Some comparisons

Dogs are pretty special creatures. Not exactly carnivores, nor completely omnivores, but somewhere in between. Let’s see what makes them tick.

Digestive tract, length: 4-5 times the length of their body. For comparison, cat has 3 times, pig has 14 times and human about 17.

Digestive tract, weight / body weight: giant breeds 2.7%, miniature breeds 7%, cat 2.8-3.5% and human 11%.

Stomach, volume: dog 0.5-8 litres. Cat 0.3 l, human 1.5 l.

pH (acidity): dog 1-2, cat 1-2, human 2-4, wolves 1.

Dog’s sense of smell is million times more accurate than human’s: where we have about 5 million receptor cells in our nose epitel, dogs have aroung 150-250 million. Then again, dog has almost 1/10th of the taste receptors compared to us (dog about 1500, human about 10.000).

What does this mean?

Dog, direct descendant and relative of wolf, is mainly a meat eating animal. The thousands of years with human has evolved it into a scavenger, eating all edible that it can find. Thus dog is capable of consuming vegetable material, too: in fact it’s necessary for the bacterial flora in it’s stomach to have some fibres for well being.

The length of the bowels is that of a carnivore, a meat eater: short and effective. The time food remains within the system is approximately 12-30 hours, whereas for us human that is around 30-120 h (5 days). So the energy requirement for the food is high (energy/volume), and that can only be attained from meat and meat derivates (fat).

So the basic function is that the acute sense of smell can spot a rotting carcass miles away, and the low stomach pH can kill almost all pathogens causing intestinal infections. In addition to that, the lack of taste gives the opportunity to eat whatever edible other animals may have left due to bad taste.

In addition to this, dog’s stomach contains pepsinogen, a very effective enzyme that breaks collagen: it makes it possible for dogs to gain energy from the hard collagenous material like bones, cartilages and tendons, which otherwise are left in the carcass. Thus making it’s system capable of acting as a cleaning unit in nature, disposing of the bones of the carcasses.

Like all predatory animals, dogs also have one thing above us dorcile humans: their elastic stomach. It can stretch to hold up to 8 l of material, making it possible for the dog to consume HUGE amount on one eating. So its no wonder the neighbourgs poodle ate the 8 pound turkey the other christmas, as the legend goes: it can and has happened.

Interesting beasts these friends of ours, aren’t they?

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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.

Search engine answers

I’ve been lazy and haven’t updated the blog as often as I should. That’s about to change, as I’m going to write some texts into drafts first and put them on publishing queue. That’ll teach me something, I think… If nothing else but to stay on schedule.

Now, however, I will tackle the search engine terms I have received hits from. I will leave out the one I’ve been commenting time and again (being “dog breed which doesn’t need exercise”). I will also use some of the terms as topics for complete posts, so I won’t mention those.

First of all, the latest: How fast wolfhound. I gather the question has been how fast a wolfhound will run. In our case -in lure coursing- this means the speed an average competitor gains on the zig-zagging track which is about 700-900 meters long. I would say that it depends on the dog, the track and the terrain.

In general, if we think of a greyhound, the fastest recorded dog breed in the world, is considered to be “45 mile per hour couch potato” with it’s top speeds recorded up to 72 km/h, the sheer size and body mass of Irish Wolfhound makes this impossible. However, in a lure coursing event, the calculated average speed of a champion level dog can easily pass into the 40-45 km/h range, which is quite a feat for such a large dog. The Finnish oval track record gives a top speed of 32 km/h on 480 meter track.

But that speed is the striking speed or the final attack speed of the dog. Where a greyhound can easily kill itself by chasing the prey for a prolonged time, Irish Wolfhound has been bred to chase large game animals and wolves, hunts which are known to last for hours: the endurance and the speed of this chase is of crucial importance. The Woflhound cannot let the prey escape, so it must be able to cut it’s turns. If an elk runs at the speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h), then the wolfhound has to be able to follow this speed and make a kill after the elk has wasted her strength. However, I think this speed is the top speed of an elk, and the actual trot is something way lower.

So the simple answer would be that a good, fit and fast Irish Wolfhound may well run at top speed of 40-50 km/h, even though the track speeds tend to show lower values.

This is just my opinion and not a recorded fact.

The next would be food for wolfhound. This is a touchy subject I have to write about sometime. I would say that enough to keep the dog healthy but little enough to keep her from gaining extra weight. The more energy the food contains, the less it should be given. And never, ever trust the amounts suggested on the package if you’re giving kibble: watch how your dog reacts to the food and how it affects the dog’s health.

Best way to train dog for coursing. I gather it’s for lure-coursing as live -or park- coursing is next to prohibited around the world. I think only in Ireland this is still done, but for how long, that is the question. I will write more about my thoughts on how to proceed later, in fact this was something that is long overdue.

