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.

What I have seen

The vacation is over and the daily grind for the meat to feed the dogs has started again. What a vacation, from Czech to a couple of Finnish lure-coursing events to rest and relaxation. The best of it has been the people, the people and the dogs. Not necessarily in this order, but anyhow, these things.

And the weather wasn’t bad, either: for the last four weeks I had socks in my feet only twice, the second time being the last weeks event in which I was working.

What have I seen during the time? A lot. A lot of things that have opened my eyes to so many new things in this wonderfull hobby with the dogs. How the organisation works behind the scenes, how little the competitors really know of what is going on and how uninterested the dogs are of all of this. My humble opinion is that each dog owner who participates in a lure-coursing event should be obliged to participate in some as work force: the learning experience is immense!

And if you have worked in a lure-coursing event, you must do the same in a racing event. The two worlds share similarities, but are completely different.

But this is not what I started to write about.

I started to write about something that stirred in my mind in Czech Republic and was brought out to my conscious mind after reading this great post of the Retrieverman. In a way, I have the same feeling about dog shows as he does: the shows are a big business and have lost their original meaning along the years, granting people prestige and feeling of achievement for their dog’s ability to show itself in the ring (in some cases I have witnessed how the owner has beaten the dog with a leash to stand correctly before showing the dog…). It has become obvious to me in several discussions and occasions, that in several cases the show judges do not even understand the original job or activity the dog breed has been created for. (This is in a sense a gross exaggeration, but please bear with me.)

This has come the most obvious in what I heard happening in Germany, where some show judges have stated out loud that a working class Irish Wolfhound will never get a result above very good (excellent being the next – and highest – result and needed for certificates). Come again? Irish wolfhound has been originally a hunting dog, a sighthound, used for hunting big game and guarding, and now the current working class dogs -which prove their abilities in the lure-coursing- are rated to be such that they don’t comply with the breed standard?

Granted, like Retrieverman stated in another fine post of his, that Irish Wolfhound was more or less recreated to the ideal of one man in the late 19th century. But still, the ideal of big game hunting big dog was there, and still the Irish Wolfhound is considered to be a sighthound, not a mastiff or something else.

Which leads me to the other side of the board. In the recent discussions I’ve had with different breed owners in the events I’ve been working and competing (Czech and three domestic events) I’ve noticed that there are dogs competing in the events which do not comply with the corresponding breeds standards. In some instances it has even crossed my mind whether there should be a mandatory show result for all dogs competing in the events to even things out.

These are the two sides of the age old discussion about the form and function: which should be emphasized more and is one above the other. My -honest but sad- opinion is, that the current dog show system puts too much emphasis on the form over function. This will cause problems to the breeds later on, if they haven’t been affected already.

Form and function should be equal and the judges should be taught to think alike. For without the form there would be no breed, but without the function the form would be lacking substance.

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.

Food for thought

Actually, I should have rephrased the topic as “Thought for food”, as that is mainly the topic. But I think it would be great to think over the choices each of the dog owners is doing for their dog’s nutrition… well, honestly speaking, it would be a good thing to think over ones own nutrition from time to time, too… 

More or less I’ve covered so far more the exercise part of the Holy Triangle, mostly because that’s what I’ve been mostly asked about. But like I posted in that post, the dog’s health is directly affected by all three main aspects of the triangle: nutrition, exercise and rest.

Lets start from the beginning. A dog has ten thousand times more accurate smell than us humans, but the amount of taste buds in their mouth is only one tenth of what we have. One might ask, why is it so. The answer is simple: the wild dogs and wolves are mainly carcass eaters, the cleaning patrols of the wilds. They can smell the carcasses from afar and trail a wounded or sick animal by the smell. Then, when they reach the spoiled -or even partly rotting- carcass, they don’t have to think about the finer flavours of the feast: the main issue is to get enough energy to last for the next hunt or carcass.

Because of the fact that main portion of the food that wolves and wild dogs eat is not at the prime of it’s shelf time, their digestive system is designed to kill all the harmfull, pathogenic bacteria. Wolves have pH 1 in their stomach, effectively killing all bacteria entering their stomach. However, we humans have slightly damaged our dog’s systems by breeding, because our beloved companions have only pH 2-2.6. This is significantly lower than that of the wolves, so some pathogenic bacteria may survive in these surroundings and yes, can cause a food poisoning to the dog.

But it’s a very, very rare occasion.

The more important aspect of this is the fact that wolves digestive tract is also much more specialized in utilizing meat as it’s main energy source. As a matter of fact, our beloved dogs share the carnivore’s intestines in such a way that they cannot cope with excessive amounts of vegetable based material, anyway. Sure, they can eat food with cereals and vegetables, but their digestive system is much more efficient in using meat and fat as it’s energy source.

The metabolic system of us humans is carbohydrate based one: this means that as an omnivore, capable of eating and utilizing all sorts of food stuffs, our system uses carbohydrates as its main energy source and the system is doing it’s best to utilize it to the fullest. However, due to the direct relation to the carnivore ancestry, the meat eating forefathers have given our dogs a different approach: their metabolic system is fat based. Sure, they can use carbohydrates in their food, but their system is designed to use the meat based fat as it’s main energy source. 

At this point I can hear angry disgreements from here and there, but all this is backed by studies in both biology, veterinary sciences and dog nutrition. It just needs to be put into a right context.

The harder the dog works, the more it consumes energy. This is common sense. But usually people forget that the more the dog works, the more it consumes other nutrients (vitamins, antioxidants and minerals), which may become even more crucial in the long run. In sledge dog studies it has been noticed that the working dogs easily get anemic if their food’s energy levels are increased by only adding fat or carbohydrates to it. They need iron to compensate the loss during the exercise. And what happens to be the best source for bioactive and -attainable iron? 

Meat.

So for a working dog, which a lure-coursing sighthound like Irish Wolfhound is, fatty meat should be the basis of the nutrition during the training and competition season. The other option is clearly to have some high energy kibble to compensate this.

It’s not a question about how much the dog eats, or how often. Because the more the dog uses energy, the more energy it needs. If the food contains too low energy compared to the usage, the dog firstly loses weight and secondly will get some nutritional deficiences. However, only adding energy doesn’t take care of the other nutrients, unless you are lucky enough to find a kibble fulfilling the both requirements. The question in the end is how smart the dog eats in the end.

And that question is ours, the owners and breeders, to solve the best we can.