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paulus, August 18, 2013 in Lurchers & Running Dogs
CONDITIONING AND EXERCISEThere is to my mind nothing more beautiful to behold than a superbly fit running dog, an animal up on its toes, bursting with life and ready to run like the wind, taking all obstacles in its path as though it has wings.Maybe this is a bit of a fanciful image, but I hope you'll forgive me when I use that vision to illustrate what a running dog should 'feel' and look like. Exercise, conditioning, fitness training, call it what you will, is quite simply the most important aspect of owning a canine athlete. Without proper conditioning (from now on I'll refer to fitness training as conditioning) no running dog will be able to run at its best, whether that is in the hunting field, racing against other dogs or simply belting round the local park in fun.WHAT MUSCLES DOLet's start with the muscles, for without them no animal could move at all: in fact it would be merely a floppy skeleton covered in skin. The muscles are attached to the bones and in order for the bones to move the body the muscles need to contract and stretch, which in turns moves the bones to which they are attached. Sorry to start with obvious basics, but its important to know exactly what muscles are and how they work in order to properly maintain good working condition of the whole body.Muscles, strong, stretchy bundles of tissue, are attached to the bones by very strong sinewy ropes of tissue called tendons, and when the animal wants to move a message is sent from the brain telling the muscles to start contracting and stretching, thus moving the bones.The whole thing is like a system of levers and pulleys, the muscles being the pulleys which enable the levers, the bones, to move.Anyone who has ever eaten meat (think of a chicken leg) will know that what you are eating is the muscle, and you will have seen that the meat is fibrous, with the fibres all running in one direction. The tough, rubbery bits of tissue, at each end of a muscle, a bit like a thick elastic band, are the tendons which attach the meat to the bone, and they are very tough indeed, not just to eat, but in their capacity to withstand injury.When you are eating a steak you are eating a cross section of a muscle, and it doesn't take much imagination to realise than once those fibres have been cut or broken across their length they must take far longer to heal than if they had been cut along the length of those fibres. Muscles vary in type and appearance throughout the canine species; dogs which have evolved for long periods of sustained effort, such as Collies, Huskies and Salukis have muscles which are very different in shape and size to those of a sprinter such as a Greyhound or a Whippet. The dog in the photo is very heavily built, and he'll need careful conditioning if he's not to damage himself doing too much galloping without having built up the necessary muscle and tendon strength first.The reason for this is that a sprinter's muscles contract much faster than those of a marathon runner and they are called 'fast twitch' muscles. The electrical impulses needed to contract and stretch the muscle fire more rapidly in a fast twitch muscle than those of slow twitch muscles which are better suited to long distance runners, be they canine or human. Just as Linford Christie would never win a marathon, no more could Paula Radcliffe win a 100 metre sprint: they are at the opposite ends of the scale when it comes to muscle fibres, with the sprinter's muscles being an excellent example of how the fast twitch muscles influence the overall shape of the body. One could also compare Paula Radcliffe to a Saluki in type! (And I say this with the greatest respect for one of Britain's most successful marathon runners.) Notice how her overall appearance, tall with long lean muscles, is in fact very similar to that of the Saluki, whose fat free and slender muscled limbs are the canine equivalent of the human marathon runner. Slow twitch muscles are a darker red in colour than fast twitch muscles, as they contain a rich blood supply which can absorb oxygen from the blood in order to continue functioning over a long period of time. Now compare the muscles of a rabbit and a hare: the rabbit, with paler 'white meat' muscles, is designed for fast bursts of speed over short distances whilst the hare has the ability to run for many minutes at a time at top speed, using the oxygen supply from its blood to power those darker coloured muscles. Fast twitch muscles produce a limited amount of energy very quickly (e.g. rabbit or Greyhound) and slow twitch muscles produce a lot of energy more slowly (e.g. Hare, Saluki, Collie)A hare's heart is also correspondingly larger in proportion to its body mass when compared to that of a rabbit, which allows the hare to pump oxygen round the body over an extended period of time in order to keep those muscles working efficiently. Animals which have evolved or been trained for stamina events have correspondingly larger hearts than those which are short runners.All animals have a mixture of fast and slow twitch muscles, but those dogs which have been bred with a particular purpose in mind may have more of one type than the other, and once again, I'll use the Collie as an example of a dog which is capable of working at medium to fast speed all day rounding up sheep.
