Supplementing nutrition

I wonder if wolves or african wild dogs have their own supply for electrolytes and nutritional supplements, because they are hunting in real (running for their life, in fact) and still around after several thousands of years after their emergence on Earth.

Or has this hairless descendant of monkey done something really wrong, causing the poor domesticated dog to be more or less dependant on nutritional supplements?

Or, in addition to the earlier question, is this hairless monkey doing the wrong things with their best friend and creating a situation in which the dog -whose best friend this monkey called human should be- is in fact dependant on the care…?

Just wondering. Too much care and caretaking may well be damaging in the long run.

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Some comparisons

Dogs are pretty special creatures. Not exactly carnivores, nor completely omnivores, but somewhere in between. Let’s see what makes them tick.

Digestive tract, length: 4-5 times the length of their body. For comparison, cat has 3 times, pig has 14 times and human about 17.

Digestive tract, weight / body weight: giant breeds 2.7%, miniature breeds 7%, cat 2.8-3.5% and human 11%.

Stomach, volume: dog 0.5-8 litres. Cat 0.3 l, human 1.5 l.

pH (acidity): dog 1-2, cat 1-2, human 2-4, wolves 1.

Dog’s sense of smell is million times more accurate than human’s: where we have about 5 million receptor cells in our nose epitel, dogs have aroung 150-250 million. Then again, dog has almost 1/10th of the taste receptors compared to us (dog about 1500, human about 10.000).

What does this mean?

Dog, direct descendant and relative of wolf, is mainly a meat eating animal. The thousands of years with human has evolved it into a scavenger, eating all edible that it can find. Thus dog is capable of consuming vegetable material, too: in fact it’s necessary for the bacterial flora in it’s stomach to have some fibres for well being.

The length of the bowels is that of a carnivore, a meat eater: short and effective. The time food remains within the system is approximately 12-30 hours, whereas for us human that is around 30-120 h (5 days). So the energy requirement for the food is high (energy/volume), and that can only be attained from meat and meat derivates (fat).

So the basic function is that the acute sense of smell can spot a rotting carcass miles away, and the low stomach pH can kill almost all pathogens causing intestinal infections. In addition to that, the lack of taste gives the opportunity to eat whatever edible other animals may have left due to bad taste.

In addition to this, dog’s stomach contains pepsinogen, a very effective enzyme that breaks collagen: it makes it possible for dogs to gain energy from the hard collagenous material like bones, cartilages and tendons, which otherwise are left in the carcass. Thus making it’s system capable of acting as a cleaning unit in nature, disposing of the bones of the carcasses.

Like all predatory animals, dogs also have one thing above us dorcile humans: their elastic stomach. It can stretch to hold up to 8 l of material, making it possible for the dog to consume HUGE amount on one eating. So its no wonder the neighbourgs poodle ate the 8 pound turkey the other christmas, as the legend goes: it can and has happened.

Interesting beasts these friends of ours, aren’t they?

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.

Heat is going on

Weekend’s heatwave doesn’t seem to go away: up till the latter part of this week there is more of the same in the weather forecasts. This makes training itself almost impossible, and risks of all kinds rise their head. Sunstroke being the first one, not due to excessive sun, but due to loss of water and nutrients.

But this isn’t enough: due to the fact that the dog uses more energy to dissipate the heat, it also consumes more energy. This energy has to be replaced. We noticed that our dogs started to lose weight even though we had the same amount of the same food available all the time from ‘normal’ temperatures till the heatwave was on it’s third day. The remedy is to feed them clever, not more.

One has to remember that fat, when metabolized, releases water. Instead of adding energy from carbohydrates (easiest way), one should add more fat into the feed of the dog. Sounds controversial, but if you think of the metabolic functions of the dog, it makes perfect sense. The dog is meat eater, specified to consume meat and fat. It’s metabolic system will burn the fat effectively to water and energy (and other things), helping the body to keep up with the water need.

So, by adding more fat to the food we are actually helping the dog to drink more. Clever, eh? The amount eaten isn’t changed considerably while the dog’s system is being helped to cope with the excessive heat.

This doesn’t take away the requirement of cool, fresh water being available to the dog all the time. And over time, the dog will acclimatize, become accustomed with the warm weather, which in turn will help the situation.

Take care to fix the food later on as the weather cools down: the added energy isn’t required anymore and will result excessive weight gain… which a good exercise will take care of!

Proper thinking

Last weekend was the Club Show of The Irish Wolfhound Club in Finland and what a bunch of lovely dogs there were. We attended for one day, mainly because I was helping with the arrangements. Mostly that meant that I was holding the dogs of the people running in and out of the show ring. Don’t ask me how many dogs passed through my hands. Nor the names of the dogs. I lost count after the first five (which were not our own).

However, I had several nice discussions about lure-coursing as a hobby, fitness requirements and evaluation of a lure coursing dog. With a few persons, naturally, and not at the same time. There were some issues which came prominently up in the discussions with people who either had a running dog already or were thinking of ‘training’ their newly gotten dog to be one.

First issue: you don’t have to have four hour walks with the dogs every day of the week. I heard more than once that we should take this or that puppy for a training because we have those extremely long walkies daily. Which isn’t true. It’s the same as I say about feeding the Irish Wolfhound: don’t feed more, feed smart. Meaning in longer way that you should feed the dog properly quality wise rather than enough in amount wise.

The same goes with walkies: it’s not about the long walkies every day, but high quality walkies over the week. By not planning you are planning to fail. Running from one training session to another will bore the dog. Having a long, slow paced walkie every day will bore the dog. Having a high intensity training everyday will hurt the dog. All of which is bad. Instead, plan your week beforehand, if not more but the mere skeleton of the ‘exercise schedule’ if you don’t have time (or you feel stressed about your schedule). Make the walkies and exercise fit your calendar.

And stick to that: at least three roughly planned walkies a week with a pull or hill running. Rest in between the trainings. At least 2 hours of -more or less- constant movement for the dog.

That should be enough to make the dog fit enough to lure course. And keep it fit otherwise, too.

You see, it’s not science, let alone rocket science, to train a dog for a lure coursing event. It’s just thinking proper things in proper way. Resulting proper performance in the end.