Coursing Your Young Dog – How Much Is Too Much?

This post is in response to one of my reader’s inquiries…

“Being relatively new to salukis, and coursing/hunting with salukis, there was a great mystery (for me) regarding what is best and safest way to bring a young dog along in the field. Puppies go through phases as they grow, from clumsy curious puppies, to boingy teenagers with more muscle and speed then they have coordination and sense. While experienced salukis tend to have the sense to not over do it, unlike other sighthound breeds, young dogs may not have developed this sense yet, and may still need some controls in the field until they are hardened out at 12-14 months, or whenever their growth plates close. Different people have different ideas when it comes to the best way to get from a puppy to a young adult field hound with positive mental and physical health. Does that make sense?”

We start bringing our puppies out at a very young age, pretty much as soon as they are comfortable and settled in our home, from nine weeks on.  We are, however, careful about exposure to other dogs and coyotes, since the puppy is not fully vaccinated yet. When they are that young, they will not normally venture very far from you and it is a great opportunity to work on recall training. We also take the young pups out at an early age to let them learn how to navigate in varied terrain, how to fall and roll (their bones are soft and forgivable at this time), and to learn that the world is not flat! Nine weeks to 16 weeks is a good time for them to learn how to leap over bushes, run around bushes, ditches and avoid obstacles. At this time is when the puppy starts to get used to everyone yelling “rabbit!” and all the dogs running off, but they most likely will not try to run after the other dogs (or if they do, they won’t get very far!). Slowly as your puppy grows they will be able to follow the other dogs farther and farther.

Every dog is different; you will need to learn how they run and pay close attention to them when they come back from courses. Under a year of age, they will most likely not be able to go the entire distance that the adult dogs do (especially on long courses). You also want to pick and choose whom your young dogs run with. Sometimes an older dog is a good choice so that they don’t get on super long courses and overtax themselves. For example you wouldn’t run a young, large, gangly male with your top dog, because it is the longer courses where they can injure themselves especially if they get tired and won’t quit. If they are able to keep up with the adult dogs and it is a really long course, it is probably best to leash up your young dog and not allow him to run any more courses. However, if they are running a bunch of short tail chases, your young dog will most likely be able to stay out with the adult dogs most of the time. There is concern for young developing dogs, especially the larger males, so generally we tend to hold them back at about nine months through 13-14 months of age. In other words, we limit their coursing time in the field to avoid injuries, especially ones that can be lifetime injuries such as a soft tissue or growth plate injury. Dogs in this age range think they can run harder and faster than their bodies can really handle so careful exercise is essential to avoid potential problems.

If you have a young dog that will quit at nothing to get that hare and rarely give up in a course, then you have to watch that dog more closely and make sure that they don’t push themselves too much which might result in injury. Some signs that your dog has had a “trasher” course or ran too hard (and should be leashed up for a bit) are: bloody urine (strenuous exercise can cause additional protein buildup in urine), walking wobbly or muscles cramping up. If your dog’s muscles are cramping, they will most likely want to lie down; make sure to keep them walking around (to prevent more or excessive cramping) and vigorously rub muscles with your hands. If any of these are happening with your dog, definitely leash them up until they seem fully recovered, and it is also a good idea to give them some Nutri-Cal or K9 Super Fuel to help them recover faster and get some nutrients into them.

If you start competing with your young dog (they must be at least one year old to compete) in Open Field Coursing, the most that they will run in a single day is normally twice (with breaks in between the courses), therefore, monitoring how much they run will be much easier. However, if you have a young dog who is entered in a two-day hunt, and had two trasher courses the first day, you will want to make sure that they are not pushing themselves too much (to prevent injury) and the best way to do that is to go with your instinct and know your dog. In those cases, it is usually best to pull your young dog from the hunt the next day. Always better to be safe than sorry, your dog’s safety and health should always come first before any competition.

How much do you push or hold back your young dogs when out coursing?

WHCC Mixed Hunt

Yesterday had its good parts and bad parts! There were 12 dogs entered. That consisted of 7 Salukis, 4 Borzoi, and 1 Ibizan Hound. Mystic won the hunt, Zorro (Mystic and Hunter’s brother) took 2nd, and Hunter tied for 3rd! We had beautiful courses with beautiful weather. All of the courses were probably about 1-2 miles long, and pretty consistent, one of them did have a take. The bad part of the day was that we weren’t able to finish on finals. This means that the placements are then based on preliminary scores. The area we were hunting at was very vast which is wonderful in terms of the dogs’ safety considering they can easily have 1-2 mile runs. But in areas this vast, it is hard to predict where the game will be, which is one of the reasons we were unable to finish the hunt on Finals.In Open Field Coursing, each course consists of two or three dogs. When a hare is flushed, the huntmaster will call “Tally-ho!” which is the signal to release your dogs (we use slip leads for a quick release). There is a judge who judges the dogs on the following:

  • Speed: How fast the dog is compared to the other dogs in the course, and how fast they compare to the hare (if they are able to catch up with the hare fairly quick or if it just a long “tail-chase”).
  • Agility: How well the dog is able to force turns or wrenches on the hare and how well the dog can make those turns (i.e. tightness and speed coming out of the turn).
  • Endurance: How well the dog can keep up with the hare and other dogs during long courses (your dog can gain more endurance from more conditioning).
  • Take: If the dog attempts or succeeds at taking the hare.

