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!

To perform its function better

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the same issue I posted about last autumn about the form and function aspects of a sighthound breed. I have been lucky to attend to a training in which there was a prominent dog show judge speaking about the form and importance of understanding the original function of the breed in the breeding. In fact he stated something along the following lines:

The breeders and dog owners have gotten maybe a bit too far from the idea of the function the dog breed has had in the beginning and what the original use of the breed has been. The fighting dogs have a clear reason for their form and appearance, as well as the shepherd type dogs and sighthounds. The breeding should take this original use of the breed more into account and put more emphasis on preserving the traits of the original use.

This was a kind of revelation to me, as I have risen up the concern over the breeds separating into the working class and show class types: greyhound and whippet being the prime examples of this in the sighthound family. The show and competition greyhounds differ so much from each other that you could say that they are almost different breeds, and the show dog could never, ever compete at the same level as a competition runner. On the other hand, the same applies the other way around: runner couldn’t expect to receive the recognition in a show like a show dog does.

In the Irish Wolfhound we’re in a situation that the breed has not (yet) been split to the two separate functions. But there are signs of that kind of proceedings in the air. Running dogs are being bred regardless of distinct faults by the breed standard purely because of their speed and other abilities supporting the coursing. Show dogs are being bred to show excessively prominent traits which would make its running impossible. And the two ‘lines’ are not crossing due to the fact that the show dogs used to breeding are selected from the certified show dogs, which most probably have no results from the coursing field.

I have been reading my Alfred de Quoy lately. In his excellent – and still very valuable – book “The Irish Wolfhound Guide” (copy I have loaned from our breeder is from year 1987) he states about the breed standard as follows (emphasis mine):

Every requirement stated in the Standard should have a sound reason for its existence. Preferably this reason should be that possession of the quality noted and absence of the faults enable the particular breed to perform its function better (or did so in the past) such as the pursuit and killing of wolves or that it adds to the beauty of the animal.

This particular view can be read also from Capt. Graham’s texts, though not in as direct and strong as de Quoy has put it.

The strange part of the story in here is the difference between the current Irish Wolfhound breed and the pictures in the book of the Capt. Graham’s winning dog. Where as our current breed – both the show dogs and the lighter coursing dogs – is more a heavy, strongly built creature closer to the Great Dane, the ‘original’ pictures of the breed resemble much more an oversized Deerhound. As it happens, both of the dogs have been used to describe the qualities of the Irish Wolfhound in the Capt. Graham’s original monograph, even though he stated himself that he’d rather see more of the traits of the Deerhound in the breed than the massive Great Dane.

The question is, have we owners and breeders strayed too far from the original use and working traits of the breed in our search for the beauty in the breed? Should we take a step back, look at the breed with the eyes of the celtic high chief whose life depends on the ability of the dog to track, chase and fall the prey, be it a stag or a wolf, and see if we are willing to put our life on those shoulders? Would the dog look like it could perform that feat, or should there be something differently in its outlook?

Would we survive the next winter with the nourishment our great, wonderful companion would help us hunt down?

Feelings after EM

It’s over a week since the EM Lure-Coursing in Marianske Lazne took place, and there has been some time to reflect the whole event. The drive there and back, the camping among the Finnish team and the actual coursing have been -mind the pun- coursing in my head ever since. Even while working at the International Lure-Coursing event in Tampere last weekend I had the EM event as my comparison: how did this go, how was that done and so on.

I’m still amazed and surprised about the performance of our Ness. The more I think about it, the more I’m amazed about the recovery of the dog. He truly is a big guy with a big -and healthy!- heart.

The event -all in all- was extremely well planned, executed and pulled through by the competition personnel. There were some slight issues with scheduling and executing things in time they were scheduled to be, but as the weather was so benevolent towards the competing dogs, nothing was drastically off the comfort zone.

If you have a lure-coursing dog, and you have the change to participate EM event or similar big scale event, do make your best to be there! The atmosphere is very unique, nothing like the national competitions. It’s amazing to see such a large amount of sighthounds passing each other in peace, with owners and spectators passing them in ‘organized chaos’ from here and there. The atmosphere is completely different from dog shows, which are about the same in the amount of dogs. One member of the Finnish team wondered this too, and came to the conclusion that the sighthounds are really racists, despising other breeds only because they are always surrounded with sighthounds.

