Faster than anything

How come there are always dogs which are faster than any running dog alive and when the real event comes along those dogs are the first to give up?

It’s not mental for the dog. It’s completely physical.

It’s not enough for the general fitness of an Irish Wolfhound to have the few 15 minutes walkies in the lead and few sprints in the yard to make it run faster than anything. The few sprints in the yard or dog park is not showing how long or how fast the IW really is; it’s only showing how playfull the dog is.

In 7 seconds the dog has used up it’s immediate reserves and the first wave of exhaustion comes in. In the normal backyard the dog sprints for the few seconds and rests in a way or another for the next. In a lure-coursing event the track takes about 45 seconds, full speed running and steering.

The faster than anything dog gets exhausted, it’s muscles are sore from the lactic acid and the experience is anything but pleasant. After the trial she is put into a car to cool down and straight from the car to the finals, if lucky.

This dog will never compete again.

And hopefully so. For the well being of the dog.

To the owner of the faster than anything alive dog this may be devastating: she’s so fast at home, but not performing today. It may well be the last event the owner will ever take part into, if the owner was looking for instant gratification on the behalf of the dog’s performance. On the other hand, if the event otherwise was a success (good weather, nice buffet and nice people), the owner may take heed on the advice and dig a bit deeper into the excercise side. Take the dog out for a longer walkies, maybe jog with her from time to time (and participate half a marathon later next year… =D ).

Maybe the next time the dog is prepared -and ready- to run at full speed to the end.

Maybe after a while the dog is what the owner believed in the first place.

Faster than anything.

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.

Teenage of a future lure-courser

Where to draw the line of a puppy and a youngster? That is the question. In general, the biggest growth period of an Irish Wolfhound is finished at about the age of one year. At that point the basic bone and muscle growth has at least stabilized and the ‘infrastructure’ of the dog is there. At this point the muscles begin to grow and the dog will begin to handle it’s big body more agile.

You shouldn’t make any pulls before this age and should refrain from making lure pulls to an Irish Wolfhound this young: in the lure coursing regulations a dog of 18 months is ‘old enough’ to compete. Before that the risk of injury is more apparent mainly due to the fact that not all bones have gotten rigid enough and the joints may suffer from sudden impacts.

At this point it comes apparent that you should know your dog well enough to decide the range of strain it can endure without a risk. I haven’t made a single pull to a dog below one years age, and then it has been a straight pull for about 50 meters, just enough to give the dog an idea of the lure.

The actual training before 18 months should consist of daily walkies and a few longer walks in woods or broken terrain to exercise the agility and dexterity of the dog: free running in the forest would be the best, with other dogs. The main thing is to keep the experiences enjoyable and create the basic fitness of the dog. This helps the body to develop the muscles and nerves to handle the actual chasing.

At all times when devising trainings to the dog, be sure that you train her only when she has the inclination to do so. If she is uninterested in the exercise, let it be. The best way to break a promising competitor is to force her to compete.

At this time you could start to train with the lure: the best ways are a lure attached to a long pole by a string or a hand pulley. Remember that this is also a game and should be quit at the height of its intensity! With the hand pull device the maximum distance should be 100 meters in the beginning, even less to make the performance enjoyable.

All this exercise (or pretended lure exercise) should be performed on a proper area so the risk of even minimal injuries is minimized, to make the experience as risk free and enjoyable to the dog as possible.

At about this point you should come up with the proper gear for the dog: the muzzle, the mantle and proper collar. With the lure the dog should be able to exercise with another dog, but when training two dogs to run simultaneously you should make sure that this doesn’t result any kind of playing between the dogs. Exercise is exercise, playing is playing and they both have their own place and time. Which reminds me of another point: if possible, do not train the lure exercises at the same place as where you play with the dog. This is to secure that the dog connects the exercise and playing being separate things.

All the exercises at this point are mostly to prepare the dog for the mental aspects of the lure coursing. The actual training starts when the dog has gained enough muscles and mentality to take on the real thing.

What is important to  remember on the lure exercises is that you should never call the dog away from the lure: instead, you should go and lead the dog away from it after properly congratulating her on her excellent performance. Also a reward is in place at the first possible place: after all, the lure is the food.

And you should always remember, that the actual development happens when the dog rests. The same rules should apply as when the dog was just a puppy.

The safest way

What I learned yesterday on our long walk was that the safest way you think is not necessarily the safest anyhow. Simply because you have to expect the unexpected all the time.

And because accidents happen.

We had been walking about 20 minutes when a rabbit decided to test his skills in speed and agility, pitting his existence against three Irish Wolfhounds in decent fitness. All warmed up and ready to go.

And off they went.

It was a short chase, though, because the terrain and undergrowth of the forest gave the rabbit a distinct competitive advantage. Two of the three came back all intact, while the third, the most keen on the living prey, came back slightly limping. After a short inspection we deducted that it was nothing, just a small scrape on her toe, which we tended there and then.

We continued the rest of the walkies, total of 2 hours and 15 minutes, and noticed how this dog was not up to her standard movement, as if she was sore all over.

At home it became apparent that she has injured herself in a way or another: most probably the rabbit has taken straight 90 degree turn to the left, cutting in between two piles of logs, and the dog has done the same, spraining something in doing it. 5 kg causes much less strain to the body than 45 kg, simple physics.

So she’s forced to rest. The European Championships are a bit over a week from here.

She’s giving the other competitors a head start.

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.

