and stamina to actually run! Which makes the normal visit to the yard an adventure at the best, a nightmare at the worst, when he bursts out of the door with the rest of the pack! Then again, when on leash, he acts like the gentleman he is: no pulling, no stretching the handler’s arms.
Due to my work and other activities, I haven’t been on the longer walks lately: my wife, however has done some with the bitches. Much to her annoyance, the girls are even more active than before. Maybe the fact that the ‘alpha male’ (Ness, not me) is lacking gives them the ‘right’ to be more active.
Their longer walk in the forest on Sunday was an excellent example of that. The girls ran to and from for the first two and half hours before they settled even remotely to a ‘manageable pace’ and were anywhere near to be controlled! The leader of this activity was the youngest one, our one year old Duana, who certainly is going to have a some kind of lure coursing/running career ahead of her.
If she stays fit and doesn’t break herself with all the fuzz and fury… But as long as she’s regulating her own movement and exercise, she’ll be fine.
But you never know about the accidents that are bound to happen when the dog’s roam on their own in the woods.
You can only hope for the best and prepare for the worst.