Run for fun

Couple of days ago the Irish Wolfhound Club of Finland arranged an unofficial lure coursing event for it’s members. This event is mainly for the dogs without official coursing license, even though some dogs with license attend to it. Only to show how the job should be done.

The weather was excellent: crisp autumn temperatures, some strong wind across the field and sun shining from cloudless sky. Best weather for any dog to run!

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Can’t get any better than this, (c) Sanna Salomaa 2016

All in all we saw some 20+ dogs run the short, about 350 m long lure coursing track, some of which were not Irish Wolfhounds. Dogs had fun even after the ‘prize ceremonies’, as our lure operator wanted to show the rod lure to them. As it happens, playing with a lure attached to a long pole seemed to be more fun than running away from mommy or daddy on the field! Especially the younger ones found this more exciting than the one on the fields.

Hopefully at least some of these fine wolfhounds – and especially their owners – got bitten by lure coursing. It would be great to see more wolfhounds in Finnish events, as the number of participants has gone down to few every now and then.

And as I have talked about pack coursing, we had one special pack start in the event. A pack consisting of three generations of dogs: daughter, mother and grandmother, performing as one team! And they did very, VERY well as a pack, switching their position, changing the lead and finally all stayed at the lure after the ‘kill’. Just marvelous performance!

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Three generations pack coursing, (c) Marko Salomaa 2016

 

On adequate exercise

I came across a nice descriptive blog post over at PetChats about lure-coursing in US. The post itself is a rip off from a book or magazine, with all the relevant contact information and all, and the blog seems to be a fancy money-making portal in a blog format. I came to the latter conclusion after I had posted a comment on that particular post twice without getting it approved. EDIT: I was proven to be wrong on this: the blog really is a blog as its owner emailed me about this post. Sorry.

I wanted to comment that post about lure-coursing because of few misconceptions mentioned. First of all the article suggests that lure-coursing is a good recreational activity for any dog, even if that dog is ‘pleasantly plump’. Even though the article suggest that the activity may cause excessive strain to the knees and joints of such a dog, it does pose that lure-coursing is suitable for all dogs of any health or condition.

This comes clear from the phrase later in the post:

This sport works best for dogs with an instinct to chase. Not much training is required. In fact, if you choose not to compete, no training is required.

As the writer has earlier mentioned, lure coursing is a demanding sport, this contradicts the whole thing.

Lure-coursing is a sport. The dog – having the instinct to chase – runs at the maximum capacity. The dog chasing gives out 110% on the trial, if not more. I’ve seen a dog, a greyhound, break its toe to splinters (the bones, not the toe itself) and still run excellent points in a trial. The toe was later amputated and the dog will never run in a competition again, but it shows how strong the instinct can be. The dog without adequate condition and training will break itself if the instinct is strong enough.

A dog which is ‘pleasantly plump’ is prone to break itself even more easily. First, if the dog is having extra weight, the forces in its knees and joints grow extremely much. Also a plump dog hasn’t had enough exercise to counter the effect of the increased weight, meaning that its condition and agility is decreased. A dog without proper agility and dexterity will either fall or break itself in turning from high – if not maximum – speed.

The last part is the fact that a dog which hasn’t been trained and is of ‘plump’ persuasion will not be warmed up, cooled down and massage and tended properly after a lure-coursing trial. It will suffer from stiffness and muscle pain later on, and will not find the activity fun or rewarding. Of course it will run next time and after that, but only as long as it makes the connection lure-coursing = pain for the next few days.

This happens to dogs which are properly trained and kept in condition, too. Without proper recovery with proper warm up/cool down, the dog soon starts to connect the dots. Some – who are more sensitive to pain – earlier, some – who have stronger instinct – later, but in the end they will.

In this post I mean by training the exercise to improve the dogs overall condition, not activity based training. For lure-coursing you don’t have to teach or train the dog specifically, only make sure that the instinct is there, strengthen it if necessary and keep the dog in good physical condition.

Walkie three times a day to the local lamp-post or fire-post isn’t enough to give the dog enough exercise, nor the twice a day around the block stroll. The dog needs in addition to the normal pee walkie at least 40 minutes of ‘training’ in form of free running, playing and activity.

