Two more myths to break

Thanks to a comment to the recent “Myths and myths“-post, I found two more myths to break about lure-coursing. The first is that the owner of the dog has to be competitive personality to participate in a lure-coursing event and the other is that the dog has to be trained especially to be able to course. Both are myths and support each other. Let me tell you why I think so.

Lure-coursing isn’t competition in the first place: in FCI ruling it is the working class trial for sighthound. A way to measure the dog’s natural affinity to the work it was originally created for. In this pretext it should be mandatory for a sighthound owner to be at least vaguely interested in how the dog they own does show this natural instinct in action. The owner doesn’t have to be competitive to take the dog to a lure-coursing event, only interested in the natural instinct and performance of their dog.

Sadly the system is such that the dogs are rated on points, and when there is a numerical evaluation, there is always a competition of sorts. In lure-coursing the owners are rewarded for their dog’s performance much like in dog racing: the best will get the merit of being the winner, even though each and every dog passing the set point limit to qualify have passed the test!

Like I mentioned in the earlier Myth post, training is not hard work as such: what we consider training is just normal living with big sighthound. Long walkies in the woods, dog running free as much as possible. The main thing is that the dog is fit enough to run the 700-1000m on one stretch, at full speed. What I would like to add to this, the dog should be able to handle the warming up (30-60 min.) and cooling down (another 30-50 min) walkies. And all this twice in a lure-coursing event day.

That is the fitness the dog requires to participate in a lure coursing event. It doesn’t require a set training schedule or planned training. Instead, it requires continuous interest in the dog’s general health and adequate walkies to maintain that level. I saw one TV-program from the series “It’s Me or the Dog” in which dog trainer Victoria Stilwell tackles problem dogs which are straining families’ or couples’ lives. In this show the couple had a boxer which was terrorizing the house. In the show Ms. Stilwell stated that a healthy active boxer requires 2 hours of exercise each day to keep it calm at home.

2 hours aday.

Sighthounds, especially larger ones like Irish Wolfhounds, are deceiving in this regard: they are very calm and ‘uninterested’ at home (except for the food bowl). So it’s easy to think that the 15 minutes walkies for them a couple of times a day is enough. It’s enough to keep them alive, that’s all. It is not enough to keep them healthy, fit and in good enough condition to work the way they have been intended to do.

By breaking the myth of competitiveness and high training requirements in your head you are easily one step closer to participating a lure-coursing event. If your dogs can handle a couple of hours walkies aday (give or take few in a week, the dog has to rest, too!) for a month or so before the event, then they are ready to take the trial for sure.

And who knows, by taking part in a lure-coursing event you may well catch the lure yourself: a new and exciting way of seeing your own belowed pet. An Irish Wolfhound chasing the lure is a sight worth seeing.

It’s the way all sighthounds were meant to be, after all. Working dogs, chasing the prey.


Feelings after EM

It’s over a week since the EM Lure-Coursing in Marianske Lazne took place, and there has been some time to reflect the whole event. The drive there and back, the camping among the Finnish team and the actual coursing have been -mind the pun- coursing in my head ever since. Even while working at the International Lure-Coursing event in Tampere last weekend I had the EM event as my comparison: how did this go, how was that done and so on.

I’m still amazed and surprised about the performance of our Ness. The more I think about it, the more I’m amazed about the recovery of the dog. He truly is a big guy with a big -and healthy!- heart.

The event -all in all- was extremely well planned, executed and pulled through by the competition personnel. There were some slight issues with scheduling and executing things in time they were scheduled to be, but as the weather was so benevolent towards the competing dogs, nothing was drastically off the comfort zone.

If you have a lure-coursing dog, and you have the change to participate EM event or similar big scale event, do make your best to be there! The atmosphere is very unique, nothing like the national competitions. It’s amazing to see such a large amount of sighthounds passing each other in peace, with owners and spectators passing them in ‘organized chaos’ from here and there. The atmosphere is completely different from dog shows, which are about the same in the amount of dogs. One member of the Finnish team wondered this too, and came to the conclusion that the sighthounds are really racists, despising other breeds only because they are always surrounded with sighthounds.

In these events this holds true, not necessarily in the everyday life.

All in all I’m very pleased to have been able to take part in the event. I’m also very grateful for the people who took their time to visit us at the Finnish camp: I didn’t take the time to go around the camps to see people. Even though I try my best not to be so competitive, I’m too concerned about my dogs and their performance in these events, so I’m too attached to them in the events.

Now it’s time to focus forward.

Next event is just around the bend. And we will be ready this time!

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.

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.


Evaluation of coursing

Several times, when I have told people about our dog’s competing in lure-coursing, the response has been a bit confusing to me. They are running after a lure, right, but not on a track. Not like the one you can see greyhounds running, or whippets, around the world. The most common response has been that the dogs must be very fast, as people usually think that the fastest runner wins. However, that is not the whole truth, as the dogs are evaluated in five categories and the combined points are calculated to gain the final score of a trial. So the fastes dog doesn’t necessarily win, but the best in all categories.

