Event without competition

Have you ever been in a lure-coursing event in which there is really no competition, just enjoying the dogs running after the lure time and again? Different breeds and even non-sighthounds being evaluated with the same scale (though ‘official’ with real judges).

Have you ever seen the joy in the face of a sighthound owner who is attending to such an event for the first time, sees how his dog launches to the lure for the first time ever and gets rewarded with a trophy for attending?

Those are really the moments which I cherish myself in the lure-coursing. They always remind me that it’s not about the winning nor titles, not about being the best or being better than others, but about doing something with your dogs and finding new things to enjoy with them.

Now that the competing season is closing up here, it’s time to start taking down the dogs’ exercises and go to the upkeep ‘program’. Only long walkies without unnecessary pulls and sprints. Just relaxing and keeping the dogs in shape.

Letting the dogs rest and enjoy life.

My dog is so fast…

The topic is one misconception people seem to have, in addition to the thought that speed is everything in lure-coursing. The dog may be fast in the backyard or in the ‘training’ where the pulls are 250m. But the real challenge of the 600-1000m lure coursing trial is something completely different.

How to tell the difference? In the backyard (or normal walkie), use a watch to time the actual time your dogs are running at a time. Constantly running, that is, at their full -or playfull- speed before giving in to trot. You might be surprised how little they really run, especially if you compare that to the time the dogs run in a lure-coursing trial.

How long is a trial, then? Depending on the track, at the average speed of 40km/h the normal track from 600-1000 m lasts anything from 1 minute to 1.5 minutes. On average the run craze of a dog at the back yard takes about 10-15 seconds and after that the dog is ready to go in. It may run like a lunatic, fast as lightning and all, but the real challenge is avoided.

The lactic acid threshold.

At about 100 meter point, which is about 6 seconds from the start, the dog has used the immediate energy reserves in the system and the lactic acid starts to mount into the muscles. This causes ache, stiffness and discomfort, and the dog will cease running if the reason to run is not strong enough. At the backyard the reason may be to release some tension and it’s over in the 10 seconds. In the trial it is the instinct to chase the lure, and it may not be enough to keep the dog interested after coming tired and stiff.

Each and every dog is the best in the world to it’s owner, that’s for sure. But the dog running at backyard/training/walkies is not necessarily the fastest or best in the lure-coursing trial, if it hasn’t gotten used to straining herself beyond the threshold.

Even then there may be something which causes her to quit before the trial is over. But that’s another story alltogether.

Two more myths to break

Thanks to a comment to the recent “Myths and myths“-post, I found two more myths to break about lure-coursing. The first is that the owner of the dog has to be competitive personality to participate in a lure-coursing event and the other is that the dog has to be trained especially to be able to course. Both are myths and support each other. Let me tell you why I think so.

Lure-coursing isn’t competition in the first place: in FCI ruling it is the working class trial for sighthound. A way to measure the dog’s natural affinity to the work it was originally created for. In this pretext it should be mandatory for a sighthound owner to be at least vaguely interested in how the dog they own does show this natural instinct in action. The owner doesn’t have to be competitive to take the dog to a lure-coursing event, only interested in the natural instinct and performance of their dog.

Sadly the system is such that the dogs are rated on points, and when there is a numerical evaluation, there is always a competition of sorts. In lure-coursing the owners are rewarded for their dog’s performance much like in dog racing: the best will get the merit of being the winner, even though each and every dog passing the set point limit to qualify have passed the test!

Like I mentioned in the earlier Myth post, training is not hard work as such: what we consider training is just normal living with big sighthound. Long walkies in the woods, dog running free as much as possible. The main thing is that the dog is fit enough to run the 700-1000m on one stretch, at full speed. What I would like to add to this, the dog should be able to handle the warming up (30-60 min.) and cooling down (another 30-50 min) walkies. And all this twice in a lure-coursing event day.