Consider yourself going for a 800 meter run. Would you go there and give your best directly from the couch? With the exercise level you currently have (driving to work, driving to the store, walking only when necessary)?

I bet you wouldn’t. I hope you don’t expect that from your  –  or anyone else’s – dog, either.

My dog is so fast…

The topic is one misconception people seem to have, in addition to the thought that speed is everything in lure-coursing. The dog may be fast in the backyard or in the ‘training’ where the pulls are 250m. But the real challenge of the 600-1000m lure coursing trial is something completely different.

How to tell the difference? In the backyard (or normal walkie), use a watch to time the actual time your dogs are running at a time. Constantly running, that is, at their full -or playfull- speed before giving in to trot. You might be surprised how little they really run, especially if you compare that to the time the dogs run in a lure-coursing trial.

How long is a trial, then? Depending on the track, at the average speed of 40km/h the normal track from 600-1000 m lasts anything from 1 minute to 1.5 minutes. On average the run craze of a dog at the back yard takes about 10-15 seconds and after that the dog is ready to go in. It may run like a lunatic, fast as lightning and all, but the real challenge is avoided.

The lactic acid threshold.

At about 100 meter point, which is about 6 seconds from the start, the dog has used the immediate energy reserves in the system and the lactic acid starts to mount into the muscles. This causes ache, stiffness and discomfort, and the dog will cease running if the reason to run is not strong enough. At the backyard the reason may be to release some tension and it’s over in the 10 seconds. In the trial it is the instinct to chase the lure, and it may not be enough to keep the dog interested after coming tired and stiff.

Each and every dog is the best in the world to it’s owner, that’s for sure. But the dog running at backyard/training/walkies is not necessarily the fastest or best in the lure-coursing trial, if it hasn’t gotten used to straining herself beyond the threshold.

Even then there may be something which causes her to quit before the trial is over. But that’s another story alltogether.

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?

Faster than anything

How come there are always dogs which are faster than any running dog alive and when the real event comes along those dogs are the first to give up?

It’s not mental for the dog. It’s completely physical.

It’s not enough for the general fitness of an Irish Wolfhound to have the few 15 minutes walkies in the lead and few sprints in the yard to make it run faster than anything. The few sprints in the yard or dog park is not showing how long or how fast the IW really is; it’s only showing how playfull the dog is.

In 7 seconds the dog has used up it’s immediate reserves and the first wave of exhaustion comes in. In the normal backyard the dog sprints for the few seconds and rests in a way or another for the next. In a lure-coursing event the track takes about 45 seconds, full speed running and steering.

The faster than anything dog gets exhausted, it’s muscles are sore from the lactic acid and the experience is anything but pleasant. After the trial she is put into a car to cool down and straight from the car to the finals, if lucky.

This dog will never compete again.

And hopefully so. For the well being of the dog.

To the owner of the faster than anything alive dog this may be devastating: she’s so fast at home, but not performing today. It may well be the last event the owner will ever take part into, if the owner was looking for instant gratification on the behalf of the dog’s performance. On the other hand, if the event otherwise was a success (good weather, nice buffet and nice people), the owner may take heed on the advice and dig a bit deeper into the excercise side. Take the dog out for a longer walkies, maybe jog with her from time to time (and participate half a marathon later next year… =D ).

Maybe the next time the dog is prepared -and ready- to run at full speed to the end.

Maybe after a while the dog is what the owner believed in the first place.

Faster than anything.

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.

Myths and myths

There is a huge abundance of myths concerning Irish Wolfhounds, lure-coursing and training a sighthound for the lure-coursing (or for any other form of dog sport/hobby). Myths like training is science/hard, feeding properly is difficult, competitions are hard to take part in, newcomers are not welcome and so on. Let’s see if I can tackle at least some of them.

First thing that comes to mind is that the training is science: if you want to train a sighthound for racing, then there is a huge amount of information available about training a greyhound. This can be applied to the training of any other breed, clearly. The main point, however, is not the training, but the health and fitness of the dog. And that is not rocket-science: healthy dog requires exercise. And what is considered training for us owning these dogs, is considered as long walks in the woods by the rest of  the population! Want to increase the exercise level? Start jogging with the dogs. Does miracles to the aerobic fitness of both the dog and the owner. Training a dog is hard, because it requires you to do something for the dog! The success doesn’t come for free, you see.

