My dog is so fast…

The topic is one misconception people seem to have, in addition to the thought that speed is everything in lure-coursing. The dog may be fast in the backyard or in the ‘training’ where the pulls are 250m. But the real challenge of the 600-1000m lure coursing trial is something completely different.

How to tell the difference? In the backyard (or normal walkie), use a watch to time the actual time your dogs are running at a time. Constantly running, that is, at their full -or playfull- speed before giving in to trot. You might be surprised how little they really run, especially if you compare that to the time the dogs run in a lure-coursing trial.

How long is a trial, then? Depending on the track, at the average speed of 40km/h the normal track from 600-1000 m lasts anything from 1 minute to 1.5 minutes. On average the run craze of a dog at the back yard takes about 10-15 seconds and after that the dog is ready to go in. It may run like a lunatic, fast as lightning and all, but the real challenge is avoided.

The lactic acid threshold.

At about 100 meter point, which is about 6 seconds from the start, the dog has used the immediate energy reserves in the system and the lactic acid starts to mount into the muscles. This causes ache, stiffness and discomfort, and the dog will cease running if the reason to run is not strong enough. At the backyard the reason may be to release some tension and it’s over in the 10 seconds. In the trial it is the instinct to chase the lure, and it may not be enough to keep the dog interested after coming tired and stiff.

Each and every dog is the best in the world to it’s owner, that’s for sure. But the dog running at backyard/training/walkies is not necessarily the fastest or best in the lure-coursing trial, if it hasn’t gotten used to straining herself beyond the threshold.

Even then there may be something which causes her to quit before the trial is over. But that’s another story alltogether.

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.

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.

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… 

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.

To cool down

After a trial or competition, a human athlete doesn’t pack his pack and cram himself into a car. Instead, he takes his time to recover from the strain, slowing down the heart beat and breathing, walking or gently jogging to keep the lactic acid moving from the muscles to the blood stream and stretching the muscles gently to relieve any stiffness caused by the strain of the muscle cells. And naturally, he’s drinking to overcome the water and nutrient loss of the trial.

However, the dog athlete is often walked to the car or cage, let to relieve themselves on the way and offered something to drink, water most usually. And then she is crammed into a small confined space to rest before the next trial.

What is wrong with the picture?

The dog athlete will do its maximum performance each and every time it works. This means that the muscles are strained to the maximum, and the micro-damage of the muscle cells causes severe loss of nutrients and iron from the body. Next time your dog does a long and very straining exercise, check her urine: don’t be alarmed, though, because the blood red urine is natural sign of an excessive strain to the muscles. I have seen this happen only when our dogs have chased a moose for over 5-10 minutes at one strech. But it shouldn’t be a norm, only after a very straining exercise!

But every dog -how long a sprint it ever is- is generating lactic acid because the full speed gallop is an anaerobic exercise: the muscles do not have enough oxygen to function and the metabolic system turns into a form in which the energy is created without oxygen. This results lactic acid, which in turn is harmfull to the muscles (lowering the acidity and causing cramping) and takes somewhat longer time to get out of the system. Heart muscle actually burns lactic acid off in it’s functions, but this happens slower than the muscles create it: this also requires the oxygen from breathing, thus making it neigh impossible during a race.

What to do, then? Cooldown.

As it was with the warm up, cooling the dog down doesn’g happen in minutes: it takes at least as long as the warm up to get the ‘body fluids’ moving and the real cooling down to start. The heart rate will stay higher than normal to burn the lactic acid away as effectively as possible, but the muscles will clear themselves out of this damaging substance. The main thing in cooling the dog down in this way is to slow the metabolic rate down by walking the dog gently. Also, it the weather is warm -as it usually is in the summer- the dog can be actually cooled down by applying water to the legs and belly: this will cool the dog’s temperature down while it evaporates. But never apply water into the dog’s pelt: the water will go down into the fur and get trapped in there, generating a layer of warm water, insulating the dog even more effectively from the cooling air!

As mentioned, the cooling down walkie should be at least as long as the warming up to make sure that the fluids keep washing the muscles after the trial and that the lactic acid is removed from the muscles as well as possible. The routine should be similar to warming up, though reverse: starting from a slightly brisker pace, slowing down to gentle gait.

And of course, the dog should be offered water to drink as soon as she accepts it, and something slight to eat if there is another trial coming later: this is to ensure that the dog’s energy reserves are  at least partially replenished before another straining exercise. After the cooldown walkie and some refreshments, the dog can have it’s rest: usually this means that the dog takes a good nap, only to wake up to the next trial or at home, where the recovery is continued.

Proper cooling down makes the new start and the next competition more enjoyable to the dog, as it prevents excessive soreness of the muscles and cramping, which may be caused by improper warm up/cool down. The more the dog enjoys the trial and the routines involved in it, the more certainly and surely it will run the competitions, one after another.

This serves both the dog -who stays fit and likes to run- and the owner -who sees the results and enjoys the appreciation-, so it is mutually beneficial!

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.