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.

Advertisements

Life after all

I’ve been pondering over this one issue which has been bothering me for some time already. In a way it’s so much connected with taking the dog to the dog shows over and over again, even after the dog has gained all the champion titles it ever can get.

What to do with the dog after it has gained all?

That’s a bit harsh to say like that, but the general idea is that why would I want to take the dog to yet another lure coursing event after he’s gotten his working class champion status? Winning an additional competition means nothing anymore. As a matter of fact, it seems to hinder the development of other dogs to compete with a dog which has recorded performance.

I can’t see but only one reason to take my dogs to the events after the titles have been received: to see them run. The winning actually is just a side effect of the fitness and willingness of the dog to run. The sad part of this is the people who are taking their dogs to the competitions to win and gain certificates. And prestige for owning such a champion.

The saddest example of this kind of behaviour is also closely related to the behaviour of people taking their dogs to dog shows. In dog shows it’s pretty common to choose the shows to which people take their dogs by the judge judging the dogs. By choosing the right judge you can make a champion out of three legged and crosseyed dog, if you really want to. Cruel over-simplification, but as it is based on opinion of one judge, and their opinions vary, it’s quite possible.

In lure coursing this craving for winning and certificates comes out by choosing the events in which the best dogs are not attending to. In the worst case even calling to the owners of the ‘top performing dogs’ to ask which competitions they are taking their dogs, so that they can go to the competitions these dogs are not attending to. In a way it’s the same as the dog show selection: by selecting the events in which there are less -or inadequate- competition people want to make sure their dog will be the top performing one.

Receiving the certificate and recognition.

I just want to ask one question: What is the value of such a win or certificate, if there is no real competition involved? What kind of information does it give to the owner of the dog about the dog’s performance, outlook or qualities to pit her against inadequate opponents?

My simple opinion is: none.

To win or lose, you should always compete with the best to see where you’re lacking. That’s my personal opinion. If you win, you have truly earned the win. If you lose, you can analyze, what went wrong. The same goes with the dogs: they will give their best when running against a better opponent, learning from the experience and gaining more than from an easy win.

In the deepest sense of the spirit of Lure Coursing, it’s  not a competition: it’s an evaluation of the sighthound hunting ability. The competition part is created by us humans, who want to ‘win’ and be better than others: this means neigh to the dog herself. So if you are taking your dog to lure coursing events only to win, you are using your dog as a tool to satisfy your own need to win. You are coursing your dog for the wrong reasons…

One thing is sure, however: after all has been gained, the only thing remaining is the joy of seeing the dogs run.

Wild, focused, pure joy of the chase.

To be fast enough to catch the lure.

As mental as it gets

The more you think you know, the more you realize how little you really know. That is a truth that reminds of itself from time to time and makes this hobby with the dogs extremely interesting. It also makes the successes even more rewarding, as you can only rely on the knowledge you have gained and the training you have settled upon.

Earlier I wrote that you can make any dog chase the lure: for some it comes naturally, while others need more work to be ‘lure-fast’. What I didn’t take into the account back then was the mentality and personality of the dog. Sure, the dog will learn how to chase and even kill the lure with simple positive enhancement techniques, and will do the work by herself like an angel. But what happens when there is another dog chasing the same lure, like in the competition?

For Fiona the first competition ever was part success, part failure: the qualifiers she ran like an angel, making a really flashy debut on the field. In the finals, however, the other competitor collided with her and they both quit the chase without completing the trial. The veterinarian in the competition checked her and stated that there were no visible injuries. Nor did we notice anything later on: not even muscle soreness which usually follows this kind of contact.

But this weekend proved us wrong in one sense or another. Fiona started very well, but didn’t chase the lure any further without checking the whereabouts of her competitor. And quit.

Is it mental or physical?

Irish Wolfhounds are known to remember nasty things that have happened to them, and to avoid such situations. Then again, any sane dog would do the same, regardless of the breed, but sighthounds seem to be extremely particular on this. So if it’s mental, it may go with age and positive experiences. If it’s physical, it may go with massage and physiotherapy.

Let’s go deeper into the mentality side. Fiona is very gentle, calm and easy as a dog: one could describe her as being soft. Very soft, in fact. In addition to that, she’s having her spooky age, which has resulted the fact that she cannot be taken into shows: the shuns away from the judge, who in turn cannot evaluate her.

On the track the situation is quite similar: she has had the bad experience of being touched by another, unknown dog in the coursing, and she thinks all strangers are a threat to her. So the game is settled in the start already: one look from the competitors is usually enough to tell the pair who does what and how. Which one is the chaser, which the killer. In Fiona’s case, enough to tell her that she may be in jeopardy.

This is something we are going to treat as a challenge: how to grow a sensitive soft Irish Wolfhound into a competitive lure courser. As far as I understand, it requires some good, positive experiences in the lure coursing, encouraging her to take her position and gain some self confidence. She is just about 2 years old, so she’s still growing, which may have it’s effect on her mind, too.

Anyone happen to know good books or articles about dog’s mentality and mental training?

Expectations of the owners

Last weekend I attended to a happening which was co-arranged by local Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhoud associations: mainly the idea was to have a training morning for the dogs and owners about lure coursing and give some taste of the real thing.