Small fast lurcher with a dash of Saluki: an example of a dog with a good mixture of both fast and slow twitch muscles: speed with a fair bit of stamina:
A Collie wouldn't win a race against a Greyhound, which is the most obvious example of a dog which is bred to run flat out at great speed for relatively short periods of time. Conversely, the Greyhound would find it exhausting to run all day in the manner of a Collie. However, it is these very differences between them which allow both breeds to be used successfully to produce lurchers.When breeding an all round lurcher, one which may be used on a variety of game over varied terrain, we aim to produce a dog which is capable of short bursts of speed, as well as having the capacity to work all day with maybe some longer runs as well, hence the typical crossing of those two breeds which in theory (and usually in practice as well) gives us some of the speed of the Greyhound at the same time as retaining the stamina of the Collie.People who want more speed in a lurcher will generally add more Greyhound to the mixture, giving three quarters of the Greyhound speed to only one quarter Collie. It would be true to say that these lurchers won't have as much stamina as a first cross Collie Greyhound and this has as much to do with those fast twitch muscle fibres as anything else.I've used these two breeds as an example of two very different types of dog but it goes without saying that when you set out on that long and rocky road to finding the right dog for your requirements, there are an almost infinite number of breeds and their crosses to choose from. It just so happens that Collie cross Greyhound is an old and trusted hybrid, one which people for many years have found to be of great use in the field.You could also compare the Whippet and Saluki to see the contrast between muscle types, and although Whippets possess much more stamina than Greyhounds, they just aren't in the same league when compared with one of the greatest marathon runners in the dog world: the Saluki.The Saluki (I use this name as a generic term to encompass all the 'saluki' types found across the world) has evolved over thousands of years to run down prey which can travel several miles at great speed. Whilst Salukis don't possess the explosive burst at take off we associate with Greyhounds or Whippets, they are able to run for distances which would kill almost any other type of sighthound.Whilst certain Saluki types in more mountainous regions of the world are thicker set and more powerfully muscled than their desert dwelling cousins, none of them bulge with muscle like a Greyhound: endurance is what matters to Salukis, not just pure speed.
Pure Saluki in good fit condition: photo by courtesy of Salukihounds:
*******************CONDITIONING THE MUSCLES No matter how well a dog is bred, its muscles won't be of any use if the animal is not fit enough for the work the owner asks of it.No dog can perform at its best if its body has not received the correct type and amount of conditioning. Exercise also needs fuel, and only the right kind of fuel will enable the physical body to remain at a good level of fitness over a long period of time.Feed rubbish food and don't exercise a dog correctly and you end up with a soft muscled animal with no stamina and poor strength and speed; in other words, a below standard performer which is just waiting to succumb to an injury.Repeated use of a muscle conditions it to grow stronger and better and able to do the work which is required of it but you HAVE to start off gently when conditioning muscles.A flat out gallop twice a week will NOT get your dog fit: in fact it's more likely to damage muscles, tearing the fibres and tendons as they over extend to an unaccustomed extent. If you have reared your dog yourself from a wee pup, then hopefully you'll have given the youngster the right kind of exercise from an early age. (See section on Puppies and Growth)However, let's suppose that you are starting a conditioning programme from scratch with an adult running dog which has had very little exercise previously, either because you have only just acquired the animal from an environment where it was not exercised, or because your dog has had a long lay off from running, maybe because of injury or a bitch which has given birth to a litter of pups a couple of months previously.Whichever the scenario, let's assume that the dog is unfit for hard work, by which I mean running, be that for working, racing or any other activity which needs physical fitness.The muscles will be soft and flabby to the touch, a far cry from the firm, springy tissue you want to see on a 'fit as a fiddle' animal, but there are also muscles deep within the body which you are unable to see; these are as important as the ones you can see, and include the heart, which is one of the strongest muscles in any mammal body.The heart needs regular and steady exercise in order to work at its most efficient, just like any other muscle and although the heart is not a muscle which operates voluntarily like leg or jaw muscles, it can still be conditioned to operate more efficiently.CONDITIONING FOR RUNNINGThe first step is to walk the dog, which might sound obvious to most people, but some owners merely take the dog out and let it run, and run and run, then wonder why it injures itself.Walking is the first step in any fitness programme, and by walking I don't mean stumbling along at a snail's pace whilst your dog ambles gently beside you half asleep.Walking should be done at a brisk pace, one that a reasonably fit person can maintain for several miles, and at a speed which allows a small dog to trot and a larger dog to jog (simply a slower version of the trot.) Many dogs, especially those which are not fit, or those suffering from injury, will pace if the speed at which you are moving is too slow to allow the dog to trot properly. Pacing is a camel's gait, moving both front and hind leg on one side of the body simultaneously, as opposed to diagonally and as an energy saving action works very well indeed, which is why you see this most often on animals which need to cover many miles in the most economical way possible.
