Training Your Irish Wolfhound Puppy For Lure Coursing
The intent of this article is to help Irish Wolfhound owners train their puppies to compete in the sport of lure coursing. Certainly some of the ideas discussed here can apply to all of the sighthounds, but the topics will mainly be focused toward the Irish Wolfhound and will be based on methods that I have used or seen used.
First, some background. While my experience in the sport of lure coursing spans a short time (just over nine years), I have been fortunate to have competed all over the country with two very memorable hounds, both of whom are in the ASFA All-Time Top 10 for Irish Wolfhounds. My first, Finnegan, competed until he was five, when cancer prematurely ended our time together. When he retired from the sport following the 1998 International Invitational, he was tied for #6 all-time and was the only male Irish Wolfhound to ever receive a Lure Courser of Merit 2 title from ASFA. My second IW, Clare, is currently #1 all-time in ASFA and has been #1 for a total of four years out of the six sheís competed. Both hounds took to the field with the same eagerness and desire, but the roads they took to get there were entirely different. Hopefully with this article, I will be able to translate the secrets to their successes as well as some theories of mine into methods both the novice and experienced lure coursing enthusiast can use to train their respective hounds.
As puppies, both Finn and Clare were socialized extensively. This is one of the easiest things for an owner to do, yet it is often neglected. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a socialization as this will give the hound confidence to leave its ownerís side and will teach it to interact with other hounds. Too many times Iíve seen yearling (or older) Irish Wolfhounds attempt lure coursing that either wonít leave their owner or will return to them after only running a short distance. Sometimes the desire to run simply isnít enough if the hound has to overcome a confidence deficiency. Socialization can be as easy as attending a puppy class, letting the puppy have playtime with other puppies, or allowing a friend to walk your puppy. The time between twelve and sixteen weeks is especially critical in developing a houndís social skills.
It is extremely important to know when to begin actually running an Irish Wolfhound puppy and to be aware of the both the physical and mental limitations of the young hound. Due to the rapid growth rate of an Irish Wolfhound, running a puppy too young or too often can cause irreparable damage to its physical structure. Certainly it is permissible as well as advisable to take young puppies out for lure coursing practice if for no other reason that the socialization.
Extremely young hounds (those under four months) should not be allowed to run at all at a lure coursing practice, even for the shortest distance; rather, they should be given the opportunity to watch other hounds practice for as long as their attention spans will allow. When the puppy reaches 4 to 4.5 months, give them the chance to run for about 30 yards or so on a straight-away by himself. Only run one direction, then go retrieve your hound when it has finished the straight (i.e. donít have the lure operator reverse direction and return to you). The reason for this is that when the puppy is returning, it will look up as it is running and will either run to you or will run past the finish area to where other hounds are no doubt standing and ignore the very purpose of this exercise. Donít overdo the practices and overtire the puppy. Keep it fun and enjoyable.
As the puppy grows older, slowly increase the distance it runs while still limiting it to straight-aways only and continuing to run the puppy by itself. Each Irish Wolfhound will grow in different ways and sometimes coordination falls behind in development. One that is fairly balanced in growth should be able to do more practicing than one who isnít. By the time a hound is eight months old, it should be capable of running a straight of about 100 yards. At nine to ten months, introduce the hound to its first turn. It is imperative that the turn be only a soft turn. The bone structure of an Irish Wolfhound is still very soft at this age, and serious damage to the hound, especially in the shoulder area, can occur if the turns are too sharp. Limit the initial turns to those less than forty-five degrees, preferably around thirty. At about eleven months it might be time to introduce the puppy to running with another hound. I say ďmightĒ because it is up to the owner to determine whether the hound is mentally ready to run with another hound. If the puppy is still very playful with others then it might be prudent to wait until these tendencies have subsided before trying to run with another hound.
Conditioning the hound for lure coursing is another important matter. Too often, owners bring out overweight Irish Wolfhounds to practice or those with no muscle tone whatsoever. Far too many hounds are ruined from the sport because they are too overweight or out of shape to complete a course; thus, they quickly become more and more disillusioned with the chase. Obviously, it is much easier for owners with acreage to keep their hounds in shape as they are afforded the opportunities to run free for great lengths of time, especially if there are other hounds with which to romp. Hounds the size of Irish Wolfhounds require a great amount of exercise in order to get into good physical shape. As a minimum, they should be given long walks of at least an hour each day. Even better is the opportunity to run if there is a fenced field available. Remember, at a coursing trial, these hounds may have to run three or four times around a course that may measure 800 to 900 yards or even more. It is crucial that each owner understands the physical limitations of their hound and not overestimates the houndís physical ability.
- Mike Ferris
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