In these events this holds true, not necessarily in the everyday life.

All in all I’m very pleased to have been able to take part in the event. I’m also very grateful for the people who took their time to visit us at the Finnish camp: I didn’t take the time to go around the camps to see people. Even though I try my best not to be so competitive, I’m too concerned about my dogs and their performance in these events, so I’m too attached to them in the events.

Now it’s time to focus forward.

Next event is just around the bend. And we will be ready this time!

How did it go?

One of the questions that has bothered me enough to write about is from the lure coursing competition I worked in some weeks ago. The question was from a new lure coursing dog owner, who was in his first competition ever. The question was, how can he see if the dog runs well or not. In short “How did the coursing go?”

What it all comes down to is -like in all hobbies- that you learn by doing and seeing. What helps you to pay attention to the correct things in the dogs performance is the list of the traits the judges are rating. In FCI competition (that is, in Europe) the list is simply:

  1. Speed
  2. Enthusiasm
  3. Intelligence
  4. Agility
  5. Endurance

I have earlier gone through these from the competition evaluation side, but lets look at these from the competitor side for a change.

1. Speed

Dog breeds have very breed specific way of running, from the fast ticking pace of the Italian Sighthounds, Greyhounds and Whippets to the wide and extended paces of the Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and Borzois. The speed doesn’t actually mean which one catches the lure first, which seems to be the misconception of some competitors: instead, it is the measure of the dogs ability to run in a breed specific way and speed, when compared to the other dog competing. The more you see your dog run, the better you know what the typical speed and style of movement is particular to the breed.

2. Enthusiasm

The look. The stare. The total devotion to the prey or lure. This is what enthusiasm is in the best possible way. It also shows when the dog is competing for the lure with another dog in the way it tries to cut the corners to gain advantage, how eagerly the dog follows the lure through visible obstacles and how eagerly the dog tries to find the lure if she loses the sight of it. Enthusiasm just is, and it’s very easy to see in your dog’s performance. Lack of enthusiasm also shows in the dog as disturbing the competitor, or even in attacking the competitor instead of chasing the lure.

3. Intelligence

Some say that the lure coursing dog becomes so intelligent that it can predict where the lure is going to turn: My opinion is still that this only tells that the dog has been lure coursing too much on an open field. Sure, its intelligence in the sense that the dog inherently knows that the lure will not dart into the woods all of a sudden (even though the living prey would), but it’s not real ‘hunting intelligence’. The intelligence comes into play in the sense of co-operation and driving the prey with the companion instead of against her. It’s also seen in the way the dogs use the terrain to their advantage and how the slower one cuts the corners to cut the way of the lure/prey.

4. Agility

Probably the most important physical characteristic of a good lure courser – naturally in addition to excellent physical fitness –  agility can be seen as the capability of the dog to take turns and follow the lure tightly at the heel of it. The turns and their tightness is breed specific, where the smaller breeds can cut a tighter corner than the larger ones: however, the lure coursing tracks are always compromises and are regulated by the rules themself.

5. Endurance

The ability to keep up with the lure without breaking the sweat: the overall measure of the physical fitness of the dog. For the smaller ones up to Greyhound this is all that is needed for a full track: however, for the larger breeds like Borzois and Irish Wolfhounds, the track ought to be much longer for this to be seen as a limiting factor. There are some tracks with natural height differences, which really strain the dog’s endurance, but in competition this measures the dogs ability to maintain the speed and agility long enough to make a complete trial.

What this all comes down to? Go to see as many competitions as possible, not as a competitor but as a spectator. Better still, go to a competition to work in there, and see how different competitors warm up and cool down their dogs, how they handle their over excited dogs before the trials and how the dogs perform and how they differ from breed to breed.

Like I said in the beginning: it all comes from the experience. As you have seen dogs run and perform at different levels, you have to take a step back and observe your own dog’s performance as objectively as possible, without trying to analyze anything, to really see how she performs.

You might be surprised how difficult this is, and how much it helps while you are ‘training’ your dog for the next important competition.

Competition in Hyvinkää

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.

  1. Sapwood’s Play of Colours – Fiona : 500, Certificate 
  2. Wusillus Amicus Magnus – Hukka : 266 
  3. Wusillus Animus Apricus – Hilla : 150 
  4. Siofra’s Wolfmann Fairy – Fiona : 60 
  5. 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.

Interesting.

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.