Supplementing nutrition

I wonder if wolves or african wild dogs have their own supply for electrolytes and nutritional supplements, because they are hunting in real (running for their life, in fact) and still around after several thousands of years after their emergence on Earth.

Or has this hairless descendant of monkey done something really wrong, causing the poor domesticated dog to be more or less dependant on nutritional supplements?

Or, in addition to the earlier question, is this hairless monkey doing the wrong things with their best friend and creating a situation in which the dog -whose best friend this monkey called human should be- is in fact dependant on the care…?

Just wondering. Too much care and caretaking may well be damaging in the long run.

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?

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.

Heat is going on

Weekend’s heatwave doesn’t seem to go away: up till the latter part of this week there is more of the same in the weather forecasts. This makes training itself almost impossible, and risks of all kinds rise their head. Sunstroke being the first one, not due to excessive sun, but due to loss of water and nutrients.

But this isn’t enough: due to the fact that the dog uses more energy to dissipate the heat, it also consumes more energy. This energy has to be replaced. We noticed that our dogs started to lose weight even though we had the same amount of the same food available all the time from ‘normal’ temperatures till the heatwave was on it’s third day. The remedy is to feed them clever, not more.

One has to remember that fat, when metabolized, releases water. Instead of adding energy from carbohydrates (easiest way), one should add more fat into the feed of the dog. Sounds controversial, but if you think of the metabolic functions of the dog, it makes perfect sense. The dog is meat eater, specified to consume meat and fat. It’s metabolic system will burn the fat effectively to water and energy (and other things), helping the body to keep up with the water need.

So, by adding more fat to the food we are actually helping the dog to drink more. Clever, eh? The amount eaten isn’t changed considerably while the dog’s system is being helped to cope with the excessive heat.

This doesn’t take away the requirement of cool, fresh water being available to the dog all the time. And over time, the dog will acclimatize, become accustomed with the warm weather, which in turn will help the situation.

Take care to fix the food later on as the weather cools down: the added energy isn’t required anymore and will result excessive weight gain… which a good exercise will take care of!

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.

The holy triangle for healthy dog

The breeder of our youngest Irish Wolfhound told to me when I was fetching the newcomer to her new home, that the worst hereditary disease of an Irish Wolfhound is it’s rapid growth. Almost at the same breath she told me about the Holy Trinity, which would help to keep the young puppy healthy and safe from other ailments. As I have thought more and more about it, the same trinity actually applies to puppy growing, children and even physical exercise of a grown up.

And training of a runner, be it man or beast.

holy-triangle

It is very simple ideal, but very hard to apply properly. The three most important things to remember when training yourself, the dog or growing an giant breed puppy are:

1. Nutrition

Proper food with proper nutrients. Enough energy to compensate either the need for the rapid growth or the energy depleted in exercise. Adequate amount of protein, fat and energy. What makes this problematic is the fact that every dog is different: the same amount of same food makes one dog gain weight while another loses it. You have to know your dog and monitor it constantly.

2. Exercise

I already touched this subject yesterday and earlier, but I cannot emphasize this enough: the best possible exercise for any dog at any age is to run freely with her mates. They play may seem rough at times, but it seldom goes over. Also the dogs will be able to regulate the strain, resting when necessary. The less we have to force them to move, the better it is for the well being of the dog as whole.

3. Rest

I have crossed this subject many times already, and most probably will, but the dogs know inherently when to rest and when to go on. We have to give the growing pup or sprinting ‘trainer’ the luxury to rest if they think it’s necessary. Also, the muscles and nervous connections grow during rest, so it is more than advisable to have a full day of rest after a hard training or a competition: the less the dog suffers pain from the exercise, the more enthusiastically it will run the next time.

As long as the triangle is served well, the dog will move adequately, digest as much as needed for exercise and growth and rest to repair and grow the musculature. Usually the new Irish Wolfhound owners (and probably to all giant breed owners) are given the advice to prohibit the movement and exercise of a puppy so that the bones and joints don’t suffer any strain or injuries. The funny thing about that is the fact that the bones and joints actually need exercise and adequate strain to develop hard and flexible enough to carry the giant body later on! The bones actually need the ‘gentle beating’ the gallop provides.

Instead of confining the dog inside the four walls, take her out and let her enjoy the life. Feed her the food that suits her and allow her the luxury of rest and solitude.

The dog, afterall, is the man’s best friend. It’s our job to be her best friend in return.