As pacing saves energy you are also most likely to see this in unfit, overweight heavy breed dogs such as Labradors and Mastiff type dogs though the young running dog whose frame is not yet mature is also apt to roll along in this manner.
Photo of big young dog pacing:
Trotting involves lifting right front leg and left hind leg at the same time, followed by left front leg and right hind leg and so on, and this requires more energy than pacing.
Photo of dog trotting, moving the legs in diagonal pairs:
If you can't walk fast enough for a large dog to move out of the pacing gait and into a proper trot then you have to either jog or get on a bicycle, but do be aware that sustained trotting for an unfit dog is a demanding exercise, far harder for the dog than running free for half an hour when the animal can stop and start as it wishes, thereby easing tired muscles by changing speed whenever it wants.If I had a dog that had done little or nothing for some time I would start with steady walking, never mind if the dog paces, trots slowly or walks to begin with. I would do this for about 3 miles per day for 2 weeks and allow no galloping at all during that time.After the first week I would make sure that the dog was trotting rather than pacing.Galloping stretches muscles to their limit and the twisting and turning which accompanies a happy, mad gallop from a dog that is just dying to run and play is not the best thing for soft muscles.If you can't allow the dog a degree of freedom without it tearing off at speed, then keep it on the lead for that first fortnight. Remember I'm talking about a dog that has literally sat in a kennel for months on end, something that no responsible owner would ever do to their dog. A good example of such a dog would be one that has been sitting in a rescue centre and not even been out in a paddock to run around. (Happily most rescue organisations no longer leave dogs incarcerated 24/7 in a confined space as sometimes used to be the case) Another example would be the dog which has fallen out of favour with its owner before they finally decide to part with the luckless creature: I've known of dogs imprisoned in tiny kennels and runs for months on end after the owner had got bored with the animal.After a fortnight you will by now ideally be trotting the dog 3 miles in the morning, and walking again in the afternoon, giving the animal the chance to gallop for a few hundred metres as well. Allow the dog to gallop no more than twice a day to begin with, and do this in a place where it won't be encouraged to gallop any great distance after moving objects.Exercise twice a day if you can, as it is always better split into 2 sessions daily as opposed to one long hard session. This gives the body time to recover, regenerate cells and grow stronger.Also, once the dog has lost the couch potato look, by alternating between fast and slow work you are building up overall fitness in the most ideal way; this is known in athletic circles as interval training.Unfit dogs aren't always fat; severely underweight dogs will have a good deal of muscle wastage where their bodies have been forced to use muscle tissue for energy in order to stay alive. Walk underweight dogs carefully for a month before allowing them to move into a faster gait. The muscles in a previously starving dog take a long time to build up again and galloping is the last thing you want such dogs to do in their weakened state.***************************Ideally a good daily walk involves a little hunting, a few fast, though not too lengthy chases (rabbits are ideal for this) and the rest of the time spent trotting from one patch of hunting ground to the next. This is the best way to build up overall fitness once the dog has attained about 50% of full working condition. Mooching along hedgerows in this way is an ideal occupation as it will encompass both slow and fast work at intervals.NOTE The above is easily done over much of the British countryside though inhabitants of wide open areas which are home to larger and faster wildlife will need to take the utmost care if their dogs are not to be drawn into lengthy chases whilst still unfit.Sending the dog to retrieve a ball several times during the course of a walk will serve much the same purpose as several short sharp chases on rabbits, and of course you can control the number of runs far more easily, though not all sighthound type dogs really get into the fun of chasing and retrieving inanimate objects if they are used to the real thing.Of course much will depend on what sort of work you want the dog to do as well, and a ferreting dog, used only to mark occupied warrens and maybe catch the odd rabbit which has slipped the net, will not need anywhere near the degree of fitness required in a dog which has to catch every rabbit bolted.Similarly, a lamping or racing dog which is more of a sprinter than a marathon runner, one that must perform numerous fast take offs during the course of a night's lamping or the heats of a race, needs to be in tip top shape if those repeated fast runs are not to damage the muscles.Coursing dogs (and I am referring to hare coursing prior to the hunting ban) are often heavily saturated with Saluki blood, (remember those slow twitch muscles) and whilst they need to have a good ground work of steady exercise laid down to bring the muscles up to fitness to run any distance, these dogs need to actually course their quarry on a regular basis to really come to full fitness.The same is also true of the sprinter, but the difference in quarry means that a rabbit will not take a dog three fields away at a flat out gallop as a hare would do, so allowing the owner to limit the amount of running time to just a few rabbits during the early days