Judging guidelines

Finland has made several suggestions and propositions to Commission des courses de Lévriers (CdL), Commission for Sighthound Races of FCI. Among these propositions have been such diverse elements as safer pulleys, muzzles and judging guidelines. As it happens, the judging guidelines Finland has been using for some years in national level have been approved to CdL rules as an addendum.

The guidelines are ‘specific’ representation of how a dog should behave to get certain amount of points. It clearly states the quality of the dogs performance in the trial, all the way from failed to exceptional (certificate level) performance in every judging category. These guidelines were approved in unison by the CdL delegates in their meeting this summer, to the amazement of all Finnish people, who have been working with the proposal.

The categories and their point values are as follows. The descriptions of the categories are the same as I have earlier described.


Speed

no points runs so little that it cannot be judged
1-5 points chase is lazy and not full speed
6-9 points speed is slower than the average for the breed, no rhythm changes
10-14 points dog runs the whole course with typical gallop for the breed, speed is at least the breed average (acceptable result)
15-17 points speed is significantly faster than the breed average throughout the course, including also clear rhythm changes
18-20 points speed is top quality for the breed, including fast rhythm changes according to the situation

Additions:
When judging the speed the breed characteristics should be taken into account. All breeds do not reach as high absolute speed as the others. Greyhound is showing specifically extremely strong forward directed absolute speed. Chart Polski is similar but a bit slower and so are the Deerhound and Galgo Espanol. Whippet is also showing explosive starting speed and fast rhythm changes. Saluki is also fast but the speed appears to be not so strong, instead it appears to have a bit lighter and really durable gallop. Borzoi shows its speed as rhythm changes when it gets close to the lure, otherwise it should move forward with long, ground covering leaps. Azawakh and Sloughi are little slower than Saluki, they have little shorter body and because of that their gallop is not as open.

Follow

no points runs so little that it cannot be judged or it does not follow the lure at all
1-5 points runs without enthusiasm, follows the lure only occasionally
6-9 points follows the lure, but does not try to actively catch the lure. Reacts slowly to the movement of the lure
10-14 points follows the lure for the whole course, reacts immediately to the movement of the lure
15-17 points follows the lure precisely and tries to make “jump to kill” immediately when it gets close to the lure
18-20 points tries actively and aggressively to catch the lure throughout the chase

Additions:
Credit single minded interest towards the lure – dogs which above all keep their eyes on the lure through turns as well as on straight parts of the track. Also credit dogs who really try to catch the lure and not only chase it. Do not credit a dog because it barks and jumps in the starting position. Credit a dog that go after the lure without making great assumptions as to where the lure will be traveling (course wise running).

Enthusiasm

no points chase is coincidental and colliding, or the dog following only the pair
1-5 points the dog does not have skills to use the terrain, the rhythm is disturbed by the variation of the terrain, collides with the pair and obstacles
6-9 points the dog does not have skills to use the terrain, the rhythm is disturbed by the variation of the terrain, however it is not colliding with the pair or obstacles
10-14 points the dog is able to choose the easiest chasing lines and can fit the running rhythm to the variation of the terrain
15-17 points the dog is able to use the terrain to reach the best position to catch the lure
18-20 points the dog tries to force the lure to the open terrain

Additions:
Credit single-minded interest towards the lure – dogs which above all keep their eyes on the lure through turns as well as on straight parts of the track. Also credit dogs who really try to catch the lure and not only chase it. Do not credit a dog because it barks and jumps in the starting position. At the start: By its concentrated attention. By fixing its eyes on the lure. When in pursuit of the lure: By its permanent drive on the lure, forcing the operator to accelerate the lure to avoid a take before the end of the course. By jumping an obstacle cleanly, without hesitation of an obstacle. By its desire to return to the lure if it gets left behind. At the take of the lure: At full speed. By tackling the lure with a sliding take. By its attempts to catch the lure, even when it has been taken by its opponent.

Agility

no points runs so little that it cannot be judged
1-5 points running is uncontrolled
6-9 points with increasing speed and in more difficult terrain, the dog cannot keep its running rhythm
10-14 points the dog controls its run through the whole chase
15-17 points when the terrain is varying the dog can quickly switch between running rhythms
18-20 points the run is not disturbed by the terrain variations and obstacles

Additions:
Credit dogs that are able to change direction quickly and efficiently especially evident in the turns. Also watch the action of the running dog – credit those that run with no wasted motion in their forward drive (often low, powerful and with great force in each step).

Endurance

no points the dog does not start at all or it discontinues quickly
1-5 points the dog does not run the whole course
6-9 points the dog runs the whole course but the speed slows down at the end and it hardly finishes
10-14 points the dog runs the whole course without slowing down notably (acceptable result)
15-17 points the dog runs the whole course without slowing down and is capable of rhythm changes also at the end of the chase
18-20 points the dog runs the whole course aggressively and does not show signs of tiredness even at the finish


Now we have detailed point explanations, by which we dog owners can ‘evaluate’ our dogs performance in trainings and walkies!

