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?