EM coming nearer

THe EM Lure-Coursing event in Mariánské Lázně is closing fast: in fact, I just realized that we have to start driving on Tuesday next week to get there in time! That’s only a week from now!

Loads of things to do as a human participant, and it feels that there is not much to do for the dogs to be in any better condition than they are right now. The competitive side of me is screaming at the back of my head, but the reasonable, intelligent me is just shrugging his shoulders and letting it be.

After all, I do not see my dogs as tools for my personal prestige, nor a tool to gain any extra appreciation from my peers. I want to experience the atmosphere and unity of the competition once again, the feeling of belonging into the Team. The dogs will do what they can and will in the track, and there is neigh I can do if they decide that it’s boring to run.

What can I do then? Keep the exercise at reasonable level, maybe add some sprint training into the mix. Maybe even take them to a practise, who knows. But as the Lure Coursing is not a race about who runs fastest, there is quite little to do on that area, too. A the saying goes, the speed comes from the genes, the endurance and general fitness from the regular exercise: I can only work with one, having a little effect on the other.

With all this, I have to calm down, write down a list of things to remember and plan on how to get the kids to their grandparents…

Quite a lot to do, actually.

While the dogs take it easy.

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Learning experience

Last weekend was the first competition I was working in: for two days (and 200 dogs) I was either cheking the identities of the dogs before start or starting the lure coursing pairs on track. What a terrific learning experience as whole! About 200 starts of dogs, qualifiers and finals combined, with all the variety from a clean start to several starts on a trial.

If you really want to learn about lure coursing and how the gear should be, the muzzles and mantles set and how to avoid the common mistakes, go and join your local sighthound club and volunteer for the next coursing event. It’s such a learning experience that you will thank yourself for a long time after that.

What you will see: nervous handlers with patient and focused dogs, anxious dogs with trembling newcomers, excited dogs with very relaxed handlers and all the possible mixes and variations of these! You’ll see excellently fitting muzzles, adequately or poorly fitting ones (which have to be fixed before the start) and speedy changes of muzzles from one dog to another withing the few minutes the returning of the lure takes. 

And the best of it all. You will see some fantastic and spectacular performances of the lure coursing dogs of different breeds and for certainly you will learn what is the difference between a mediocre performance and a superb one. And you will most certainly begin to appreciate the variety and difference of the multitude sighthound breeds, and their capabilities in dealing with the chase and the kill. I admit, that this experience has opened my eyes to the whole lure coursing the way I had never expected.

Highly recommended experience. Just remember to take it easy, give ample guidance to the competitors and remain calm when the competitors feel they have been treated wrong – sorry, when they feel that their dog has been treated wrong. That is the job of the judges to take care of, within the rules and such.

And the best part?

You can be of help without having your dog in the competition, so your dogs may rest the day in peace while you enjoy the show. And you will appreciate the people working in the next competition way more than before, making their work as easy as possible, thus speeding up the whole competition on your part!

Off you go!

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.

Mother’s Day competition

Oh what a day: we returned from the longest competition day yet, with out first time competitor. The competition had exceptionally big amount of dogs competing in a single day lure coursing event: over 145 dogs. The competition itself lasted for 9 hours from the first trial to the last and there were about 12.5 trials in an hour. This all was revealed to the competitors at the prize seremonies by the head judge, who customarily gives a small recap about the competition day.

The tracks were on the same fields as the Cup on Saturday, but in reverse order: the earlier finals track was the qualifiers.

For the Irish Wolfhounds this wasn’t the biggest day of glory, though. There were only four dogs competing after one had cancelled their participation. In the trials, only two dogs completed the trial, both competing for the first time ever. With decent points, I might say, even though the track was so demanding, physically.

Then there was about 7 hours of waiting till the finals, which must have been the reason for the results: neither of the dogs finished the finals, thus leaving the qualifiers points as valid scoring. What I mean about this is that our fist timer, Fiona (Siofra’s Wolfmann Fairy), experienced the competition event for the first time ever and most certainly the strain was immense to her mentally. As I left for work this morning there was no sign of any fatigue, and she was as playfull as ever, so the physical strain was well within her range.

All in all, the weather was great till the last finals, the dog returned home without injuries and in good fit.

The results of the Mother’s Day Lure Coursing in Lieto, Finland

1. Siofra’s Wolfmann Fairy 218 (Fiona)
2. Gogamagog’s Convel 191 (Nuupi)
3. Fernmark Kamikaze 0 (Kusti)
4. Sapwood’s Amusing Autumn 0 (Mimmi)

More thoughts about the competition later.