of conditioning the lamping dog.I defy anyone to gauge with accuracy the length of time it would take a running dog to catch a hare on big open ground. By allowing an unfit dog to run a hare there is more chance of overdoing things when compared to the dog which runs a couple of rabbits as the amount of energy needed is far greater. There is a world of difference between several minutes of sustained effort on the back of a hare as opposed to a few seconds after a rabbit heading for its burrow.Very fast Whippety or Greyhoundy dogs need careful conditioning if they are to run hares, though no amount of play gallops can replicate the real course which involves a lot of twisting and turning. Running in a straight line is much easier for the dog than bending to left or right during a course, and it is not uncommon for supposedly fit dogs to break down after a prolonged course at the start of the hare coursing season.NOTE. By 'break down' I mean damage to muscles or tendons due to over exertion in a semi fit dog, though even very fit dogs can be over run and break down if run too much. Dogs are only flesh and blood: not machines.********************
Once a dog can trot 3-5 miles beside a bike without becoming tired it is ready for some light work in the field. Depending on the breeding of the dog and the weather I would expect a slightly open mouth and light panting from a fit dog which has just done 5 miles at a good trot, though of course the thickness of the dog's coat also plays a part in this, so don't expect a heavily coated dog doing a 5 mile trot on a warm day to look happy or cool.In fact, I would never bike my dogs on a warm day unless they were mostly Saluki in make up as it would be both dangerous and cruel: If you ask most types of dogs to run in hot weather they just can't cool their bodies down fast enough to maintain a normal temperature, and the risk of dehydration is also very high.Unless the dog can totally immerse itself in water at frequent intervals during exercise you should avoid hot weather biking completely unless you have a Saluki, though even Salukis can over heat if denied the cooling effects of the wet stuff whenever they need it.My heavily Saluki saturated dogs never swim unless they are following prey through water, and the most they'll do to cool down is to wade a few steps into a river or lake, take a few laps of water, and come out on to dry land again. The hairy lurchers on the other hand would still be swimming about far from shore or lying in the water up to their chins in order to cool down.***********************************HEART RATESomething else you should become accustomed to checking is the heart rate of your dog. Place a finger on the dog's ribs whilst it is sleeping and learn to recognise the resting heartbeat. You can also feel the pulse, the transmitted heart beat, very easily in the femoral artery. When the dog is lying down feel with your finger inside a hind leg along the inner thigh: you will feel the femoral artery very easily; it's a bit like a piece of cooked spaghetti under the skin and when you place a finger over it you can feel the pulse as the blood surges through it. By the way, don't be alarmed if this seems irregular: what in a human might indicate a heart problem is in fact common in dogs and is known as sinus arrhythmia, a condition caused by an irregularity in the heart's natural pace maker. This is unlikely to ever cause a problem even in hard working dogs, and unless accompanied by other signs of ill health (such as exhaustion or heavy panting when doing nothing strenuous), it is nothing to worry about.You should expect the heart rate to have increased after a half hour trot beside your bike, but the heart should not be racing. Feel for the heart beat after your dog has had a hard race or run on quarry, (sometimes difficult if the dog is panting heavily), and get to know what it feels like after different amounts of work or running.Incidentally, you should not run a dog again until its heart rate has settled down, not right down to the resting beat, but to a rate which is normal for the animal either out in the field or at the race track. This will naturally be faster than that of a resting beat as the dog is excited, on its toes and ready for action.What you should avoid at all costs is running a dog again whilst its heart rate is still very elevated, and whilst some people say that the dog might be ready to run because it has stopped panting, check the heart rate with your fingers on the rib cage and you'll often be surprised at how fast the heart is still beating, even in cold wet conditions.In a really fit dog that has coursed a hare hard for say, 3 minutes, we'd expect the heart rate to have returned to a normal 'out in the field' rate after a maximum of 5 minutes, but sensible coursing people would wait at least 20 minutes before running their dog again after a hard course.This is because the muscles need time to relax slightly, the blood to regain its normal steady flow round the body, and for the internal organs to cool down sufficiently so as not to risk overheating when the dog runs once more. Overheating is a very real problem in the slightly unfit dog which has been asked to do more than it should have done, and lurchers and sighthounds run a very real risk of dehydration if they are not allowed to cool down properly between runs.Sighthounds and their hybrids have far less fat in their bodies than slower breeds, therefore running a greater risk of dehydration after hard exercise or work. Body fat contains water which means sprinting dogs with very little body fat need more frequent hydration. The amount of water a dog needs depends also upon its metabolic rate and Salukis have much lower metabolic