The event started with a small presentation by a renown lure-coursing enthusiast, who has been doing this for the last 33 years. So the experience spoke when he told the listeners that the dog should be warmed up well enough before the trial and cooled down afterwards. And that the dog -when trained to chase the lure- should be only teased to play with the lure and left unsatisfied with the game to make her chase the lure in real even more enthusiastically.

How wrong was I when I followed the attending dog owners from aside (with our own dogs with us)!

The dogs were allowed to take a short hand operated pull on a greyhound track first. Most of the dogs ran nicely, only few of the dogs were clearly disturbed by the surroundings and the vast amount of strange dogs.

Then came the lure-coursing exercise. The track was something around 200-300 meters, so approximately half of the real track. We were walking around with our dogs constantly, so there were only few still moments for their muscles to cool down: we thought that we walked too little, but then again, there were a lot of those who just took the dog to the track and then walked them back to car. So much from listening to the initial presentation.

All in all, all the dogs -both Irish Wolfhounds and Scottish Deerhounds- ran very well. If these dogs would be warmed up and cooled down properly, they would enjoy the exercise and competing more. And I surely hope that at least some of them would compete this season as there are too few of these giant breeds competing anyhow.

What really stopped me and made me think during this weekend was something I found myself thinking, too. In the initial presentation it was stated that the dog shouldn’t be punished or reprimanded for what she did or didn’t do on the track, for she thinks she has done the best she can: instead, she should either be complimented, patted or said nothing. And this is what I saw: dogs which didn’t go to the lure after a great run being neglected, dogs who didn’t run exceptionally well on their first time on the track, dogs who were happy and enjoying themselves being talked down because they weren’t performing to the max.

Most of the times by the owners who had no experience in the competitions and had their expectations too high for the dog. I myself found myself evaluating our first time runner in way too critical manner, something of which my wife correctly mentioned to me. And true, I was comparing a complete novice to our European Champion who really showed what the sport is about: running, speed, joy and ease.

When you go with your dog to the lure-coursing training, remember that it is only training. If your dog is there for the first time, everything is new to her: the smells, sounds, everything. This is enough to confuse the poor dog, let alone the fact that the owners are more or less excited and tense.

Give your dog time to get accustomed. Evaluate her on her own performance, not by comparing to the others. Congratulate her on everything she does correctly, for she will do her best 110% on the field, much more than we could ever put effort into.

And she will know when she blunders, even though you never mention it.

The training day should be enjoyable experience to the dog and shouldn’t be repeated too many times. Keep your dog happy about the chase and she will bring you all the results she can!

Motivation and motivating

Dog is a machine. Simple, straightforward hunting machine.

Everything in this descendant of the wolf points to that direction. Except maybe the fact that it’s digestive system has altered to utilize more varied food than it’s ancestors: whereas wolves digestive tract is completely designed to utilize meat in it’s all forms, shapes, sizes and putrefecation stages, domesticated dog’s system doesn’t endure as varied selection.

But the pack mentality, speed, attention and focus. That’s all from a simple killing machine which the nature has created to keep the amounts of game species down. Or at least prune out the sick and wounded ones.

In lure-coursing you can see the focus of the sighthounds clearly: the low gait, sharp stare of the lure and ‘all or nothing’ mentality in the chase.

But what drives the motivation of the dog? The instinct is the main motivator, naturally, which is triggered by the moving preylike lure. However, the more I see and hear about irish wolfhounds, the more imminent is the fact that not all dogs have this instinct intact. There are dogs that don’t even consider chasing the lure, let alone living prey.

The instinct can -and in case of sighthounds, should- be enhanced. If the dogs would live in ‘nature’, the mothers would teach their puppies to hunt at some point. To play with food, so to speak, by bringing a dazed prey animal (rabbit for example) to the lair and let the pups play with the animal before killing it for food. That’s the way it is.

The main idea would be to attach the image of food into the chase. The idea of fulfilling one basic need.

Nowadays the domesticated dogs seldom get this luxury. Thus it is twice as important to remember to play with the little pup when she is young and ‘tender’: pull a rag to her to catch, to pull the rag gently to get the pup going into the playing and just letting her to bash the rag around. But not over do this: Irish Wolfhound is extremely intelligent and gets bored very fast. Young dogs may even lose their interest in playing if exerted for too long.

A couple of teasing games with a rag should be enough at a time.

The most important thing for us owners is to know our dog. So it’s very important to have your eye on how your pup develops and how she is doing. 

It may well save her life if something nasty happens.

Back to the issue: The motivation to hunt or to chase is partly inborn and can be enhanced by playing with the young dog. To make this even more efficient, the preferred actions could be rewarded by treat. More mature dog might even expect finding that treat from the training lure when she catches it. And in competition the dog might even be rewarded for the chase and getting the lure at the end by a treat. Be cautious with this one, though, as the rules and code of conduct of the competitions prohibit the competitors to hinder the other competitor’s performance: treat dropped to the track will most certainly do that!

Dog is a machine. Sighthound even more so. It doesn’t matter how well or bad the dog runs in the competition, it does it with the fullest of efforts she can do it. 

It’s just us humans evaluating the performance who deem if the dog was enthusiastic or not. 

The dog does it’s best and to the max each and every time she’s chasing.

That’s motivation for you.