Spring brings all things up

Hello. Sorry for not blogging for such a long time: last year, 2011, was very hard for us, and thus I had no strength to blog about the sport I love so much.

However, now things are quite different. In about a month the second lure-coursing competition of the season will take place and I will be performing my last judge training before the final evaluation, after which I will be able to judge lure-coursing events in Finland.

Pretty excited about that, really.

That doesn’t mean that I would not be doing what I have done over the past few years: weekly lure-coursing trainings in our local lc club for some 40-50 dogs a day, working and helping in lure-coursing events and discussing with people about dogs and training in general. Lovely hobby keeps us going in the daily toil.

Hopefully I can come up with things to share with you over this season.

Hello again, and welcome back to myself. 😀

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.

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.

Search engine answers

I’ve been lazy and haven’t updated the blog as often as I should. That’s about to change, as I’m going to write some texts into drafts first and put them on publishing queue. That’ll teach me something, I think… If nothing else but to stay on schedule.

Now, however, I will tackle the search engine terms I have received hits from. I will leave out the one I’ve been commenting time and again (being “dog breed which doesn’t need exercise”). I will also use some of the terms as topics for complete posts, so I won’t mention those.

First of all, the latest: How fast wolfhound. I gather the question has been how fast a wolfhound will run. In our case -in lure coursing- this means the speed an average competitor gains on the zig-zagging track which is about 700-900 meters long. I would say that it depends on the dog, the track and the terrain.

In general, if we think of a greyhound, the fastest recorded dog breed in the world, is considered to be “45 mile per hour couch potato” with it’s top speeds recorded up to 72 km/h, the sheer size and body mass of Irish Wolfhound makes this impossible. However, in a lure coursing event, the calculated average speed of a champion level dog can easily pass into the 40-45 km/h range, which is quite a feat for such a large dog. The Finnish oval track record gives a top speed of 32 km/h on 480 meter track.

But that speed is the striking speed or the final attack speed of the dog. Where a greyhound can easily kill itself by chasing the prey for a prolonged time, Irish Wolfhound has been bred to chase large game animals and wolves, hunts which are known to last for hours: the endurance and the speed of this chase is of crucial importance. The Woflhound cannot let the prey escape, so it must be able to cut it’s turns. If an elk runs at the speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h), then the wolfhound has to be able to follow this speed and make a kill after the elk has wasted her strength. However, I think this speed is the top speed of an elk, and the actual trot is something way lower.

So the simple answer would be that a good, fit and fast Irish Wolfhound may well run at top speed of 40-50 km/h, even though the track speeds tend to show lower values.

This is just my opinion and not a recorded fact.

The next would be food for wolfhound. This is a touchy subject I have to write about sometime. I would say that enough to keep the dog healthy but little enough to keep her from gaining extra weight. The more energy the food contains, the less it should be given. And never, ever trust the amounts suggested on the package if you’re giving kibble: watch how your dog reacts to the food and how it affects the dog’s health.

Best way to train dog for coursing. I gather it’s for lure-coursing as live -or park- coursing is next to prohibited around the world. I think only in Ireland this is still done, but for how long, that is the question. I will write more about my thoughts on how to proceed later, in fact this was something that is long overdue.

I’ll have to mention something about muzzles, blankets and other lure-coursing gear at some point, too. Including the lure-coursing lure and pulling systems, though I have very little experience on those. Maybe I’ll get some visiting author to do a post about them, who knows. Volunteers? There is also space for a post about typical lure-coursing track, if anyone is interested.

I’ll end this recap with one of the most disturbing searches that have ever found it’s way to this blog. The search is simply “my irish wolfhounds have sores all over“. First of all, if this happens, take the dog to a vet, immediately. If it doesn’t help, take her to another, until you find a) the reason to this, b) the remedy for this and c) get the dog well. To keep a dog, be it Irish Wolfhound, Chihuahua or Bulldog, in pain and suffering for prolonged time is torture. If you are planning to do something like this, take a hammer and pound the bones in your feet to pieces. That would be quite enough to remind you that no creature should be harmed and kept in pain.

That’s all for now. My own ‘exercises’ with our dogs can be followed from my Sportstracker account. Mind you, this contains only my walkies, not my wifes, so rest assured the dogs have plenty of good exercise day in, day out, not forgetting the rest. It’s high time, as the European Championships in Marianske Lazne are within one month!

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?

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!

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!