rates than Greyhounds, for example.Saluki saturated lurchers often pant very little as they don't heat up to the same extent as sprinting dogs which accumulate a lot of heat during the course of a relatively short run or race, but their hearts will still need time to return to a normal rate 'in the field' rate. Many dogs have been permanently damaged through being run too soon again after their last race or course if they are not totally fit. Remember the heart is a muscle, not a mechanical pump, and whilst it is one of the strongest muscles in the body, it can still be damaged by over or misuse.You may think that the dog is ready to run again because it is pulling at the sight of its prey seen in the distance, but as I've said before, we have so manipulated the genes in our sporting dogs that their desire to chase and run far exceeds anything a wild dog would do, which chases only when it is hungry.Let's return to the to the fitness programme………My Saluki saturated dogs never even open their mouths during the course of a 5 mile trot when they are approaching full fitness during early autumn exercise, and all you can see is a slight blowing from the corners of their mouths as they breathe a little harder towards the end of the session.My hairy lurchers, which contain much less Saluki and are better suited to lamping rabbits than running hares, always open their mouths to pant when they trot beside the bike, and this is partly due to their thick coats, but also because they don't possess those same slow twitch muscles which are designed for endurance work; they get hotter more quickly.Endurance work (continuous exercise at the same speed for an extended period of time, such as trotting or cantering beside a bike for several miles) is something which needs to be built up to slowly or you tire out the dog, which then takes far longer to recuperate. Little and often, in other words daily, is the answer when it comes to a conditioning regime; the other thing that body builders are all too aware of is that it pays to alternate fast and slow work. This allows the muscles to recuperate and regenerate, as each time a muscle is worked hard there is actually a break down of tiny fibres within the muscle. As these heal they grow stronger and bigger, but only if they are allowed the resting time in which to do so.A galloping session one morning can be followed by a steady walk on the lead in the afternoon, or hard work one day will be followed by walking the following morning, with no galloping involved.Fast twitch muscles need a lot more basic training for running work than slow twitch muscles. You could probably get away with running a Saluki on a hare whilst not terribly fit, though it wouldn't do the dog much good, but it would be less likely to rupture muscles in the same way that a sprinting dog might do if those muscles were soft and flabby.
Running dogs asked to work or race during the warmer months of the year need to be very fit as they are often galloping on very hard ground which is punishing not only to the feet, but to the whole body including the muscles. Running fast over hard ground jars joints, bones, ligaments and affects the whole dog.EXERCISE REQUIRMENTS FOR DOGS UNDER 12 MONTHS OF AGEUNDER 6 MONTHSPuppies exercise themselves given the freedom to do so and whilst, in theory, running loose in a large garden will provide adequate exercise for a puppy, the confines of that garden will do nothing to prepare the young dog for the big wide world beyond those walls when applied to its mental development.Once a puppy has finished its course of vaccinations at about 12 weeks of age I take it for a 20 minute walk every day, on the lead down to the local park. There the pup is allowed off the lead to explore, investigate and meet other dogs and people.Once the pup reaches 4 months of age I take it out in the field with an older, steady dog or on its own, and I stay away from areas where we are likely to meet up with animals which are likely to run far and fast, such as hares or other large forms of wildlife. Actually a pup of 4 months is highly unlikely to venture far from you even if a hare gets up, though it has been known to happen!A slow, interesting walk for about an hour is not too much for a puppy of 4 months, and by slow, I mean that we walk at the puppy's pace. The pup is off the lead for most of the walk; it can run, walk or stop when it wants to and most pups will spend much of their time sniffing interesting smells in the grass and cover.If the pup wants to sit down and look at the daisies that's fine by me; if the pup wants to race about like a lunatic for a few moments that too is fine. So long as the wee critter isn't over stimulated to run farther and faster than it would naturally do of its own accord I let it do what it wants. This is the reason I never take very young pups out with slightly older and very energetic saplings as these would drag a pup on to do more than it should.This is also why old dogs are such good mentors for young puppies as their prey drive has diminished to the extent that they are almost in their second puppyhood, happy to potter about and take things easy. When an old dog comes alert to a rabbit sitting under a clump of grass, any chasing is likely to be quickly over as the rabbit either disappears down a hole or is snaffled up by the old dog. Either way this is good education for young pups and stimulates their interest in scent and prey.For those pups unable to access the countryside, be aware that even the local park can host a variety of wildlife (usually squirrels) and I've had several young dogs damage their shoulders when attempting to run fast across the mown grass surface of the local football pitch. Hard summer baked