There are some studies about training and scheduling the training, but the basic is to have the dog in proper health and fitness before the lure-coursing event. Sure, you can increase the speed of a dog by 15-20% by proper training, but in lure-coursing that isn’t the most necessary trait. I’d say that a healthy, fit and happy dog will perform on the other categories in lure-coursing just as well, or even better. If you are in doubt, use your common sense. If I do this myself to get more fit, it should work for the dog as well.

The dog should have enough rest, too. The most work the dog’s -and human, for the matter- system does for the muscles, tendons and nerves happens during the rest. After a hard training an equal rest. Think of how you would like to train and rest, and you are on the right track.

Feeding is a subject that has as many opinions as there are people talking about. The main point is to give the dog enough energy to compensate the consumption. Dog’s metabolic system is way more fat based than that of human, being 2-3 times more effective in turning fat into energy. Oh, I wish my system would do that, too: I’d be losing my weight like no tomorrow!

In feeding a working dog there are only few things to remember: more enegry doesn’t have to mean more volume, take care of certain minerals and vitamin’s which are crucial for the dog’s system and have enough water available. Oh, and take care of having enough time inbetween feeding and exercise: you wouldn’t go for a jog with a full stomach yourself, so why would you force your dog to do that?

Being a creature which uses fat based metabolism, to increase the energy content without increasing the volume of  the feed is pretty simple: add more fat into it. This poses a challenge, though, on the intake of the minerals and other micronutrients. This comes apparent only in a case of complete negligence, and the dog is a miracle worker when the diet has been balanced. The micronutrients are stored in the system for quite some time and can be replenished on the fly, anyhow. Any proper kibble can take care of that, even with the increased fat content in the final food.

The most important minerals are calcium, phosphorus and magnesia, while the micronutrients needed are iron, copper, zinc, iodine and selene. The last four are crucial because their utilization may be hindered if the feed’s calcium content is high. This, however, is of no concern with the current kibbles for working dogs, as these have been balanced out in the formulations.

Working dogs need additional iron in their diet to compensate the loss of it during the exercise: this, left unattended, causes stress anemia. Addition of raw meat or iron as a supplement compensates this easily. Raw meat being a natural way of digesting iron in the first place might be the easiest.

Competitions or lure-coursing events are not hard to participate: the most important things are to register, to come to the event site on time and have your dog’s gear with you. The rest is just asking and being guided from one spot to another. The hard part is to learn routines for the event day: warming up, trial, cooling down, tending the dog and helping it to recover and pass time.

The same goes with starting the hobby: people with sighthounds are generally very welcoming and the lure-coursing -and racing- people are very open and helpfull towards a newcomer. Sure, there are questions which are asked a million times, but there are also questions which no-one even thought about. The most important part is to know your dog and ask for help when help is needed.

Condensed all this is as follows: most of the hardships you hear about training or feeding or competing are myths born from people who don’t know about lure-coursing or sighthounds or dog sports. It all comes down to common sense, eagerness to try and will to work with the dog. Like the cliché says, no pain, no gain: the pain comes from going for a walk in pouring sleet, cold and wet freezing landscape, but the gains come when the fit dog runs from the joy of chasing and performs well.

Getting a working dog work in competitions requires, well, WORK. Nothing comes for free, especially not in hobbies where you learn constantly. Common sense in everything takes you a long way, too.

And the best training for the dog is to run free, off lead, with other dogs. From as early as possible to as old as she still can.

These are my ideas how the myths are really myths. Dogs are very resilient beings, and it requires quite a lot abuse and neglect from us humans to really cause them problems in their fitness. On our way back from the EM-lure-coursing we saw quite a lot stray dogs in the cities and towns we visited. They were -for the most part- in excellent condition, with shiny coat and great musculature: if the dogs really were so deeply dependant on us human to take care of them, the strays would die away. So by doing what you normally do with your dogs is a good start and in increasing the exercises you should monitor the overall being of the dog.

Knowing your dog and acting accordingly is really the key.