The categories are:  Speed, Enthusiasm, Intelligence, Agility and Endurance. 

  1.  Speed: The speed necessary to catch the prey. Naturally this means that the dog has to adjust it’s speed according to the speed of the prey and try to catch the lure. The breeds that hunt alone (greyhounds and whippets for example) will try to catch the lure by themself, but the breeds who drive the prey as pack will take their pair as an asset. This will lead to situation in which the fastest dog will not necessarily even kill the prey, but secure it.
  2. Enthusiasm: “Enthusiasm in the pursuit whatever the conditions of the ground (rough or with obstacles) and whatever incidents occur such as overshooting the turns, falling and losing sight of the lure.” This usually can be seen in situations in which the dog loses the sight of the lure, but still continues to pursue it at the direction it disappeared: some dogs just quit.
  3. Intelligence: The ability to read the track, terrain and the position of the other competitor and gain the best possible route to the lure. Especially with Irish Wolfhounds this leads eventually to the situation in which the dog ‘predicts’ the track just by seeing the terrain and guesses where the lure will turn. Usually dogs who have competed -or have been trained- too much in one season are prone to do this. Also working as a team is considered to be intelligent: there is nothing more enthralling than to see a well working pair to switch their lanes to keep the prey from getting away.
  4. Agility: Sighthound’s agility is shown in it’s rapid turning according to the turns of the lure, clearing obstacles and the final ‘kill’, sliding to the lure. Irish Wolfhound, being so big and heavy, this causes some problems as the tracks are usually designed for all breeds from Italian Sighthound to Irish Wolfhound: the turns and twists are pretty steep from time to time for this gentle giant.
  5. Endurance: “Endurance is the ability of a Sighthound to finish its course in good physical condition. It is the end sum of its physical and mental abilities.” Taken into account the fact that Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and Borzois (Russian Sighthounds) have been bred to hunt big game, namely deer, elks, moose and wolves, the track can only be seen as the final stretch of the lengthy hunting trip. 

The quotations are directly from the FCI Lure-Coursing rules, all else is from my personal thoughts about the rules. As I have stated above, the rules are very general and the competitions are a sum of several compromises due to the fact that they usually accomodate several, very different breeds which have very different needs to be rated by their hunting performance.

Currently the lure-coursing track is 500-1000 meters long, usually around 700-900 in International competitions. However, that track is devised so that it can be used for all breeds and thus the amount and cornering of the track is compromise to all except maybe the mid-sized breeds. For smaller ones the straight parts may be too long, and they may well get too much speed for the next corner. For larger breeds, the corners may be too tight and they will overshoot them, maybe even break themselves while trying to follow the lure.

About the ruling, still: there are three judges giving 20 points for each category in each trial. In a competition there are two trials: qualifiers and finals, to which the best of the qualifiers are entered. Usually the dogs who have received over half of the maximum points from the qualifiers are entered to the finals: this means 150 points from the qualifiers. In the end, the qualifier and final points are added together to get the results. Usually the points for the dogs completing both trials range from 350 to 500, with some exceptions, even though the maximum is 600.

As you can see, it’s not easy to explain the competition to a person who knows nothing about it: alone the evaluation of the performance is pretty difficult, and we haven’t even entered the competition yet.

And all this is to evaluate the ability of a sighthound to hunt in a manner typical for the breed.

Go figure.

Training season

The competition season in FCI Lure Coursing is soon starting: in fact, the first competitions in FCI Competition Calendar have been already in January, and the local competitions must have started earlier, too, but summer is the competition season. For us the competitions start in mid-May, when the qualifiers for the European Championships are ran.

Because of this, the training season should be well away. It takes about 12 weeks for the dog to gain the best shape and fit for running after the cool down which occurs after the competition season. And the training should be progressive, so that the results will get better the closer the first competitions come.

This is the time of year, too, when the newcomers should be primed for the training season. According to FCI, most of the lure-coursing breeds should be 18 months before they can take part in the competition. This means that the young dogs which were born in November 2007 -or earlier that year- are able to compete in May already. Depends on the date, however, when the actual competition can take place.

Younger dogs could be trained already with the competition in mind: gentle playing with a lure simulcrum, free playing and running on their own should be part of the everyday routine for the dogs who are considered to be competing later on. Never underestimate the power of the dog’s own, free exercise. The more the dog can play and compete with it’s kind, the better: young puppies, be they what ever size possible, can naturally take care of their strain levels. Very young pup may well take a sprint, sit for a while and then take another. The possible breakage comes from the time when we owners try to force the pup to move when she wants to rest. Refrain from forcing the pup to work more than it wants to.

Irish wolfhounds are no exception to this rule. Though the older they become, the more they know how things are: if they have experienced pain and discomfort after training or competition, they are sure to act accordingly next time.

Pain is our enemy as owners, for when the Irish Wolfhound encounters it in competition -or in training-, she will remember it forever.