EDIT: Checked the times: the qualifiers started at 8:50 am and finals at 15:00, so the wait was ‘only’ 6 hours. Minus cool down and warm up, that’s just 4-5 hours of total rest and waiting.

Thoughts about weekend

The weekend’s two competitions in Lieto were a big event just for the sheer amount of dogs -and owners- involved: over 85 dogs in the Finnish Cup and over 145 in the Mother’s Day coursing! Mostly the competitors were dogs which have competed earlier, or dogs owned by seasoned owners. This should make it easy to write only about the sheer fun despite of the rain involved, but sadly it isn’t so.

Out of the vast amount of owners, handlers and trainers only handfull warmed up their dogs even remotely properly: mostly the people whose dogs perform well from one competition to another on international level. Even there you could see very diverse approaches to this, all from increasing the intensity towards the trial to just slowly loitering around the start area till the trial. Both right on their own and justified from the dog’s point of view: the muscles involved in the running are ‘activated’ and the blood stream is increased to provide more oxygen to the muscles. In this case it comes down to the fact, what the dog has gotten accustomed to.

The cooling down seems to be something which is even more neglected: the dogs were quite quickly walked down so that they wouldn’t pant and then given the opportunity to rest. However, the lactic acid needs more time to be excluded from the muscles, and if the heart uses 30% of it’s energy need by burning lactic acid for the first 5-15 minutes after exercise (trial or training), this is way too little to completely help the dog burn the lactic acid. Which in turn, left to the muscles, causes tension and cramps.

The competitions should be fun occasions, where everything is done to make the event as enjoyable as possible to the dog: anything causing discomfort should be avoided or worked against. The easiest way for us owners to do this is to make sure that 

a) we take care of the proper training before the competition event to make sure the dog is fit enough to perform at 110% level it will give while chasing the lure, 

b) we take care that the nutrition is proper and well to sustain the strain and providing enough crucial nutrients to replace whatever is lost during the exercise, 

c) we warm up the dog properly to take the strain so that the muscles don’t tear or get damaged by the sheer forces involved in the coursing,

d) we take good care in cooling the dog down properly to help the recovery for the next trial and the next day. 

All discomfort will lessen the enthusiasm of the dog to perform at it’s maximum capacity. In the worst case the dog feels so sore after the trial that it refuses to run in the second trial. Or in the next competition. And only because it connects the pain with the exercise and the lure coursing event.

The thought pattern is like this:

Excitement=lure
Lure -> Chase
Lure = CHASE!
LURE = CHASE! = pain
LURE = Chase = PAIN
Lure = chase = PAIN!
Lure = PAIN
LURE=PAIN

And the next time the dog sees the lure, the instinct kicks in the chasing, but the brain says it causes pain. It’s a battle which results the body/instinct to perform and the brain/experience to slow down, and in the end the dog just quits: any discomfort becomes stronger than the instinct to chase.

Pain is a very powerfull teacher. Even in the nature.

And in the end, it’s our duty as the owners of the dogs to think ourselves as the trainers of the dogs competing, and make our best to make the experience as pleasurable and anjoyable to our athletes, so they can focus on the main thing in a competition day.

Chasing the lure with all their existence.

Suomi Cup 2009 results

Suomi Cup, an invitational competition for the best performing lure-coursing dogs of the former year, was run today in Lieto, Finland. The results for Irish Wolfhounds were (official name – nickname – points (max. 600)):

1. Wolfmann Negredo – Ness – 446
2. Ethneanibhaloir – Zaida – 434
3. Gemmish Boudicca – Randi – 433
4. Wusillus Amicus Magnus – Hukka – 405
5. Frag’arach Von Den Erzminen – Justus – 206
6. Jaslane’s Fabiola – Täppä – 195

Only the first four got to run in the finals: the qualifier points were 220 from the first trial.

In honesty’s name, we went to the competition to check our dog’s fitness after 3 months of kennel cough during the beginning of this year, when our Ness was pretty close to dying: a fact we have come to realize only later. We think our dogs (Ness and Zaida) were not at their best fit, as this is the first competition for them for the year, so we’re more than happy and pretty much dumbfounded by these results!

Congratulations to all participants: after all, all the dogs were among the cream of the crop of all Finnish lure-coursing Irish Wolfhounds during year 2008, so the competition was fierce. To put it mildly.

The track was very demanding on the dog’s stamina, and the rain which dominated the competition didn’t make it any easier. All the dogs ran to their best ability, which under the circumstances was an amazing feat, as no dog was injured.

And the best part -in addition to the fact that all dog’s were uninjured after the day- is that everyone had fun: the dog’s, the owners and the spectators! 

