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!