I’ll have to mention something about muzzles, blankets and other lure-coursing gear at some point, too. Including the lure-coursing lure and pulling systems, though I have very little experience on those. Maybe I’ll get some visiting author to do a post about them, who knows. Volunteers? There is also space for a post about typical lure-coursing track, if anyone is interested.

I’ll end this recap with one of the most disturbing searches that have ever found it’s way to this blog. The search is simply “my irish wolfhounds have sores all over“. First of all, if this happens, take the dog to a vet, immediately. If it doesn’t help, take her to another, until you find a) the reason to this, b) the remedy for this and c) get the dog well. To keep a dog, be it Irish Wolfhound, Chihuahua or Bulldog, in pain and suffering for prolonged time is torture. If you are planning to do something like this, take a hammer and pound the bones in your feet to pieces. That would be quite enough to remind you that no creature should be harmed and kept in pain.

That’s all for now. My own ‘exercises’ with our dogs can be followed from my Sportstracker account. Mind you, this contains only my walkies, not my wifes, so rest assured the dogs have plenty of good exercise day in, day out, not forgetting the rest. It’s high time, as the European Championships in Marianske Lazne are within one month!

Food for thought

Actually, I should have rephrased the topic as “Thought for food”, as that is mainly the topic. But I think it would be great to think over the choices each of the dog owners is doing for their dog’s nutrition… well, honestly speaking, it would be a good thing to think over ones own nutrition from time to time, too… 

More or less I’ve covered so far more the exercise part of the Holy Triangle, mostly because that’s what I’ve been mostly asked about. But like I posted in that post, the dog’s health is directly affected by all three main aspects of the triangle: nutrition, exercise and rest.

Lets start from the beginning. A dog has ten thousand times more accurate smell than us humans, but the amount of taste buds in their mouth is only one tenth of what we have. One might ask, why is it so. The answer is simple: the wild dogs and wolves are mainly carcass eaters, the cleaning patrols of the wilds. They can smell the carcasses from afar and trail a wounded or sick animal by the smell. Then, when they reach the spoiled -or even partly rotting- carcass, they don’t have to think about the finer flavours of the feast: the main issue is to get enough energy to last for the next hunt or carcass.

Because of the fact that main portion of the food that wolves and wild dogs eat is not at the prime of it’s shelf time, their digestive system is designed to kill all the harmfull, pathogenic bacteria. Wolves have pH 1 in their stomach, effectively killing all bacteria entering their stomach. However, we humans have slightly damaged our dog’s systems by breeding, because our beloved companions have only pH 2-2.6. This is significantly lower than that of the wolves, so some pathogenic bacteria may survive in these surroundings and yes, can cause a food poisoning to the dog.

But it’s a very, very rare occasion.

The more important aspect of this is the fact that wolves digestive tract is also much more specialized in utilizing meat as it’s main energy source. As a matter of fact, our beloved dogs share the carnivore’s intestines in such a way that they cannot cope with excessive amounts of vegetable based material, anyway. Sure, they can eat food with cereals and vegetables, but their digestive system is much more efficient in using meat and fat as it’s energy source.

The metabolic system of us humans is carbohydrate based one: this means that as an omnivore, capable of eating and utilizing all sorts of food stuffs, our system uses carbohydrates as its main energy source and the system is doing it’s best to utilize it to the fullest. However, due to the direct relation to the carnivore ancestry, the meat eating forefathers have given our dogs a different approach: their metabolic system is fat based. Sure, they can use carbohydrates in their food, but their system is designed to use the meat based fat as it’s main energy source. 

At this point I can hear angry disgreements from here and there, but all this is backed by studies in both biology, veterinary sciences and dog nutrition. It just needs to be put into a right context.

The harder the dog works, the more it consumes energy. This is common sense. But usually people forget that the more the dog works, the more it consumes other nutrients (vitamins, antioxidants and minerals), which may become even more crucial in the long run. In sledge dog studies it has been noticed that the working dogs easily get anemic if their food’s energy levels are increased by only adding fat or carbohydrates to it. They need iron to compensate the loss during the exercise. And what happens to be the best source for bioactive and -attainable iron? 

Meat.

So for a working dog, which a lure-coursing sighthound like Irish Wolfhound is, fatty meat should be the basis of the nutrition during the training and competition season. The other option is clearly to have some high energy kibble to compensate this.

It’s not a question about how much the dog eats, or how often. Because the more the dog uses energy, the more energy it needs. If the food contains too low energy compared to the usage, the dog firstly loses weight and secondly will get some nutritional deficiences. However, only adding energy doesn’t take care of the other nutrients, unless you are lucky enough to find a kibble fulfilling the both requirements. The question in the end is how smart the dog eats in the end.

And that question is ours, the owners and breeders, to solve the best we can.