turf is extremely hard on a dog's feet and I never allow my youngsters to play or gallop on this type of surface which is almost like a skating rink to a dog.At this stage I'm more interested in allowing the pup to become accustomed to the world in which it lives, and if that pup is destined to become a working dog then the field (countryside) is where it should take its daily exercise.A puppy shows that it is tired by lagging behind, moving more slowly or sitting down and refusing to move. I shouldn't really need to say this should I, but I've seen novice owners dragging a puppy along on a lead when they've already walked several miles. The pup's head is held low, its feet are dragging and its whole demeanour is one of fatigue. If a pup is that tired pick it up and head for home straight away, and remember not to go so far next time you go out.There's no shame in carrying a tired puppy and I've often taken very young pups out for longer walks than they could manage on foot, carrying them in my game bag which is slung over my shoulder when they've had enough running about. Actually my pups come to me when they want a rest, looking up at me. They seem to really enjoy being out and about without having to try and keep up, their little heads sticking out of the game bag, though of course this only applies to smaller type dogs: you'd be hard put to carry a Deerhound sized pup of even 3 months for any length of time!SIX TO TWELVE MONTHSFrom 6 to 12 months is the most dangerous time for young running dogs. They are faster and stronger now, love to gallop and chase with other dogs and stand a real risk of doing too much if you put them into situations which encourage them to run, jump and over exert themselves.Crashing falls, head over heels tumbles, collisions with other running dogs as they play chase-me games, or those first desperate runs at rabbits…….. These things can damage young joints and muscles, not to mention bones, which as yet will not have finished growing.Damage sustained at an immature stage of a running dog's life may have no permanent effects as young tissue has remarkable recuperative and healing powers. BUT, (and it's a big BUT) sustained and repeated physical effort in an uncontrolled situation (a dog is only ever really under control when it is on the lead) can lead to problems later in life.Take a running dog out in the field from say, 8 months of age, run it hard and regularly on game or in racing competitions over the course of the next 2 years and it is highly likely that by the time the dog is 3 or 4 years old it will be suffering from arthritic joints, torn or pulled muscles or tendons.I've been there and done it so I'm not just preaching from an imaginary pulpit. When you see real potential in a pup it is all too easy to let the youngster do too much, and by too much, I mean more than the odd pop at a rabbit or the occasional chase after a lure.Some people state that their dogs are out catching rabbits and winning races by the time they are 6 months old, and there's no doubt that some lines and types of running dog do mature far earlier than most.Many of the fast maturing lines of running dogs have been bred lurcher to lurcher for many years; they are often small and lightly built in type as opposed to tall or heavy in build. Generally speaking the smaller dog matures faster than its larger counterparts.This is why it is so difficult to offer advice to running dog owners: each type of lurcher or sighthound is different depending on the breeds which went into the make up of that particular dog. Whippets generally mature very early, getting their feet as it is called, by the time they are 6 months old.'Getting its feet' means that the dog can handle itself at speed, that it no longer runs with the gangly, sometimes awkward gait one sees in large breed pups. My current Saluki bred dog matured at nearly 28" to the shoulder and at 12 months of age he was still running in a somewhat ungainly manner.Reem couldn't run fluently until he hit 18 months of age, and I remember how that fluency, that effortless speed just seemed to appear one day out of nowhere. From lumpy 'flat tyre' running one day he suddenly flowed across the ground like oil on water the next time out. Of course it didn't really happen overnight, and I expect that I just opened my eyes one day and realised that my big pup could really run.Hunni, the pup I bred in 2008, contains a fair bit of Deerhound in her breeding, and she took even longer to mature. She was nearly 2 years old before I saw that flowing running stride come good. Prior to this she seemed to be tripping over her front end when she ran, the reason for this being that the power in her rear end was already there before the front end had matured.The shoulder blade in the dog is one of the last bones to finish growing (small bones grow first and the largest bones are the slowest to mature). Whilst bone is still growing the tendons and muscles are also immature and the dog shouldn't be asked or allowed to do more than it needs to satisfy exercise requirements.That is not to say that a pup of under 12 months of age should do nothing, far from it. Bones and muscles need plenty of exercise in order to grow strong and healthy, just not TOO MUCH hard work. Running over rough ground, plough, tussocky grass land all demands much more of a body than running on a smooth track. Twisting and turning puts stress on joints and muscles, though if a lurcher has been bred from well tested working stock, it should be inherently tough. Beware of getting a pup from stock that has never been proved in any way. I'm not saying that non working stock cannot breed good working animals, but if the parents and grand parents of your pup have never been able