Let’s hope tomorrow’s competition with first timers and newcomers proves to be as fine an occasion as today!

A day at the Races

Or more accurately, a day at the lure-coursing competition. I think that I have covered some of the basics by now, to which I’ll return sooner or later again. Sooner most probably, as certain things will stick to my eye more often than others, usually the things being such basic things as 

  • endurance and stamina of the dog running
  • warm up
  • cool down
  • reaction to the dog’s performance at the lure
  • conduct at the start
  • and so on.

Now I think it is time to go through the typical schedule for a competition. I’m doing this only because we’re having our first competition weekend this weekend, with two dogs on Saturday and one on Sunday. I’ll report about the event as soon as I get back to normal.

1. Arrival to the competition site

To be completely honest and up to the facts, this isn’t the first thing: the first things are to register to the competition, to gather all the gear to go with you (dog’s papers, mantle, muzzle and so on) and to make certain that the dog is healthy enough to perform in the competition. The first and most important thing, however, is to ensure that the dog is fit enough to compete!

Upon arrival you have to register the dog to the competition: it’s just to tell the officials that the dog has arrived, the papers are ok and that the competition lisences are up to date. In most cases the participation fee is paid at this time. Here in Finland we also leave the dog’s competition records to the officials for the competition’s results at this point.

After this the dogs usually are ushered to the veterinary examination, where the vet checks the general health of the dog alongside with the movement.

2. Warming up

After the vet it’s time to figure out how much time there is to the first trials: usually the veterinary exam is positioned so that you have something between 1/2 to 1 hour before the start. In our cases this means that we go to the car, grab the competition gear (mantle, muzzle) and head off from the competition area for our warm up walkie. Usually this means that we try to find out (reasonably) quiet and empty area, usually within some woods to take our dogs out of the competition fuzz. Naturally they are pretty pepped up at this point, which is a good sign in that sense that it tells they are expecting the race, looking forward to it.

We take our time in our own peace and try to come back to the competition site at about the time our start is scheduled. If we’re too early, we keep the dogs at least walking till the start. If we’re too late… well, we run to the start!

3. First trial

The dogs have their mantles on as they come to the start, and the officials tell you to put the muzzle on: usually the dogs are already in the competition by now, staring at the lure and completely out of this world, so the muzzle isn’t even noticed. Currently the international rules state that the owners release the dogs at the start, so you should make certain that you hold the dog well enough to warrant swift release when the start is issued. The main thing, especially with big dogs like Irish Wolfhounds, is to ensure your grasp of the collar is so that your palm is upwards: if you’re holding the collar from above, you risk your fingers as the dogs launch.

Before the start your duty is to keep the dog still. He may squirm and move restlessly, but stay firm and be prepared to dig your heels into the ground: sometimes a very anxious dog can stand on it’s hind legs at the start, and if that dog weighs some 60 kg, you can be sure you have to use all of your strength to keep her down!

After the release, stay calm and enjoy the poetry in motion.

4. Catch up

After the 45 seconds or so, the lure comes to rest and the dogs do their kills: what ever you do, do not call your dog away from the lure at this point! Instead, go to the dog and compliment her the best you can, making sure she gets all the praise you can give her: after all, she has done her best, to the maximum, 110% and everything in her power to catch the lure and beat the other dog(s), so you have to make it known that she’s done great. Something more than “Well done, pig. Well done.” as the farmer said in the movie Babe, but do not exxaggerate.

Because the current rules will punish you if you somehow affect the other dogs’ performance, I would suggest that you give the treats to the dog only after leaving the grounds and remove the muzzle. She will soon learn that the reward comes after the muzzle is removed. And still this enhances the satisfaction from the chase and catch.

5. Cool down

Muzzle and mantle off and something to drink. For the dog, naturally. Most probably she’ll relieve herself pretty soon after the trial. After this it’s off to the woods to cool down, as the points will be announced earliest about 30 minutes after the last trial in a race. There is mandatory resting time for all breeds which will be followed by another vet exam, so there is no real hurry to get back from the cooling down.

Except to give the dogs something restorative to eat and let them rest for good.

6. Finals

The routine for finals is similar to the first trials: visit the vet about 1 hour before the scheduled start, wait for the starting schedule, warm up, race, cool down and wait for the results. This part is usually the most agonizing, because it takes always so long to receive the final results and see how the dog really performed.

There you have it: a bit streamlined schedule for a normal lure-coursing competition with qualifiers and finals. All in all the competition takes usually almost the whole day, and with warm ups and cool downs you’ll be walking about 9-11 km during the whole day. It’s a great way to exercise yourself, too!

For the dog… well, it’s just another day at the races!