Overall it was a wonderful day and most importantly there were no injuries! However, today I am definitely hurting! The first hunt of the season is always the hardest and shows you how out of shape you are! We probably hiked about 10-15 miles (early morning to almost sunset). 

How is everyone else’s hunting season starting out?

Night Before The Hunt

It is the eve of the first hunt (also known as, in other breeds, a field trial) of the season! Mystic and Hunter are both entered and we are all very excited and anxious for another coursing season to begin. We try to get to the hotel at a decent time to let the dogs relax and get some sleep. This will be Mystic and Hunter’s third coursing season, so they have become pretty used to it! During their first couple of seasons, they would have trouble eating and sleeping.

Hunter would even start falling asleep in the field from being so tired! But tonight, they both finished their dinners and are sleeping soundly! Alarms are set very early. In the morning we will mix up our K9 Superfuel, bundle up, make sure our backpacks are ready to go, jacket up the dogs, then head to the restaurant for roll call and the draw. Tomorrow’s hunt consists of 12 dogs. This will break up into four preliminary courses, and most likely two final courses.

Check back for an update on how the hunt went!

Conditioning the Hounds

Whether it’s open field coursing, field trials, or any other sporting event, it’s very important for your dogs to be in shape. We always bring out our dogs in tiptop condition to the hunts to help prevent injury (and of course to be competitive!).

We went out this morning to run the dogs. This will be the last weekend we will be conditioning them before the first hunt of the season (in two weeks). We go out “free coursing” all year around (it also helps that we have a large property for them to run on).

In the summer we have to go out at the crack of dawn and can’t stay out long at all before it gets too hot. As coursing season approaches we normally start running the dogs once a week, and then move up to twice a week to get them ready for the hunts. After today, we will rest them for two weeks until the first hunt to make sure no injury occurs and everyone is sound. From then until about February/March they will be going to hunts almost every weekend, and some weekends will be two-day hunts.

We like to condition the dogs in soft, sandy areas (such as sand dunes) to build up their toe and leg muscles. We are blessed to have areas nearby us where we can do this type of conditioning and also where there is a plentiful supply of game to chase.

What do you do to condition your dogs for hunting season/sporting competitions? 

Hunting season is coming…what’s in my backpack?

The open field coursing (OFC) season is starting in a few weeks and with the weather cooling down that means we can start bringing the dogs out free coursing for conditioning. This also means cleaning out/repacking the backpack from last season! So what will I be packing this season?

Small first aid kit – super important for your dogs, especially in this sport where you might be miles away from your car (where you should have a full first aid kit): Skin stapler, gauze, cast padding, splint, vetrap, elasticon, tweezers or hemostats, saline flush (eyes or wounds), surgical glue, thermometer, instant ice pack, benadryl, hydrogen peroxide, hydrocortisone cream.

Binoculars – I love my Crooked Horn Outfitters Bino System! Takes the weight off of my neck and distributes it across my shoulders instead.

Nutri-Cal – high calorie dietary supplement to use after very long courses

K-9 Super Fuel (pre-mixed) – we mix this up the morning of and bring one liter into the field with us. This helps with a speedy recovery after courses. 

Water (lots of it, about 5-6 liters!)

Human: Geiger hydration pack – this is the best hydration pack we have found! It works off of a pump system, which creates pressure so you can squirt the dogs down, or squirt water directly into the bowl (no suction needed). It’s great in the field and especially when you’re on the line!

Canine: Platypus bottles – these are wonderful because they are collapsible and very lightweight. They are also very hardy and will last us at least a couple seasons!

Collapsible water bowl – easy access, I just clip it onto the outside of my backpack

Slip leads – I use the short, quick release ones. The short lead allows for me to have more control over the dog on the line.

Coursing blankets – yellow, pink, and blue (and an off color such as green or orange). I always carry extras just in case one gets lost or ripped. 

Walkie talkies

Knife

Garbage bags (for game).

Snacks (both human and canine!) – super important when you’re walking 6-10 miles a day!

Do you have similar things in your pack? Any suggestions on what else to add to my pack for this season?