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.

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.

Interesting.

Mother’s Day competition

Oh what a day: we returned from the longest competition day yet, with out first time competitor. The competition had exceptionally big amount of dogs competing in a single day lure coursing event: over 145 dogs. The competition itself lasted for 9 hours from the first trial to the last and there were about 12.5 trials in an hour. This all was revealed to the competitors at the prize seremonies by the head judge, who customarily gives a small recap about the competition day.

The tracks were on the same fields as the Cup on Saturday, but in reverse order: the earlier finals track was the qualifiers.

For the Irish Wolfhounds this wasn’t the biggest day of glory, though. There were only four dogs competing after one had cancelled their participation. In the trials, only two dogs completed the trial, both competing for the first time ever. With decent points, I might say, even though the track was so demanding, physically.

Then there was about 7 hours of waiting till the finals, which must have been the reason for the results: neither of the dogs finished the finals, thus leaving the qualifiers points as valid scoring. What I mean about this is that our fist timer, Fiona (Siofra’s Wolfmann Fairy), experienced the competition event for the first time ever and most certainly the strain was immense to her mentally. As I left for work this morning there was no sign of any fatigue, and she was as playfull as ever, so the physical strain was well within her range.

All in all, the weather was great till the last finals, the dog returned home without injuries and in good fit.

The results of the Mother’s Day Lure Coursing in Lieto, Finland

1. Siofra’s Wolfmann Fairy 218 (Fiona)
2. Gogamagog’s Convel 191 (Nuupi)
3. Fernmark Kamikaze 0 (Kusti)
4. Sapwood’s Amusing Autumn 0 (Mimmi)

More thoughts about the competition later.

EDIT: Checked the times: the qualifiers started at 8:50 am and finals at 15:00, so the wait was ‘only’ 6 hours. Minus cool down and warm up, that’s just 4-5 hours of total rest and waiting.

Suomi Cup 2009 results

Suomi Cup, an invitational competition for the best performing lure-coursing dogs of the former year, was run today in Lieto, Finland. The results for Irish Wolfhounds were (official name – nickname – points (max. 600)):

1. Wolfmann Negredo – Ness – 446
2. Ethneanibhaloir – Zaida – 434
3. Gemmish Boudicca – Randi – 433
4. Wusillus Amicus Magnus – Hukka – 405
5. Frag’arach Von Den Erzminen – Justus – 206
6. Jaslane’s Fabiola – Täppä – 195

Only the first four got to run in the finals: the qualifier points were 220 from the first trial.

In honesty’s name, we went to the competition to check our dog’s fitness after 3 months of kennel cough during the beginning of this year, when our Ness was pretty close to dying: a fact we have come to realize only later. We think our dogs (Ness and Zaida) were not at their best fit, as this is the first competition for them for the year, so we’re more than happy and pretty much dumbfounded by these results!

Congratulations to all participants: after all, all the dogs were among the cream of the crop of all Finnish lure-coursing Irish Wolfhounds during year 2008, so the competition was fierce. To put it mildly.

The track was very demanding on the dog’s stamina, and the rain which dominated the competition didn’t make it any easier. All the dogs ran to their best ability, which under the circumstances was an amazing feat, as no dog was injured.

And the best part -in addition to the fact that all dog’s were uninjured after the day- is that everyone had fun: the dog’s, the owners and the spectators! 

Let’s hope tomorrow’s competition with first timers and newcomers proves to be as fine an occasion as today!