Monday, September 30, 2013

Coursing Ability Test FAQs

Coursing Ability tests are quickly gaining popularity in the United States, and for good reason.  CAT tests are easy and fun, and your dog will most likely love it.  Getting started can be a bit confusing though, especially if you're not used to entering AKC events.  I've thrown together this FAQ for CAT tests in an effort to help everyone get started!

Q: What is a CAT test?
A: A CAT test is a pass/fail event based on the sport of competitive lure coursing.  Lure coursing itself is an event designed to mimic the pursuit of small game in an open field. All breeds and mixes can participate in CAT tests, while competitive Lure Coursing is limited to the sighthound breeds. Dogs run alone in CAT tests, and their courses are shorter and generally less challenging than sighthound courses.  

Yes, mixed breeds can participate in CAT tests!

Q: What is the lure?  What are the mechanics of this sport?
A: The lure consists of three plastic bags.  The course is designed to contain several changes of direction and turns.  The bags are affixed to a line, which runs through a series of pulleys and powered by a motor.  The speed of the lure is controlled by the lure operator, who matches the speed with your dog. 

Here is a sample course plan.  Note that this course also includes the course that the sighthounds would run in their LC trial.  

Q: How is my dog judged? How do they 'pass' a CAT test?
A: The dog must pursue the lure with enthusiasm and without interruption, and finish within the allotted time. The 300 yard course dogs are given 90 seconds, and the 600 yard course dogs are given two minutes.  That said, it is at the judge's discretion whether or not to pass your dog.  I have seen very old, very short dogs require much more than 90 seconds to complete their course but be awarded a Pass due to their determination and enthusiasm.  See the photo below - this senior Dachshund took about 4 minutes to complete her course, but she Passed due to her unwavering pursuit of her quarry. You can see how she didn't want to let go, even after her owner picked her up!

Q: What titles can my dog earn?
Three total passes will earn your dog the CA (Coursing Ability) title.  Ten total passes will earn your dog the CAA (Coursing Ability Advanced) title. Twenty-five total passes will earn your dog the CAX (Coursing Ability Excellent) title.  Each additional 25 passes adds a number to the end of your CAX.... so CAX2 is 50 total passes, CAX3 is 75 total passes, etc.

Q: What are the official AKC regulations for CAT tests?

Q: How do I find an event?
A: Go to the AKC's Event and Awards Search.  Click the tab that says Event Search.  Under the Event Type drop-down box, choose Coursing Ability Test.  You can also narrow your search for time range and state.  

Q: How do I enter an event?
A: To enter, you need to get an entry form from the club putting on the test.  This is located in the premium list.  If you cannot find the premium list, you can contact the club and they will most likely be able to email it to you.  READ THE PREMIUM LIST CAREFULLY - it will tell you everything you need to know about that particular event.

Q: How do I fill out the entry form, and where do I send it?
Keep in mind you need an entry form for each event.  If there are two CAT tests being held, you need two entry forms. Even if day-of-show entries are offered, it is highly recommended that you pre-enter.  Spots fill quickly, and it'll save you money.  Read the premium list carefully, as it will tell you where to send your entries, who to make out your check to, how much you need to pay in entries, etc.  

Here is a sample entry form.  You will need to fill out your dog's information (breed, call name, registered name, parents, breeder, date of birth, sex, registration or ILP/PAL number), your information (name, address, sometimes phone and/or email), and the information specific to the test itself.  In this case, the sample dog is a Doberman with an AKC #, so the entry form would have '600 yard' and 'AKC No' checked.  Be sure to sign and date your entry at the very bottom.  You will need to mark TEST (not Trial) and mark you dog's course length.  Keep reading to learn how to know which course length your dog will run!

Q: How do I know which course length my dog will run?
Dogs under 12" at the withers (shoulders) will run the 300 yard course.  Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs will run the 300 yard course.  Everyone else runs the 600 yard course.  I have seen some judges allow Boxers to run the 600 yard course, but it's not the norm. If you ask to have your Boxer run the 600 (and I recommend against it) be prepared to be told No.

Q: How old does my dog have to be to participate in a CAT?
Your dog must be at least 12 months old. Practice runs are often offered by lure coursing clubs though, so be sure to ask if your puppy can run a shorter course for fun and experience!

Q: What training does my dog need in order to course?
A good recall is strongly recommended, but other than that there is no training needed.  Lure coursing is an instinct sport, which means it tests a dog's natural ability. You don't give your dog any commands or direction while the course is in progress, and only call your dog after the course is complete or when instructed to do so.

Q: How do I prepare my dog for a CAT test?
A: Get them in shape! Before each event, your dog will be inspected for lameness and poor physical condition.  If your dog is in poor shape, you may not be allowed to course.  

Q: Wait, my dog will be inspected?  How does that work?
A: Every dog must be inspected before they run. You will trot your dog away and back, and the inspector will watch for signs of limping or other physical issues that may hinder the dog's ability to safely course.  Females will also have their girl parts wiped with bath tissue to verify that they are not in season.

Q: Do I need any special equipment?
Technically, no.  Dogs running in CAT tests may wear a regular collar with no hanging tags, but it is not recommended and I have seen judges request that collars be removed.  Many people use special coursing slip leads.  I recommend using a coursing slip lead, especially if your dog is quite keen on the lure and/or if you plan on pursuing titles beyond the basic CA.  I usually recommend people buy coursing slips from Colorful Collars by Rae.  You do need to bring water for your dog, as well as some form of containment.  Most people keep their dogs in their vehicles.  If it is too hot for this, a crate or a covered, secure exercise pen is recommended.  

Q: Why do I need to contain my dog?
If your dog gets loose and runs onto the field while another dog is coursing, you will be fined by the club.  You will also not make any friends by letting your dog interfere with another dog's run. 

Q: Can my dog get hurt doing this sport?
A: Yes, but every effort is made to ensure the safety of the dogs and their handlers.  If your dog has soft pads and the ground is very hard and dry, minor paw pad injuries might occur.  Stepping on the line or getting tangled in the line can cause abrasions, but the workers all have scissors and are ready to cut the line if your dog becomes tangled.  Poor leash handling can cause injury as well, so be sure you listen to the hunt master and make sure your leash is not dangling.  Pulled muscles and soreness can also occur if your dog isn't in shape, and occasionally dogs can break their toes.  All of these injuries are rare though, and no more common than injuries that could potentially occur in any other sport.

Q: What do I do once I arrive at the coursing field?
First, find someone who can check you in. Second, have your dog inspected. Third, walk your dog so he poops and pees before he goes coursing. Fourth, pay attention and be ready when the paddock master calls for you.  If the CAT test is in conjunction with a lure coursing trial, the CAT is usually after the trial.  Really, just read the premium list for this information... every club runs their tests a bit differently.

Q: You keep mentioning the hunt master.  What is their job? 
A: The hunt master is the person at the line that gives you the command to release your dog and collect your dog.  They will check to make sure your leash isn't dangling and that you are ready to release your dog, and check with the lure operator and judge to make sure they are ready.  The hunt master will give you the Tally-ho. Also be on the lookout for the paddock master. The paddock master is in charge of getting dogs ready for their turn to course, and will be the person letting you know that your turn is coming up!

Q: Are CAT tests held in a 100% fenced area?
Some are, but most aren't.  This is why a good recall is important!

Q: Will lure coursing make my dog kill cats?
Probably not.  If your dog is already safe around cats, lure coursing probably won't change that.  My dogs are lure coursing monsters, but they ignore my cats.  You may see an increase in prey/chase drive towards squirrels and bunnies though!  I should also mention that the first time your dog sees a plastic shopping bag fluttering across the Petsmart parking lot, you'd better hold on for dear life!

If you have any additional questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to find you an answer!

How to use a Coursing Slip

Recently, a friend of mine got the opportunity to take her Doberman lure coursing for the first time.  As I expected, he did great!  However, his owner quickly realized that she needed an actual coursing slip for future CAT tests.

Coursing slips look simple, but figuring out how to use them at the line when your dog is struggling to go chase the 'bunnies' can be extremely difficult!  I always recommend practicing on your own leg or a tree in advance, so you don't fumble around as much with your slip at the line.  An early slip at a CAT test can cost you a qualifying run, so holding onto your dog is extremely important.

Here's a quick guide on how to use a coursing slip.

First, let's talk about the Inactive Configuration.  This is what I call the configuration where the slip lead is not set up for quick-release.  Many people walk their dogs to the line with this configuration.  However, since my dogs are rude at the line and won't stand still to allow me to completely remove the slip and change it to Active, I only use Inactive after we're done with our course.

Here is what Inactive Configuration looks like:

Step 1: Feed the leash through the dead ring like so. The dead ring is the ring right next to the leash portion of the slip, and the live ring is the ring on the very end of the neck piece.

Step 2: Feed the leash through the live ring like so.

Step 3: Double back, and feed the leash through the dead ring again, but from the opposite direction.

You're finished!  Your slip lead is now securely around your dog's neck, and is not set up for "quick release."  (Let's look a the finished product again, so you can see how all the steps come together.)  You CANNOT release your dog at the line with this configuration.

