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By Patricia H. Gilbert

Conditioning of both body and mind of the Sighthound running performance events is essential even if you have the weekend warrior Sighthound.

Coursing and racing are great ways to get out for a day or an entire weekend, meet new people and let your Sighthounds do their what they do best, run their hearts out.

While I realize that many of you are hardcore enthusiasts, there are some readers just getting started in the sport. Maybe this article will teach some of us old dogs new tricks too.

Proper lean weight and reasonably good muscle tone are so important to avoid injuries such as sprains and tendon/muscle tears. A sound muscle and ligament structure also helps protect bones from breaking. A fit hound’s cardio vascular system is better equipped to deal with the required sprinting and adrenaline flowing through their bodies.

There are some myths that need to be debunked. Muscle development for the show ring and the coursing fields is not the same. The show ring trot demands conditioning of those muscles utilized for the show ring trotting gait.

The trot is a fairly stiff backed gait.

The double suspension gallop requires some of the same trotting muscles.  This special gallop also requires the use of many extra and different muscles. This is because the back must stretch and flex in two different directions during the various phases.

You can cross train but you have to bear in mind that you are training for two very different purposes and adapt your regimen accordingly.

A basic start is to make sure your Sighthound is healthy and parasite free. Check his weight and feeding regimen. Make sure his food is healthy and well balanced and lots of fresh water available.

I like to see two ribs on a lean dog. He can be thinner but should not be fatter. Extra weight slows a dog down and stresses the entire hound’s system.

Let him free run in your yard or dog park. Makes sure he is in a safe environment for running at top speed. I put a fluffy something on a fishing pole or carriage whip to encourage my dogs to chase. If you have two Sighthounds, you are lucky because they will tend to exercise each other.

Apart from the free running, they need road work to build up the right muscles. I don’t recommend this until the hound’s growth plates are closed. That happens usually around 16 months. Enforced exercise before final development may permanently damage your hound.

I use a bicycle for road work. I have used horses, roller blades, and a car. In this work, I have my dog on a strong lead and the dog runs alongside me. I start with a warm up of a slow canter, settle down to a trot, an all out hard gallop, and then a cool down period of a slow trot. This allows him to use different muscle and challenge his mental and cardio vascular systems. The warm up and cool down stages are important or your hound might get cramps or damage muscles. Make sure they have a good stretch before hard running.

I let my hounds pretty much tell me how far to go. Remember you go out a distance and have to get back also. Hoisting a tired hound up onto a horse can be challenging, impossible on a bicycle or on roller blades unless he is a small hound. I start at one comfortable mile. I recommend road work a minimum of three or four times a week. I build up my distance to 4 or 5 miles. I go up hill and down hill. I have a word of caution. If you road work on hard top, pay attention to your hound’s feet. They may get road burned so you have to be very careful. All of the road work is combined with free running at home or in the park. If you have a day, where your dog doesn’t want to go far, don’t force the issue. He is trying to tell you something and you need to pay attention. Check him carefully and make sure he has no pain or injuries before you go again the next day. Sometimes a hound just wants a day off.

I run before or after the heat of day during hot months. In the cold months my dogs wear jackets but not boots. I check feet for salt burns and always rinse the road salt off their feet and legs . Wearing a jacket gets them used to the feel of wearing racing gear. If you are going to run your dog in a basket muzzle, do this when you road work. The muzzle may help your hound from getting hurt by grabbing at the line. I would train with and without. You never know when you are required to use a muzzle to run. Any equipment you are going to use in coursing your hound needs to be used to in conditioning.  I happen to have Salukis and Afghan Hounds. Their ear coat is quite long and can get caught up on the line. I wrap up their ear coat with small latex bands to protect them. Get your hound used to wraps before the big day or you will be in for a shaking the head all over surprise.

I would condition my hound in this manner of road working to buildup strength and attitude for about two months before taking to the field.

Every time I go out alone with my hound, I tell someone I am going out, where I am going and for how long. Now I carry my cell phone but it is always good to have that extra precaution of someone looking out for you.

I carry a small first aid kit and water with electrolytes for my hounds and for me every time I go out for training, practices and meets.

Your hound now has the basic physical strength to start coursing. He needs to have his brain strengthened too. I take them to a fun trial or actual trial and let them watch. They get the idea very quickly. If you are lucky they may have short practice runs. I would run my hound alone to start. Let him focus on the lure and the job to be done. Let him experience the joy of running full out. Let him understand the hard turns and how to use his body.

Then he can run with an experienced clean running hound. If he runs and plays, then he should go back to running by himself again. And then run again with other hounds until he runs cleanly. Soon he will be running for Best in Field.

Tally Ho!

(This article appeared in the January – March 2006 issue of The Performance Sighthound Journal.  For info on the magazine go to: