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.

Early life of a future lure-courser

This is an adaptation from general guidelines for whippet and greyhound owners: their needs and physical traits differ slightly from Irish Wolfhounds, which makes some things a bit different.

Puppy bin

As lure-coursing isn’t exactly a sport nor a competition as greyhound racing, and thus the speed isn’t the most decisive factor, you should always select the puppy you feel most your own. If you really want to select one from the litter, try to select an active and brave puppy, which is interested in it’s surroundings. The best advice is to check the puppies feeding time: the one who is most brutally interested in her food should be your safest bet on natural chasing instinct.

Why? Because it’s food that’s running away from you.

Coming Home

In addition to normal visits to the yard the puppy needs walkies and exercise. This should be without restraints of anykind, the puppy should be able to run as she wishes and as much as she wants. And preferably in as many different terrain types as possible. The more the puppy is moving without the leash, the more it’s internal muscles develop and the overall agility improves. This is of crucial importance at latter age, when the structural bodymass starts to develop.

The puppy should be induced into different social contacts and should be growing mentally also. This requires contact with other dogs and playing. The first is simple to do: just meet as much different dogs in the local dog park or equivalent, and/or visit other people who own dogs. The experiences should be positive overall and well planned beforehand. Well planned means that you don’t take your precious puppy to a dog which you know to hate puppies, for example.

Playing is completely different story: the puppy shouldn’t be forced to play anymore than exercising. If you want to administer the playing, remember to keep in mind that the function of play for a dog is to rehearse the chase and capture of prey. Chasing a rag, tearing a piece of fur and chasing a ball are excellent ways to simulate the chase.

Remember to quit the playing when the intensity of the play is at it’s height! This way you are enhancing the instinct instead of fullfilling the need. The enhancing of instinct is what we’re aiming to, to create a lurefast runner!

You should be creative with the different games: chasing a ball or a frisbee, fetching a rag, tug of war, all have their function and should be changed day in, day out.

Rewarding the puppy is extremely important: a good reward is enhancing the effect of the play. However, a pet and praising the dog is quite enough, there is no real need for snacks as reward.

The best place to play is outside and my opinion is that the puppy should be trained from early on that inside is for resting and feeding, outside for playing and games. You should also remember that the puppy needs to rest, and when the puppy goes to rest, she should be left there. It should be made known to everyone in the household that when the puppy rests, she is not to be disturbed in any way.

You see, the most of the development of the muscles and mind of the dog -as well as us humans- happens during sleep and rest.

The muscles, tendons and the body of an Irish Wolfhound grows in extreme measures. From 500 grams to 50 kg within a year is the worst genetic disease this breed has, surpassing every other hereditary ailment. This should be kept in mind when working with Irish Wolfhound puppy: do not force her to exercise, let her rest when she rests and know your dog to notice any ailments well in time.

Nature has it’s ways, and this holds even with Irish Wolfhound.

Puppy love

Naturally there are puppies delivered almost around the year, but it seems that there are excessive amount of them going around right now. In the Club Show I mentioned earlier there were loads of puppies and I know of some batches just about to leave their home. Puppy love in it’s best.

I’m sure the puppies will get excellent, loving and caring homes for the most part. And as natural as that is, there are those who will find home only after one or two tries, which is very sad in it’s own way.

Every breeder has their own ‘rules, regulations and guidelines’ on how you should feed and care for your new puppy. All meaning well, all aimed for one thing only: the wellbeing of the Irish Wolfhound puppy in it’s new -hopefully- permanent home.

The question is, what is the only way to do it right?

Like I said, every breeder has their own set of guidelines, which have things in common, but have vast differences, too. We have the guidelines from three breeders, and they all have their differences. In some cases even very big differences.

And that is where the owner comes into the play: how clever, interested and curious she is about the dog, the breed and the overall handling and wellbeing of this puppy. Will she do whatever the breeder has stated, even if she sees that the guidelines are not working for this puppy? Will she have the nerve to make her own decisions? Will she have the courage to call the breeder and ask even the most stupidest thing if she’s not sure about it?

We have been blessed with three things: magnificient breeders from whom our dogs came from (especially the first one, for she paved the way for the interest in the breed), great interest in doing the best for the dog (and the breed in general) and some prior experience about dogs before our first gentle giant.

Because of the fact that the breeder trusted us so much that we got to do our own decisions from very early on (she insisted that we should use our common sense), we have experimented with feeding, excercise and training in general. We have learned from our mistakes, corrected them on the way and rejoiced from our successes.

And noticed how little we really know.

One of the questions I got asked in the Club Show was that how can one start training this 10 week old puppy to become a lure courser. What could I say except to love her, to play with her and just live with her. No restraints, no limits and no demands in the beginning. I citated the Holy Triangle several times, as that has proven itself to be valid and solid foundation for a healthy Irish Wolfhound.

What usually seems to be difficult to understand is the movement of a puppy: most of the breeders emphasize that you shouldn’t make your puppy run excessively at young age, and that long walkies are especially bad. Long meaning walkies over 15 minutes at a stretch. For us it has been so that the puppies have had full freedom in our yard from very early on: they can run and play as much as they want. There is one thing I’m very strict about: the puppy will do what she wants and when she wants (except eating). If she wants to sit, she sits: no-one should force a puppy to move when she’s resting. The puppy may sit down in the middle of a shorter walkie: she should be given the time to get up herself.

That is the only thing I would forbid from a new puppy owner completely: forcing the puppy to move. Free running and playing is for the good of the postural muscles, which pays in the long run in better agility and balance. Forced movement (pulling from the leash, urging the puppy to continue when she’s resting and so on) only causes damage to both the body and the mind of the dog.

But then again, the last one applies to the whole life of the Irish Wolfhound. They are clever enough to get along without forcing them to do anything.

Really.

The best for a new puppy: unconditioned love and loads of free movement with set feeding times and ample resting.

I could live with that, too!

Seasoning the lure courser

Yesterday we did a rehearsal pull to our youngest runner, Fiona: it was just a few meters, but the idea was to teach her to kill the lure and not just neglect it like she did in her first competition. Natural reaction to the lure which just stopped. She jumped over it and went for mommy.

This brought to my mind the age old discussion on how to enhance the chasing -or killing- instinct of a lure coursing Irish Wolfhound. In greyhound side they say that the dog either has or doesn’t have the instinct: you cannot teach it to an older dog, anyhow. While I agree with this in the degree that you cannot teach a dog to chase at older age, at least with the ferocity and enthusiasm a ‘natural chaser’ would have, you can condition the dog to do this.

The best would naturally be to teach a puppy with natural affinity to chase. The puppy should be tested before making the selection, in the puppy bin, to see that it really is interested in the moving ‘prey’ and is hungry enough to do it’s best to catch -and eat- it. Of course, the puppy has to be old enough to see and walk on her own to make this work.

But this is only the beginning: now we have tested the puppy and made sure it has the natural affinity to hunt. The later life of the puppy should reflect to this in a way that the play with the puppy should contain small chases of a rag or something, so that the play would keep the affinity alive. The play should always be stopped at the point when the puppy gets excited. This way the instinct and desire isn’t fulfilled, but the basic need to chase and kill is only enhanced. The puppy will become even more fearce in her chasing and killing, leading to secure chasing and kills at the later age.

Of course, you can always see if the dog is interested in living prey by following her actions at a garden. Or at home. If she tries to catch flies, butterflies or bees, she surely will try to catch the lure! Living, four-legged fly-trap is a sure sign of chasing affinity.

If only it was this easy. The dog may resent the lure with vengeance. For some peculiar reason or another, she may chase it with all the interest in the world only to leave it untouched after the race. It may be the odour (strange, not like home), the feeling it doesn’t reward the ‘kill’  or that catching it causes pain or miscomfort. The last one may be a result of catching a bee or an earlier experience of a competition/training in which the dog has gotten sore muscles or something.

How to proceed from this? The dog chases but doesn’t kill?

Our approach is to use positive conditioning. The action should be rewarded immediately after completing. We tie a treat to the hand lure we have and pull only so that the chasing starts: the dog catches the lure, finds the treat hidden in it and gets an immediate reward for killing it. Next time the treat is tied into a more difficult place, so the dog has to dig -or tear- it out of the lure, making the killing more ‘real’.

But only one pull at a time: the more you do this, the more the dog will learn and the easier she gets bored. Especially Irish Wolfhounds with their big heads (containing at least some brains) get bored so easily, so you have to be carefull not to over exert any training. Too many training pulls, and the dog loses her interest in the competitions. Too many competitions and the dog loses it’s interest to chase the lure: instead it starts to read the field and anticipates the lure movement according to the obstacles.

Our dogs are not stupid: they will optimize their gain from any exercise.

Use that to your training benefit!

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.