The safest way

What I learned yesterday on our long walk was that the safest way you think is not necessarily the safest anyhow. Simply because you have to expect the unexpected all the time.

And because accidents happen.

We had been walking about 20 minutes when a rabbit decided to test his skills in speed and agility, pitting his existence against three Irish Wolfhounds in decent fitness. All warmed up and ready to go.

And off they went.

It was a short chase, though, because the terrain and undergrowth of the forest gave the rabbit a distinct competitive advantage. Two of the three came back all intact, while the third, the most keen on the living prey, came back slightly limping. After a short inspection we deducted that it was nothing, just a small scrape on her toe, which we tended there and then.

We continued the rest of the walkies, total of 2 hours and 15 minutes, and noticed how this dog was not up to her standard movement, as if she was sore all over.

At home it became apparent that she has injured herself in a way or another: most probably the rabbit has taken straight 90 degree turn to the left, cutting in between two piles of logs, and the dog has done the same, spraining something in doing it. 5 kg causes much less strain to the body than 45 kg, simple physics.

So she’s forced to rest. The European Championships are a bit over a week from here.

She’s giving the other competitors a head start.

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EM coming nearer

THe EM Lure-Coursing event in Mariánské Lázně is closing fast: in fact, I just realized that we have to start driving on Tuesday next week to get there in time! That’s only a week from now!

Loads of things to do as a human participant, and it feels that there is not much to do for the dogs to be in any better condition than they are right now. The competitive side of me is screaming at the back of my head, but the reasonable, intelligent me is just shrugging his shoulders and letting it be.

After all, I do not see my dogs as tools for my personal prestige, nor a tool to gain any extra appreciation from my peers. I want to experience the atmosphere and unity of the competition once again, the feeling of belonging into the Team. The dogs will do what they can and will in the track, and there is neigh I can do if they decide that it’s boring to run.

What can I do then? Keep the exercise at reasonable level, maybe add some sprint training into the mix. Maybe even take them to a practise, who knows. But as the Lure Coursing is not a race about who runs fastest, there is quite little to do on that area, too. A the saying goes, the speed comes from the genes, the endurance and general fitness from the regular exercise: I can only work with one, having a little effect on the other.

With all this, I have to calm down, write down a list of things to remember and plan on how to get the kids to their grandparents…

Quite a lot to do, actually.

While the dogs take it easy.

To warm up

I would like to see what would happen if a World class sprinter would take his 100m sprint without warming up properly. Most probably he would tear a muscle, whether in thigh or shin, that doesn’t matter. In the most probable case, he would ruin his training for the next few weeks in the mild case, for months in a more severe case. For certain he wouldn’t perform anywhere near his level, that’s for sure.

In reality, he would have as much sense in his head that he wouldn’t take the chance of breaking himself up without proper warm up.

Let’s turn this into the dog world. Way too often I can see people taking a sighthound in lure-coursing event almost directly from the car, walking her to the start as a warm up and taking the dog back to the car -cool down- to rest before the final round. The dog doesn’t have the luxury of deciding whether or not it’s going to run if it has even the slightest chasing instinct in her head. She will run at full speed to the maximum performance, warmed up or not.

Guess what? The dog’s muscles get damaged as easily as the world class sprinters. In this sense, the lure-coursing or track sprinting dog should be considered a championship athlete, even if she isn’t competing at the highest level.

And she should have the luxury of being treated as one, too.

The meaning of a proper warm up is to prepare the dog’s respiratory and blood circulation systems and the muscles to the coming strain. The warm up should be increasingly straining to the system up to the point that the maximum performance is the climatic top stretch of the event. This warming up doesn’t happen in minutes. Human athletes take from half an hour to hour, or even more, to properly warm up their muscles before the main event, the competition. Why on earth do people think that the half a minute walk from the car to the start is enough for the dog?

According to several dog physiotherapists I’ve been discussing this warming up routine about, the minimum reasonable warm up period is half an hour of constant movement. This doesn’t have to be sprinting and playing, a simple walk with increasing speed to brisk gait is quite enough. The slower and more aerobic the warmup is, the better for the sprinting activity of the trial: the muscles will reserve their glycogen to the instance it is really needed and consumed.