to prove that they are physically sound in the field, who knows what defects there may be lurking somewhere back in the line.Let's look at a couple of examples of the varying ages of dogs and when they were ready to get out and do some work in the field... . Linnet was bred from a ¾ Greyhound ¼ Bearded Collie bitch to a lurcher of many generations, breeding largely unknown. The two pups we kept back were chalk and cheese: mine was more 'lurchery' in type, slower to mature physically and mentally (possible Deerhound influence?) whilst Linnet was to all intents and purposes more Collie-ish in her build and make up. Stocky, sturdily built and much quicker on the take off than her sister at that time.Andy started lamping Linnet at 8 months of age, just three or four runs over a period of say, an hour or so. Her daily exercise consisted of a good hour's walk every day, during which time she would be walked on the lead for about a mile, hunt along hedgerows for about an hour then walk home again on the lead.From 8 months to 12 months of age Linnet was taken out on the lamp about twice a week during that first winter, though at no time did she ever run more than 6 rabbits on any one night.Collie bred lurchers do seem to mature fairly quickly, though of course much depends on the dog's sex. Bitches mature much more quickly than dogs (males), and I've known male running dogs (mostly sighthound in make up) that were still growing in height at two years of age, albeit very slowly.A Deerhound male isn't fully mature until he reaches 3 years of age! I know that my first cross Deerhound/Greyhound, a bitch, reached her adult height at 22 months of age and she continued to fill out until she was 3 years old.Back to Linnet: had she belonged to the sort of person who wanted to be out catching hundreds of rabbits every night she might well have been 'knackered' by the time she was 3 years old, such was her drive and speed. Indeed I once spoke to someone who claimed that his dogs were always 'finished' (as in unworkable due to injury) by the time they were 4 years old, and he started running (working) them at well under 12 months; they were large fast dogs with a lot of Greyhound in their breeding. We, the owners, are ultimately responsible for what our running dog do in the field or on the race track. If someone wants 3 or 4 years hard graft from a dog before putting it out to pasture (a euphemistic explanation if ever there was one!) that is up the owner. Some people see dogs as tools rather than individuals with whom they can build a relationship, things to be discarded once they have served their purpose.Personally I find that way of thinking a real shame, as even when my older dogs are no longer at their best work wise, their experience in the field makes them invaluable in other ways. The older and very experienced fox dog can provide brilliant back up for a novice and as speed wanes, so can traits such as common sense and prey sense improve. My old dogs goal-keep rabbits rather than running after them, putting themselves in the right place for a catch, but I digress!MUSCLING UP YOUNG DOGSDon't expect to see great bulging thigh muscles on young dogs. Given steady and regular exercise the muscles will show you when they are ready for increased work and it would be a mistake to put a young dog through the sort of gruelling training routine we might plan for an adult coursing dog.Once you start to see muscle definition in the hind legs of a young dog you know that those muscles are ready to do a bit more: sounds simple doesn't it, and it is. Puppies don't and shouldn't have well defined adult type muscles, but as they approach the 6 to 8 month mark, depending upon size and breeding, you'll start to see a difference in the shape or your dog. This doesn't mean to say that you can gallop the dog into the ground, but it does mean that the pup is now ready for a bit more exercise.How much more exercise? Once again, it all depends on the breeding, weight and height of the dog and there is no magic formula which you can follow though as a general rule of thumb I'd say that an hour's walk each day is a good sensible option providing the dog doesn't spend that entire time galloping flat out. If it wants to gallop continuously put it on the lead for 15 minutes at time 3 times during the hour's walk and try to find something more productive for the dog to do other than just lunatic charging about.If you can, take youngsters out in areas which are not wide open: leafy lanes, small fields, river bank walks for example. All these will provide stimulation without temptation to gallop too far and too fast.Take a keen pup of excitable nature out in the company of older dogs which are doing a fair bit of galloping and hunting and you risk damaging its joints and bones, not to mention the fact that the youngster will become accustomed to tearing about all the time like an idiot instead of watching and learning.I tend to keep youngsters on the lead when the adults are having a gallop round, only allowing the pup to stretch its legs once the others are back on the lead. If you are walking a pup on its own life is much easier and you'll find that the young dog will spend more time pottering about and using its brain to decipher interesting scents, sights and sounds, providing that you don't allow it to go warp speed after animals it has no chance of catching.At the time of writing we have in our kennel a 12 month old Collie/Greyhound lurcher: actually he is part Beardie, part Greyhound and part Picardy Sheepdog, an ancient French herding breed. At 12 months of age this dog is very far from being mature as the growth plates in his wrists are still open, which means that he still has a bit of height to gain.
