Puppy fun

Training a lure coursing dog begins from the puppy bin. No, really. They do it by themselves, fighting for their food in the form of getting to the mommy’s nipple first. The ones with the most ‘fighting spirit’ will be the ones, who push their litter mates aside, rushing to the milk bar.

I’m not saying this means that the ones that are always first on the feeding are the ones who will always win in the lure coursing. Just pointing out that they have the fighting and winning deeper in them. As an example of this, our first male who became European champion, was the runt of the litter, the one no-one expected nothing of.

However, in our breed of gentle giants, the fighting and winning traits have been deliberately bred out. Of course, when you have an extremely big dog with quite substantial muscle mass, you want to be sure that even the lighter owner can handle the dog’s urges and instincts.

But the instinct is there. It’s the basis of survival for wild dogs and wolves, so it cannot be bred out totally in the domestication process. It’s like hick-ups for us human, a constant reminder of our ancestral history in the oceans.

As mentioned earlier, even the runt of the litter can become a decent lure coursing dog. I would presume that it goes with racing, too. It just requires more work and dedication from the owner, something that is not too common in our giant, grey breed.

The actual training, in which the owner is crucial contributor, begins the moment the puppy comes home. It is all play and no work, even though this play prepares for the work. Play tug of war. Play with cat lure, you know, the stick with feathers at the end. PLAY with the puppy.

The main point is to make this fun. And rewarding. When the play is at its funny peak, STOP. Let the puppy enjoy it’s hard earned reward. The best would be to connect the play with food reward: give the puppy something especially good from the lure or toy, just to give her/him the idea.

I cannot emphasize too much the fact that Irish Wolfhounds bore quickly, so try not to stretch it. Just few tugs and thanks.

Later on, when the puppy starts to run in the yard, your best friend should be rod lure. A fishing rod or broom handle with a short rope attached to lure. Few round pulls to get the puppy chase the lure, stop and play with the puppy. To enhance the food connection, try to stop the lure to a spot where you have put some treats, or give the treats to the puppy through the lure.

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Young Saluki pup pulling on rod lure. Note the plushy toy as lure!

Again, only few short exercises and only after the puppy has played with something else. This is to ensure that the puppy doesn’t start with cold muscles, to avoid injuries to the muscles and soft tissues.

The only thing to avoid, really, is overdoing it. The smaller the pup, the shorter the ‘exercises’. You should get to know the limits of the puppy and not exceed them, yet. Time for overextending comes later.

So, play, have fun and learn your dog and her/his demeanor. Have a nice weekend!

The most important in the field

In lure coursing event there are several officials and even more unofficial people working to make it all for the dog owners. In the field alone there are at least seven people watching and working for the dogs performance: three judges (evaluating), track master (design and working of the track), lure operator (pulling the lure), lure returning (well, returning the lure to start) and starter (making sure right dogs are running at the right time). However, there is one who can make or ruin the dog’s performance in the field. Make a guess.

Waiting.

Waiting.

A walk in the fields.

A walk in the fields.

It is the lure operator. Let me tell you why.

First and foremost, usually the lure operator is the one who sees the most of the field. It says in the FCI rules, that the lure operator has to have unobstructed visibility over the field. He is also the one, who regulates on how the dogs come into corners. The lure operator dances with the dogs, lure being the partner which the dogs are following.

And when the operator is up to the game, the run is as smooth and enjoyable as a dance for both participants.

A good lure operator can save an event where the course itself has faults. Thankfully, usually the lure operator is also the one who makes the track. Sometimes, however, the operator is there to give rest for the one who has made the track and it just doesn’t work the way it should. Or the field in question hasn’t been suited from the beginning to host a lure coursing event.

A good lure operator can read the terrain, dogs and the combination of these on the track. It takes good eye-hand-coordination to perform at the highest level, benefitting both the judges and the dogs in the event.

You see, when the dogs are running the best, they are also the easiest to evaluate. A good operator can tell what he has planned the track to bring out of the dogs: some speed and acceleration to the beginning, gradual turns to take the speed off, showing the intelligence, tighter turns for agility and endurance and uphill/downhill for real endurance. By doing this, the operator can tell the judges that he has really thought out the track, not just laid down the pulleys here and there.

Considering all this it feels odd that there are no training or guidelines for the lure operators and track masters covering the FCI coursing tracks. The quality and abilities of the lure operators vary strongly from one place to another, almost as much as the lure operating machines do. And as it is with the machines, some of them are better suited to the job than others. The best should be in use in European Championships, this is the only thing we dog owners can hope for.

Anyone can pull the lure. But there are only some who have taken it to their heart and want to see the dogs perform at their best.

Credits are due

As the lure coursing season is over here, it is time to give credits to all those who make this hobby possible. A great big thanks to all of you few, who organize, operate, guide and evaluate for so many, who bring their dogs to the events.

I can only wish that the ones whose dogs run, take part and compete in the events really and truly remember to thank the people making all this possible. Because without the people working for these events there would not be any events to attend to.

Give credit where the credit is due. And keep your dogs in good shape!

Free running in training.

Free running in training.

Three seasons

As the competition season here in the north has ended just before winter, it is time to remind all lure coursing owners about the three seasons of a competing athlete. They are the basic condition training season, preparation season and competition season. Some add a fourth (cooling down), but in my mind the transition from competition season can be managed by switching into base training directly.

Base training consists of upkeep of the basic condition: lengthy free movement, long walks and free running. In the darkest of winter days this can be once in a two or three days, because the temperature itself is a challenge to the body. Every degree below room temperature increases the strain to the dogs body and condition. Every degree in the freezing temperatures increases the energy requirements immensely. So every ‘training’ in freezing temperatures is an excessive strain to the dog, especially to it’s metabolism. In addition to that, the freezing temperatures can be difficult for deep chested breeds with huge lung capacity: deep breath in freezing temperatures may cause lung problems and inflammation. So ‘tempering’ comes into play here, too: slowly, gradually getting to know the weather and getting accustomed to the weather. Just like in the hot summer days.

Then again, on a crisp winter day, after a warm up walkie, a free run in chest deep snow is perhaps the best strength and agility training there is. The dog regulates itself in the speed and movement and most of the dogs enjoy fooling around in the snow.

Plus the owner with a camera just loves the dogs pushing through light snow…

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!

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

 

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!