Pack coursing

Two years ago the pack coursing became an official lure coursing trial here in Finland. This year marks the first pack coursing championship trial in here, with the crowning of first working class champion in pack coursing! Which means that this dog, Sharraque Asvinn, has competed in five pack coursing events since the ‘birth’ of this trial. Not a small feat, as it means that the dog has been part of a pack getting a certificate in almost – if not – all pack coursing trials held so far!

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Finnish Champions in Pack Coursing 2016. photo by Berit Fagerström-Heinonen

First Finnish Champion pack in pack coursing consisted of Rhodesian Ridgebacks TARUJEN YATZYOZRHODE TRY AND STOP METARUJEN XANDRA. Congratulations to the pack and their owners!

Photo totally ripped off from the event’s Facebook page.

Some explanation may be in place about pack coursing.

The basic idea of pack coursing is to simulate ‘typical sighthound hunting event’ as performed in Russia, for example. It is not one dog, which is hunting, but a pack of three to five dogs hunting simultaneously. They try to circle, steer and capture the prey working together.

In the pack coursing trial the pack consists of three dogs, which have to come from the breeds entitled to compete in lure coursing. The dogs themselves are not evaluated as individuals; instead, the pack is evaluated as one. There are no disqualifications: if the dogs attack each other or otherwise ‘ruin’ the trial, the pack’s result is voided.

In pack coursing the dogs are evaluated by three judges and the criteria are:

  • Behavior on leash
  • Speed
  • Co-operation
  • Enthusiasm and following
  • Agility
  • Capture
  • Behavior off leash

The points are biased so that behavior on and off leash is only 5 points maximum, while co-operation is worth 30 points at most. Speed and capture are worth 20 and agility and enthusiasm/following worth 10. Maximum points for one start is 100 per judge, making total for two starts 600.

The biggest responsibility for a good to excellent pack performance is actually on the dog owners: to find the pack which actually works together during the chase. There have been quite a good selection of different sighthound breeds attending to the trials so far, ranging from whippets and medium sized Podenco Portuguese up to deerhounds and Irish Wolfhounds. Lately Saluki’s have been dominant breed in the events, but Rhodesian Ridgebacks have always been good performing breed.

And this time they really took it all. Congratulations once again!

Edit: Forgot about this wonderful video a pack coursing judge Jyrki Siivola made a while back. It explains the whole pack coursing thing in full. There have been some changes to the rules, so it is not quite up to date, but the basics and judging are correct!

 

At the side of the field

Summer is almost gone and only one of our dogs has run during this time. First the winter was at the extreme cold, preventing us from even the normal walkies. Then came the spring with sudden heat wave, which was continued for the best of the summer. In between freezing cold and simmering heat our ‘old lady’ had her season, disrupting the promising start. And finally, when our youngest took her first trial in the lure-coursing, her season started at the site!

Despite of having no luck in having my own dogs running, I have been in several lure-coursing events, working. Doing this and that from the office work to designing the track. I have also been running the weekly lure-coursing training in the club I belong, so I’ve seen quite a few dogs run.

At one point or another the question arises, why do I find myself at the side of the lure-coursing field time and again, even without my own dogs?

I have found several reasons, actually.

  1. Like every good hobby, you start to yearn for more as you learn more. After seeing how our male performed on his first two seasons, I wanted to see how it looks like when the dogs run. How the judges see it, how the pulling machine operator sees it and how the view differs. Then I was doing things in the field, working in the start, checking dogs gear and working in the office. Now I have started my price judges training, part of which was the track master training a couple of weeks ago.
  2. The people involved in the arranging the events are like-minded. This means that it’s easy to co-operate with them, as all have the same aim: to create an event in which the dogs and their owners enjoy being.
  3. The dog owners, especially the newcomers to whom everything is uncertain. “This dog is first time lure-coursing, so he may not run the full track” is the most common phrase I’ve heard this summer in the club training sessions. Guess what? Every newcomer has run the whole training track, with enthusiasm I hope remains when they come to official lure-coursing event!
  4. Last but not least. One excellent performance of a dog or a pair in which the dogs fly after the lure like well oiled machines, only one thing in their mind, to catch the lure and kill the prey. There is next to nothing to compare with that sight, and its only once or twice in a lure-coursing event that you see such a performance.

As a novice (who has had some luck in the beginning, admitted) all I can say that if you haven’t participated in a lure-coursing event as one of the people arranging it, you have missed a great big part of the thrill. When you see the dogs run from the judges point of view for the first time, you will not see how the judges can separate the dogs from each other, but the later views will open your eyes to the finesses the judges have to deal with.