Very heavily built Picardy lurcher:
More importantly, this dog is still gangly all over, and although we are now beginning to see some muscle definition in his hindquarters, he won't reach full power until he is at least 2 years old. This pup weighs in at hefty 36kilos and is still very vulnerable to joint damage as a result. Immature puppy muscles plus lots of bone and weight running at speed over rough or uneven ground…….you do the maths!As a rough guide I would expect a pup which matures at a height of under 25" to start doing a bit of work by the time it is 10 months old. A large breed pup which matures at from 25-30" at the shoulder should be held back from regular hard work until it is 18months of age.I wouldn't bike a dog of less than 12 months for any distance either: remember sustained trotting is hard work on muscles and skeleton. Dog of less than 12 months should be allowed to stop running and take a breather when they need to, and trotting beside a bike doesn't allow them to do that unless you are a sensitive and very observant owner. Of course half a mile beside a bike won't hurt providing you then allow the young dog to relax off lead for the rest of the walk, though the dangers of biking young, frisky animals which don't have 'bike sense' along a public road should be obvious.Use common sense and don't tire out young animals. They should always come home with plenty of energy left in the tank. SOME GENERAL TIPS ON EXERCISE AND WORKDon't take any dog, young or old, out and start running it hard before the muscles have had time to warm up. People who lamp dogs out of their vehicles should pay particular attention to this because cold, stiff muscles are more prone to injury than those which have been walked to the running ground. The same applies to the dog which is taken out of a vehicle and raced 'cold' then put back into the vehicle without cooling down.Human athletes know to stretch their limbs before they start running hard, which is why you see runners jogging up and down on the spot before the start of a race. Racing Greyhounds are massaged before they race, which achieves the same objective. Walk or massage the dog before it does any fast work and the muscles will be prepared for that work.All exercise or work sessions should finish with 10 minutes of steady walking before you come home or put the dog back in your vehicle. Heart rate needs to slow and muscles relax before the dog goes back in its kennel or house. A good rub down with your hands also allows lactic acid to dissipate from the muscles, a build up of which causes aching limbs after hard exercise. This cool down period also allows the dog to become mentally calm as well. It is all too easy to bring home a dog which is still in a state of high alert, and the adrenalin present in the bodyExcitable dogs which wind themselves up prior to racing or work are more prone to cramp and acidosis than calm, laid back animals. ************************************The next chapter deals with muscle injuries and how to treat them.
very informative read skycat ...think ill have to order the book
Got the book very good information in there great read
First class book, every Lurcher owner should have a copy.
Thanks for sharing
Never stop learning
What other chapters does the book have? It's a good article !!
Thanks for the kind comments people. Here's a link to the contents page of the book:
It's on my birthday list now !!
i have had this book for a while now, it is one of those books that you keep going back to it again and again, A1 imo
the only book ive ever bought , so much useful information in it for me and well worth the money, highly recommend it
Wonderful, on my chrimbo list along with a decent single malt ;-)
very informative book full of usefull imformation well worth owning even if you don't like reading because you can keep going back for it for reference .
Good reading, informative, I didn't read the whole thing mainly the bits about trotting as I've just started getting a bit heavier with the trotting with my pup. My bitch loves the water so I've used swimming as a bit of a conditioning excercise for her while she is growing.
Anyone got any input on swimming in that regard, for running dogs?
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