Yet another weekend in the races

Or at least in lure coursing events: that topic was a poor rip off from Queen (A Day At The Races). Poor attempt to be funny.

Anyhow, one day working, the other having fun with dogs and owners. Sadly there are no pictures from either, as I haven’t taken any, but it’s sufficient to say that the weather was excellent on both days: not too warm nor too cold. You could tell that by looking at the dogs who were more than lively throughout the both events.

There were few things that got ‘stickied’ in my mind from the both of the events. First one is something that really bothers me still, even though I know the battle against windmills is already lost.

The dog which comes to the lure doesn’t win the trial. It’s of no use to ask ‘how can I make my dog faster’ or ‘why did the slower dog get better points’. The explanation is here. The short version for the lazy readers is as follows: the dog’s performance is rated in five categories (speed, enthusiasm, agility, endurance and intelligence), and the points of the judges are added up. Speed itself is only one fifth of the points, so a dog with enough endurance or enthusiasm wins a dog which is fast but not agile, for example.

On the other hand, if the dog has good points but is slower than the other dogs of the breed, then there is something you might do. Pulls downhill, speed exercises, short extreme speed pulls and running in swamp or deep snow come to mind. First three develop the speed itself, while the last ones build up the muscles. But there is only so much you can do with the speed actually, especially with a mature dog. Also something to consider is to lose some weight from the dog.

The other one is the comparison of points from different events. This weekend proved the point especially,  as the event I was working on Saturday had tracks which were 450m and 650m (about) in length, while our dogs ran on Sunday on a track which was around 750-825 meters long. And quite surprisingly the dogs got lower points on the longer track.

It’s the same thing with all the evaluation in numbers: the numbers tell only the information which we want to tell. The same with ranking tables and ratings: when we want to condense information to simple numbers, something gets lost in the way.

How can you compare 530 points from 650m long track to 480 points from 800m track? Especially when there are different judges and different ground on both?

No way. No way are the results comparable, and most certainly they do not tell everything about the dogs who have competed. Not even with that kind of (huge) point difference the dogs cannot be compared equally.

The points -and all point based evaluation methods- are fault in one way or another. In ranking table, is the dog which competes seven times a year better or more valuable than the dog which wins three times? In trials, is the dog which competes on a long track with certificate points worse runner than a dog which wins on a short track?

After all, the main point is healthy and loved dog. Not the prizes and recognition of the owners.

Isn’t it?

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Proper thinking

Last weekend was the Club Show of The Irish Wolfhound Club in Finland and what a bunch of lovely dogs there were. We attended for one day, mainly because I was helping with the arrangements. Mostly that meant that I was holding the dogs of the people running in and out of the show ring. Don’t ask me how many dogs passed through my hands. Nor the names of the dogs. I lost count after the first five (which were not our own).

However, I had several nice discussions about lure-coursing as a hobby, fitness requirements and evaluation of a lure coursing dog. With a few persons, naturally, and not at the same time. There were some issues which came prominently up in the discussions with people who either had a running dog already or were thinking of ‘training’ their newly gotten dog to be one.

First issue: you don’t have to have four hour walks with the dogs every day of the week. I heard more than once that we should take this or that puppy for a training because we have those extremely long walkies daily. Which isn’t true. It’s the same as I say about feeding the Irish Wolfhound: don’t feed more, feed smart. Meaning in longer way that you should feed the dog properly quality wise rather than enough in amount wise.

The same goes with walkies: it’s not about the long walkies every day, but high quality walkies over the week. By not planning you are planning to fail. Running from one training session to another will bore the dog. Having a long, slow paced walkie every day will bore the dog. Having a high intensity training everyday will hurt the dog. All of which is bad. Instead, plan your week beforehand, if not more but the mere skeleton of the ‘exercise schedule’ if you don’t have time (or you feel stressed about your schedule). Make the walkies and exercise fit your calendar.

And stick to that: at least three roughly planned walkies a week with a pull or hill running. Rest in between the trainings. At least 2 hours of -more or less- constant movement for the dog.

That should be enough to make the dog fit enough to lure course. And keep it fit otherwise, too.

You see, it’s not science, let alone rocket science, to train a dog for a lure coursing event. It’s just thinking proper things in proper way. Resulting proper performance in the end.

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.

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!