The mastery of any hobby lies in the details and will to know more.  It is the same in lure-coursing.

And that’s why I enjoy my time at the side of the field, making the events possible for others.

Yet another weekend in the races

Or at least in lure coursing events: that topic was a poor rip off from Queen (A Day At The Races). Poor attempt to be funny.

Anyhow, one day working, the other having fun with dogs and owners. Sadly there are no pictures from either, as I haven’t taken any, but it’s sufficient to say that the weather was excellent on both days: not too warm nor too cold. You could tell that by looking at the dogs who were more than lively throughout the both events.

There were few things that got ‘stickied’ in my mind from the both of the events. First one is something that really bothers me still, even though I know the battle against windmills is already lost.

The dog which comes to the lure doesn’t win the trial. It’s of no use to ask ‘how can I make my dog faster’ or ‘why did the slower dog get better points’. The explanation is here. The short version for the lazy readers is as follows: the dog’s performance is rated in five categories (speed, enthusiasm, agility, endurance and intelligence), and the points of the judges are added up. Speed itself is only one fifth of the points, so a dog with enough endurance or enthusiasm wins a dog which is fast but not agile, for example.

On the other hand, if the dog has good points but is slower than the other dogs of the breed, then there is something you might do. Pulls downhill, speed exercises, short extreme speed pulls and running in swamp or deep snow come to mind. First three develop the speed itself, while the last ones build up the muscles. But there is only so much you can do with the speed actually, especially with a mature dog. Also something to consider is to lose some weight from the dog.

The other one is the comparison of points from different events. This weekend proved the point especially,  as the event I was working on Saturday had tracks which were 450m and 650m (about) in length, while our dogs ran on Sunday on a track which was around 750-825 meters long. And quite surprisingly the dogs got lower points on the longer track.

It’s the same thing with all the evaluation in numbers: the numbers tell only the information which we want to tell. The same with ranking tables and ratings: when we want to condense information to simple numbers, something gets lost in the way.

How can you compare 530 points from 650m long track to 480 points from 800m track? Especially when there are different judges and different ground on both?

No way. No way are the results comparable, and most certainly they do not tell everything about the dogs who have competed. Not even with that kind of (huge) point difference the dogs cannot be compared equally.

The points -and all point based evaluation methods- are fault in one way or another. In ranking table, is the dog which competes seven times a year better or more valuable than the dog which wins three times? In trials, is the dog which competes on a long track with certificate points worse runner than a dog which wins on a short track?

After all, the main point is healthy and loved dog. Not the prizes and recognition of the owners.

Isn’t it?

European Sighthound ranking initiative

There is a new initiative to have a concise sighthound ranking in Europe and the website can be found here.

While I see this as an admirable and quite ambitious initiative, for me this represents the dog owners need to excel over others. In sighthound racing this is quite normal, where the dog is mainly the tool to achievement – in greyhound racing especially.

For me the lure-coursing has a different meaning: the competition is just a side product of the main thing, to see the dogs run and do what they have been originally bred for.

The more I think of it, the competition part is what makes it difficult to enjoy the actual lure-coursing event: if you visit a lure-coursing training or an informal event the overall feel of the event is completely different from an official lure-coursing competition or event. The people are more relaxed, fun and not too confined in their own scheming (and planning the dog’s performance beforehand). However, in certain breeds of sighthounds the competition mentality is more apparent than in others and certain breeds have been created only for racing (take greyhound or whippet as an example of this).

But for Irish Wolfhound… Irish Wolfhound is a poor tool for a competitive minded people. Or a perfect one, for there is so little competition in national level that with just a few additional walkies a week you can ‘compete’ with a high level of success.

I’ve seen a question concerning this. What is a win over 3 competitors worth comparing the win over 30 or 50? My counter question is simple:

What does the dog understand about the winning or why is he celebrated one time and shunned the other after a completed trial?

Never the less, the initiative is admirable and I wish all the success to it! As long as it doesn’t become the owners’ bragging ground and/or sole basis for breeding.

The dog’s health and longevity should come first.

Always.

Two more myths to break

Thanks to a comment to the recent “Myths and myths“-post, I found two more myths to break about lure-coursing. The first is that the owner of the dog has to be competitive personality to participate in a lure-coursing event and the other is that the dog has to be trained especially to be able to course. Both are myths and support each other. Let me tell you why I think so.

Lure-coursing isn’t competition in the first place: in FCI ruling it is the working class trial for sighthound. A way to measure the dog’s natural affinity to the work it was originally created for. In this pretext it should be mandatory for a sighthound owner to be at least vaguely interested in how the dog they own does show this natural instinct in action. The owner doesn’t have to be competitive to take the dog to a lure-coursing event, only interested in the natural instinct and performance of their dog.