That is the fitness the dog requires to participate in a lure coursing event. It doesn’t require a set training schedule or planned training. Instead, it requires continuous interest in the dog’s general health and adequate walkies to maintain that level. I saw one TV-program from the series “It’s Me or the Dog” in which dog trainer Victoria Stilwell tackles problem dogs which are straining families’ or couples’ lives. In this show the couple had a boxer which was terrorizing the house. In the show Ms. Stilwell stated that a healthy active boxer requires 2 hours of exercise each day to keep it calm at home.

2 hours aday.

Sighthounds, especially larger ones like Irish Wolfhounds, are deceiving in this regard: they are very calm and ‘uninterested’ at home (except for the food bowl). So it’s easy to think that the 15 minutes walkies for them a couple of times a day is enough. It’s enough to keep them alive, that’s all. It is not enough to keep them healthy, fit and in good enough condition to work the way they have been intended to do.

By breaking the myth of competitiveness and high training requirements in your head you are easily one step closer to participating a lure-coursing event. If your dogs can handle a couple of hours walkies aday (give or take few in a week, the dog has to rest, too!) for a month or so before the event, then they are ready to take the trial for sure.

And who knows, by taking part in a lure-coursing event you may well catch the lure yourself: a new and exciting way of seeing your own belowed pet. An Irish Wolfhound chasing the lure is a sight worth seeing.

It’s the way all sighthounds were meant to be, after all. Working dogs, chasing the prey.

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.

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.

Panic in the woods

Everything has gone way too well after our male got his paw stitched. And because we haven’t been living true to my mantra to be prepared for the unexpected situations. Meaning, that we have been going out to the woods without our trusty first aid kit for the dogs.

Which would come hand yesterday, when we left for the 7 km walkies in the cooled down woods. The weather was excellent, slightly cloudy and the dogs were in extremely alert mood. Something I hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks due to the heatwave.

After about 10 minutes of walking I started to wonder why our bitch Zaida started to get foam in her mouth and drool a bit. Usually this is a sign of prey in the vincinity, and because both of the dogs had been very alert and smelling around the bushes, I quickly dismissed the thought being anything dangerous.

At about 15 minutes Zaida started to claw her mouth and that was the moment we got alert: we had seen this before last summer. So back we turned, her tongue slowly swelling up and causing extreme discomfort to her. The situation is such that the dog may even bite her tongue due to the pain, so my wife had to resort to the last measure to prevent this from happening. That is to keep your hand in the biting dogs mouth, thus preventing the dog from harming her tongue and making it easier for her to breathe.

For me this meant only one thing: sprint back to the car and quickly collect both the dog and the handler so we can get quickly to home.

Yes. Zaida was stung by a bee, again in her tongue.

At home we gave her medication, hydrocortison pills.

After an hour the tongue swelling was gone. After three hours the dog seemed to be alright.

And she was alright still when I left for work today, so we’re over that one with a sigh of relief.

But this only reminded us about one thing: you have to be prepared and keep the immediate medication with you all the time. The dogs are extremely keen on hunting all the things from bees and wasps to snakes and deer, so you can never know what may happen.

Thankfully the weather wasn’t any warmer: the hotter weather might have been more dangerous to the dog which couldn’t have breathed as effectively as needed.

So be prepared.

Morning glory

This morning’s jog with the dogs proved a couple of things.

1) The dogs are more fit than their owner, and their stamina gets better way faster than mine.
2) While they are lazy and famished during the day for the heat, they are completely alert at the morning when its cooler.
3) The dogs have gotten accustomed to my pace: Either I have to start running faster, get a bike or make sure they can do their running in the evening. Otherwise I’m wasted!
4) The dogs are getting well acclimatized – they don’t tire so fast in the higher temperatures anymore. Now it’s me who has to be dragged along.

So I’m back to the drawing board with my exercise combined to the dogs. I guess the safest bet is to separate them and go with the flow.