During the warm up you should try to avoid sprinting, especially in the beginning. Like I mentioned earlier, the warm up should be aerobic, slowly increasing the heart beat rate towards the actual competition.

The warm up should be enjoyable walkie to the dog and the owner. In the end, the dog is the one performing in the trials, and it’s the dog who should enjoy it.

Dog doesn’t need exercise, right?

My wife went to a Match show with our second youngest bitch called Fiona. Fiona is an adorable young Irish Wolfhound with the demeanor of a princess and manners of a queen: she is also beautifull, though yet immature in composition, as she is just a bit short from 2 years of age. She is also a bit shy and doesn’t want to have any stranger touching and meddling with her, so we have decided that she has to train the show side, too.

 

Fiona 3 months in 2007

Fiona 3 months in 2007

Match shows are excellent for that: a dog show in which the breeds are mixed and the main idea is to train both the dogs and the trainers to act accordingly in a real show. So it’s a play on its own right.

And the results are unimportant because of the fact that the match shows don’t hold any official status.

The main thing is that Fiona got a lot of self-esteem and courage from the show, which we saw later that day on our normal walk in the woods. But now I’m going ahead of myself and neglecting the subject.

In the match show my wife had to talk a lot with people interested in Irish Wolfhounds: this is normal, as the breed isn’t very well known nor doesn it exist in very large numbers in here. She told about a lady who stopped her and started the discussion by asking: “That dog doesn’t need much exercise, right?”

She was astounded.

In her own words (later to me when she told about the incident): “Show me a dog that doesn’t need exercise at all”.

Every dog breed needs exercise according to their breed specific and individual need. Whereas a tiny Tibetian Spaniel with arthrithis might get along fine with three 15 minute walks a day, a working German Shepard wouldn’t be able to do it’s work without a several hours of training and exercise in a day. The question sounds absurd in it’s most innocent meaning which I could imagine hearing from a young kid who just wants to play with the dog, inside while it’s raining outside. But from a person in a dog show?

Outrageous.

I have been asked several times after the time our male, Ness, entered the first lure-coursing competitions and started to make good performance time and again, about how we train and exercise him. Thus far I have been quiet about it, because as far as we can see it, we don’t train our dogs at all. We don’t have an exercise plan or anything. So all we do with the dogs goes by what we think the dog needs as a trained athlete to perform in a competition so that it will not get hurt nor feel discomfort while running or after the competition.

Our normal walk in the woods takes something around 2 hours at a time. The dogs run free all the time, finding their own amusement in the bushes, sometimes -if they’re lucky- chasing some deer who come too close by. But they are moving on their own, making their own decisions about speed and distance which they go.

Lately, due to the fact that the first competition of the year for us is the qualifier to the European Masters, we have done some sprint trainings: one of us stays with the dogs at one point and the other walks further for about 200-300 meters off. And the dogs are called to the one standing alone. They take a fast sprint, speeding up to the maximum speed and then slowing down.

And this is only done after about an hour of free roaming, just to make sure that the muscles are fully warmed up and ready for the strain.

It has worked for us so far. 

But still I cannot understand a person who asks the question this lady asked.

 “That dog doesn’t need much exercise, right?”

The most proper answer, I think, would have been that not more than any other breed. Which in itself is pretty much,  really: any dog should have at least 1.5 hours of exercise a day, all put together. That means at least 6 times 15 minutes walkies, if you don’t have the time for any longer. And most of that she should he running free, unleashed, for the exercise to be effective….

Oh, yes, Fiona, who has usually been one of the pack, was actually the one trying to find prey to chase during the whole 2.5 hours walk, even though we had some very hard downhill pulls on them. She still had stamina to play with the youngest of the pack (Duana, 1 yr.) after we came back home, whereas our ‘older’ two decided to rest. She was the active one, full of self-confidence and spirit. 

Just the way I like my Irish Wolfhounds to be on the walkies. Active, keen on everything and moving free.

Not exercising. Nor training.

Moving free.