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!


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!



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?

Panic in the woods

Everything has gone way too well after our male got his paw stitched. And because we haven’t been living true to my mantra to be prepared for the unexpected situations. Meaning, that we have been going out to the woods without our trusty first aid kit for the dogs.

Which would come hand yesterday, when we left for the 7 km walkies in the cooled down woods. The weather was excellent, slightly cloudy and the dogs were in extremely alert mood. Something I hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks due to the heatwave.

After about 10 minutes of walking I started to wonder why our bitch Zaida started to get foam in her mouth and drool a bit. Usually this is a sign of prey in the vincinity, and because both of the dogs had been very alert and smelling around the bushes, I quickly dismissed the thought being anything dangerous.

At about 15 minutes Zaida started to claw her mouth and that was the moment we got alert: we had seen this before last summer. So back we turned, her tongue slowly swelling up and causing extreme discomfort to her. The situation is such that the dog may even bite her tongue due to the pain, so my wife had to resort to the last measure to prevent this from happening. That is to keep your hand in the biting dogs mouth, thus preventing the dog from harming her tongue and making it easier for her to breathe.

For me this meant only one thing: sprint back to the car and quickly collect both the dog and the handler so we can get quickly to home.

Yes. Zaida was stung by a bee, again in her tongue.

At home we gave her medication, hydrocortison pills.

After an hour the tongue swelling was gone. After three hours the dog seemed to be alright.

And she was alright still when I left for work today, so we’re over that one with a sigh of relief.

But this only reminded us about one thing: you have to be prepared and keep the immediate medication with you all the time. The dogs are extremely keen on hunting all the things from bees and wasps to snakes and deer, so you can never know what may happen.

Thankfully the weather wasn’t any warmer: the hotter weather might have been more dangerous to the dog which couldn’t have breathed as effectively as needed.

So be prepared.

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.

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.