Routines and routines

I’m having a bit of a writer’s block currently: I’m feeling that my posts are – and drafts – are revolving around just few subjects. Which I have covered already pretty well, only tweaking and clarifying the older posts regularily. 

I suppose this happens even when you’re living, exercising and/or training dog’s, too: you get railroaded into certain routines without noticing how simple and predictable your routines become. It’s food in the morning, walkies at noon, food in the evening, with ‘scheduled’ training in between.

Howabout the training? Unles you are very meticulous and plan your trainings beforehand (or have a training diary), you are bound to end up doing the same kind of strength, speed and stamina trainings over and over. And most probably in the same place, so the dogs will learn what happens where and when. The curses of organized training system.

As I have stated time and again, I don’t believe in rigorous training programs as such: free movement and roaming is what I put my emphasis on. For IW’s this works pretty well, especially in a pack like ours: two youngsters keep the older ones on the move and active. I can imagine this proves to be difficult if there is just one dog though: she may well become so dependant on the vincinity of the pack (aka owner/handler) that she will not even sprint for the occasional ‘prey’.

The pitfall of routines is also dangerous in the sense of training: the body, whether human or dog, will get accustomed to repeated exercise. Accustomed to certain strain. The training which gave excellent results in the beginning will soon become just an upkeep level strain. There has to be changes in the pace, hardness, strain and lenght of the training for it to become constantly rewarding. This can be achieved with adding some hill sprinting between two people in the woods, by adding some longer jogging sessions (yes, to really train a dog you have to be fit yourself… :P) or to have a pull or two for the sprint/speed training.

But the routines should be avoided in training. They should be enforced in other aspects of life: feeding times, rest times, obedience and play time. The routines should be time based, not exercise based. This is my philosophy, anyhow.

Currently I have to think about these training issues, because of our Ness’ paw: it’s healing nicely after a severe cut almost through one toe (took 6 stitches…), but the time between today and the European Championships is way too short to get him into prime condition. Without rigorous dedication and training.

Both of which I resent in this hobby, because for me the dog should enjoy it’s life, not be a tool for my personal craving for recognition.

But I cannot let a dog with no fitness, endurance or health to compete in such a competition, so I’m bound to have some sort of training schedule at least in my mind. Because of this, I’m off to the drawing board.

My jolly, how many sentences started with B… 😛

Breed specific exercise needs

I just checked out of curiosity the search words used to find this blog, as it is about a month old now. Much to my pleasure the blog had been found by “lure coursing” quite often. Then again, much to my utter surprise someone had been looking for “dog which doesn’t need exercise“. Thankfully that search found my sarcastic post on the subject, and I hope the visitor had the guts to read that one through and change his mind.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that very few people think about the requirements of their dog. Even less about the breed specific needs of their pet. Recent ‘global dog news’ about President Obama’s new dog has risen this issue to the discussion, as the Portuguese Water Spaniel which they decided to get ‘for the girls’ actually needs quite a lot exercise and activity to stay fit, both mentally and physically. Does the White House staff have time for that? Just asking, because Mr. and Mrs. President most probably won’t, and you should never, ever give a living animal to your children alone as a pet without supervision, let alone as a present. The horrifying warning was seen in Britain earlier this week. Not for the faint!

Each breed has their own, breed specific needs for exercise. Chihuahua most certainly isn’t the best partner for a long jog, nor a Mastino Napoletano with it’s bear like movement. Quite on the other end of the spectrum would be a Whippet for an elderly people to stay in the confines of four walls and a window. By recognizing the requirements and natural affinity of the breed should be one of the first things to note when one is selecting a proper breed for themselves.

Like I stated in my earlier post about this issue, there is no such breed which wouldn’t need exercise: daily walkies to the nearby lamp post and back isn’t sufficient for any dog of any breed. To avoid unnecessary criticism I have to add that this applies naturally to the healthy dog with no medically related restrictions. For a healthy dog the daily walkies should be at least 1.5 hours a day, as much of it without a leash as possible. That actually comes up pretty fast if you think that you take her out for a 15 minutes six times a day… Which I think isn’t quite enough for an active dog.

For an Irish Wolfhound as a breed it should mean a healthy free running about for that hour or 1.5 hours at a time. In addition to the several visits to the lamp post. Sighthounds are creatures which have been made to run, so they should be given this opportunity to express their inner need for sprinting. Irish Wolfhounds, which are bred especially for the big game hunting and long lasting chasing, should be able to run that hour or so constantly: that would be the approximation of a healthy Irish Wolfhound which would be capable of fulfilling the expectations of a mighty hunter. Or a lure courser.

I’m not saying this should be daily: for us the longer walkies are done every other day, maybe 3-4 times a week, while the daily routines outside of these walkies fulfill the minimum requirements.  This is merely because our dogs are roaming free for about 2 hours on a normal trip to the woods and about 3-4 hours during the longer one during weekend, and they have to rest properly if they take off to chase anything during the trip. 

Which they so often do… So they really need the rest of an easier day every now and then.

Sure, Irish Wolfhounds are the easiest and nicest creatures when they are at home: sleeping or laying across the floor, taking very small space and acting very graciously and quietly. But this appearance -combined with the size- gives people the false assumption that Irish Wolfhounds don’t need any exercise. And as much as I hate to think of it, this leads to the fact that so many IW’s in their maturity are way overweight and suffer from joint and/or back problems.

Have you taken care of the breed specific exercise needs of your dog?

How about your OWN breed specific exercise needs?

I thought so…