Sadly the system is such that the dogs are rated on points, and when there is a numerical evaluation, there is always a competition of sorts. In lure-coursing the owners are rewarded for their dog’s performance much like in dog racing: the best will get the merit of being the winner, even though each and every dog passing the set point limit to qualify have passed the test!

Like I mentioned in the earlier Myth post, training is not hard work as such: what we consider training is just normal living with big sighthound. Long walkies in the woods, dog running free as much as possible. The main thing is that the dog is fit enough to run the 700-1000m on one stretch, at full speed. What I would like to add to this, the dog should be able to handle the warming up (30-60 min.) and cooling down (another 30-50 min) walkies. And all this twice in a lure-coursing event day.

That is the fitness the dog requires to participate in a lure coursing event. It doesn’t require a set training schedule or planned training. Instead, it requires continuous interest in the dog’s general health and adequate walkies to maintain that level. I saw one TV-program from the series “It’s Me or the Dog” in which dog trainer Victoria Stilwell tackles problem dogs which are straining families’ or couples’ lives. In this show the couple had a boxer which was terrorizing the house. In the show Ms. Stilwell stated that a healthy active boxer requires 2 hours of exercise each day to keep it calm at home.

2 hours aday.

Sighthounds, especially larger ones like Irish Wolfhounds, are deceiving in this regard: they are very calm and ‘uninterested’ at home (except for the food bowl). So it’s easy to think that the 15 minutes walkies for them a couple of times a day is enough. It’s enough to keep them alive, that’s all. It is not enough to keep them healthy, fit and in good enough condition to work the way they have been intended to do.

By breaking the myth of competitiveness and high training requirements in your head you are easily one step closer to participating a lure-coursing event. If your dogs can handle a couple of hours walkies aday (give or take few in a week, the dog has to rest, too!) for a month or so before the event, then they are ready to take the trial for sure.

And who knows, by taking part in a lure-coursing event you may well catch the lure yourself: a new and exciting way of seeing your own belowed pet. An Irish Wolfhound chasing the lure is a sight worth seeing.

It’s the way all sighthounds were meant to be, after all. Working dogs, chasing the prey.

Life after all

I’ve been pondering over this one issue which has been bothering me for some time already. In a way it’s so much connected with taking the dog to the dog shows over and over again, even after the dog has gained all the champion titles it ever can get.

What to do with the dog after it has gained all?

That’s a bit harsh to say like that, but the general idea is that why would I want to take the dog to yet another lure coursing event after he’s gotten his working class champion status? Winning an additional competition means nothing anymore. As a matter of fact, it seems to hinder the development of other dogs to compete with a dog which has recorded performance.

I can’t see but only one reason to take my dogs to the events after the titles have been received: to see them run. The winning actually is just a side effect of the fitness and willingness of the dog to run. The sad part of this is the people who are taking their dogs to the competitions to win and gain certificates. And prestige for owning such a champion.

The saddest example of this kind of behaviour is also closely related to the behaviour of people taking their dogs to dog shows. In dog shows it’s pretty common to choose the shows to which people take their dogs by the judge judging the dogs. By choosing the right judge you can make a champion out of three legged and crosseyed dog, if you really want to. Cruel over-simplification, but as it is based on opinion of one judge, and their opinions vary, it’s quite possible.

In lure coursing this craving for winning and certificates comes out by choosing the events in which the best dogs are not attending to. In the worst case even calling to the owners of the ‘top performing dogs’ to ask which competitions they are taking their dogs, so that they can go to the competitions these dogs are not attending to. In a way it’s the same as the dog show selection: by selecting the events in which there are less -or inadequate- competition people want to make sure their dog will be the top performing one.

Receiving the certificate and recognition.

I just want to ask one question: What is the value of such a win or certificate, if there is no real competition involved? What kind of information does it give to the owner of the dog about the dog’s performance, outlook or qualities to pit her against inadequate opponents?

My simple opinion is: none.

To win or lose, you should always compete with the best to see where you’re lacking. That’s my personal opinion. If you win, you have truly earned the win. If you lose, you can analyze, what went wrong. The same goes with the dogs: they will give their best when running against a better opponent, learning from the experience and gaining more than from an easy win.

In the deepest sense of the spirit of Lure Coursing, it’s  not a competition: it’s an evaluation of the sighthound hunting ability. The competition part is created by us humans, who want to ‘win’ and be better than others: this means neigh to the dog herself. So if you are taking your dog to lure coursing events only to win, you are using your dog as a tool to satisfy your own need to win. You are coursing your dog for the wrong reasons…

One thing is sure, however: after all has been gained, the only thing remaining is the joy of seeing the dogs run.

Wild, focused, pure joy of the chase.

To be fast enough to catch the lure.