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?


Training Your Instinctual Hunting Dog

Many people ask me how I train my dogs for hunting. But the truth is, with this type of hunting (open field coursing) the actual training part is very minimal and is more about your dog’s instinctual abilities and experience.

One of the biggest parts of training our dogs in the field is the recall. It is always important that your dog learn “come,” especially when your dog will be off lead. We start training their recall very early (8-10 weeks old). One of the easiest ways is to carry treats with you in the field, then hide behind a bush and call them. Once the puppy finds you, praise them a lot and give them a treat. It is good for them to learn that while out in the field, they should always be aware of where you are. This recall training should be constantly reinforced at home as well.

Our dogs will chase their hares very far (sometimes a couple miles away), and this is where the instinctual senses kick in for them. It is helpful for young dogs to run with experienced dogs so that they have someone to follow back, but for the most part, a dog’s sense of direction is instinctual. They use the shadows from the sun, sight, sound, and smell to find their way back to you. When training your puppy or young dog, it is important that in the beginning, you use a whistle to signal to them where you are. A whistle travels much farther than your voice, and in case of emergency situations where your dog might get confused or lost; it is helpful to have them whistle trained.

Still, most of your dog’s training comes with experience. They will learn that after a long course, you are the one that has the water; therefore you will always be a source that they will want to return to. If they get turned around, they will learn to stop and listen for your whistle to reorient themselves.

Just remember, your dog’s ability to hunt is instinctual, that instinct is supported by training, which in turn is strengthened by reinforcement, experience, and conditioning.

How has experience helped your puppy’s hunting ability?

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!

Pupdate – Six Weeks Old

The puppies are now six weeks old! They are all doing wonderful and yesterday was our chance to take six week old stacked photos. This allows for everyone to really see what the puppies are looking like conformationally. I am really pleased with how this litter is looking and I think it is very consistent in terms of conformation. Here are some photos of a few of the pups:Zoey has now decided that she is mostly done with being a mom! All she really cares about is food, food, food! Because she has lost interest in being a mom (i.e. not really nursing or spending time with pups anymore, and also has stopped cleaning up after them) she is now back home with me.

We plan on decreasing her food intake, taking her out in the pasture more to exercise her, and start hot packing her to help dry up her milk (she still has a lot left!), in order to prevent possible mastitis.

Anyone else have advice on how to dry up a bitch once she’s done with nursing? 

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? 

10 Things To Look For in a Reputable Breeder

For many people who are looking for a new puppy, trying to find a breeder and knowing where to start is the hardest part! If you simply Google (for example) “saluki puppies for sale” you will most likely be seeing websites from puppy mills or “backyard breeders.” So how do you know who is a responsible, reputable dog breeder? Here are some universal tips to help you!

A responsible dog breeder…

1. Is dedicated to producing quality dogs that strives to improve on the breed. Dog breeders should always be thinking about how each breeding is going to improve on the sire/dam and be committed to the health of that breed (not continuously breeding same dogs over and over again, or continuously inbreeding).

2. Struggles to break even because of everything invested into the dogs. They will rarely make a profit off of sold puppies. Will only sell to qualified, approved homes and wants to be kept up to date with the puppies throughout their lives. They will never advertise in newspapers and will have an established waiting list for their puppies. Prices will most likely be in the medium to high end of the local range.

3. Has a lifetime commitment (contractual) and health guarantee to puppies. If the puppy acquires a genetic health problem, breeder will take the dog back or help the owner deal with the problem. They can produce health guarantees through testing of breeding stock such as OFA certification, and other testing specific to each breed (research your breed of choice and what genetic health problems are prevalent in that breed).

4. Can explain in detail how and why breeding was planned by describing pedigrees, linebreeding, and outcrossing. They should know exactly why they chose that specific sire and dam, and what they are trying to accomplish (conformationally and functionally) through each breeding. Can identify all bred dogs’ ownership and whereabouts.

6. Has a great passion for their breed. They will be able to talk with you, in great detail, about what the dog was bred to do, the background of the breed, and the AKC standard of the breed.

7. Has a lot invested in dog equipment (i.e. dog kennels, crates, whelping box, grooming supplies, etc). Puppies and other dogs are in a sanitary, spacious environment.

8. Will help prospective homes get matched up with the proper puppy to suit their needs. They will know if the puppy is a “show quality” or “pet quality” and help prospective homes evaluate the puppy’s conformation, functionality, and personality to try to match the best puppy for that home.

9. Are members of a local, national, or regional dog club. This could be dog clubs (i.e. the American Saluki Association), a dog show organization (i.e. Bonanza Kennel Club), or a dog sporting organization (English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association). Being a member, being actively involved, or regularly showing or sporting their stock shows that they are committed to objectively testing their dogs against others in comparison to the standard.

10. After purchase of the puppy, they are always available to help you with training, grooming, and/or behavioral problems. Will have a contract stating that if for any reason you cannot keep the puppy, it will be returned to them only. They will also have in the contract spay/neuter/breeding agreements.

This is a ton of info to take in! So where do you start? The AKC breeder referral search is a great tool in finding breeders, breed clubs, and breed rescues.

Is there anything else you feel makes a responsible, reputable breeder?