Next, let's talk about Active Configuration.  This is the configuration that allows you to let go of one end of the slip to instantly release your dog at the "T" in Tally-ho.  I find it extremely difficult to switch from Inactive to Active at the line, and haven't fully grasped how to do it and still have my dog securely leashed.  

Here is what Active Configuration looks like.  At the line, the loop and the leash will not be held in one hand like in the photo.  You will hold an end in each hand.

Step 1: Feed the leash through the dead ring.

Step 2: Feed the leash through the live ring.

Step 3:  Feed the leash back through the live ring, but not over the live ring like you did in Inactive.  At this point, it is very important that you hold tight onto the "loop" formed on the live ring's side.  If you don't hold onto this loop, your dog could pull forward and escape!  At this point, your coursing slip is active and is considered to be in a quick release position.

Step 4: Feed the leash back through the dead ring like so.  Pull until the loop near the live ring is 6-8" long. Hold tightly onto that loop, and ball up all slack leash coming out of the dead ring in your hand.  This is all about safety - a dangling leash end has the potential to get caught up on your dog's feet, which could result in serious injury.  (Incidentally, this is why you don't want a overly long coursing slip.  More length means more excess leash to worry about at the line.)

Let's look at the finished product one more time!  When you hear the "T" in Tally-ho, simply let go of the loop coming out of the live ring.  Don't pull on the leash at all - just let go.  And remember - don't tell the hunt master you're ready until you're actually ready.  It's perfectly okay to say you're not ready and that you need a bit more time.  The hunt master will help you if needed.

So how can I get up to the line without switching from Inactive to Active?  I know of two methods.  One is what I jokingly call the Ridgeback Cowboy, in which you walk up to the line with your leash in Active, holding each end like a rein, with your dog between your legs.  Here is a photo of Aryn utilizing this technique.  To be honest, this is the technique I use as well.  It's simpler, but you do need to make sure you've got a death grip on both ends of the slip. 

The second method is something I see a lot of Whippet folks use.  Basically, you set up your leash in Active configuration, then feed the leash end through the loop near the live ring.  At the line, simply pull the leash back out the way it came.  I've tried this in the past, but have had difficulty getting the leash back out.  A 70-95lb dog can pull that quasi-knot so tight that it takes both hands just to get it free, and then of course you're left with a loop that is only about an inch long and needs to be lengthened.  Below is a photo of this configuration.  I call it the Whippet Lock.  

I hope this little how-to guide has helped de-mystify the coursing slip for everyone!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Reviewsday: Primal Pet Foods

I'm ashamed to admit this... I ran out of raw meat for my dogs last week.  My 24.6 cu.ft. freezer was as empty as Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. Normally this wouldn't have happened, but our beef supplier is running a bit behind on orders so they asked us to give them another week to get our meat boxed up and ready to go.

Primal Pet Foods to the rescue!  Primal uses human-grade ingredients from USDA farms.  Nothing in their food is imported from China, and their meat is antibiotic-free and steroid-free. The produce that goes into their foods is organic too!  They offer several different feeding options, including frozen ground raw, raw meaty bones, freeze-dried formulas, and treats.  The folks over at Primal sent over a bag of their Freeze-Dried Chicken Formula food and some Freeze-Dried Turkey Liver Munchies, priced at $26.99 and $6.99 respectively.

The freeze-dried chicken formula contained approximately 45 nuggets.  Each nugget was roughly the size of those little "fun sized" candy bars that we all adamantly say we don't eat by the handful. 

To achieve maximum hydration, the nuggets needed to be broken down into smaller pieces.  Squeezing each nugget was all it took for them to crumble. I added the correct amount of water (ack, math!) and waited. 

Talla loved it!

Talla also loved the liver munchies. They were all different shapes and sizes, which is understandable since they're basically just freeze-dried chunks of turkey liver.  They broke apart fairly easily without leaving many crumbs, so they turned out to be a great high-value training treat here.  Since most of them are more stick-shaped than cube-shaped, breaking little pieces off of these liver treats is much easier than other liver treats I've used in the past.

Primal uses great ingredients in their products.  The freeze-dried formulas seem to contain a decent amount of meat, and my dogs found it to be extremely palatable.  However, the Achilles Heel of this food would definitely be price.

Based on the instructions on the bag, Talla would need about 16 nuggets per day.  I did the math, and was alarmed that a $27 bag of this food would only provide about 3 days' worth of meals.  That's $9.00 per day to feed a Tallahassee-sized dog.  One $27 bag would be enough to feed Poison for one day.  Primal is probably a great option for someone with a very small dog and a very big salary, but those of us with large dogs and solid middle-class incomes would be hard-pressed to afford.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cordova Park Excursion

There is a little gem of a park just north of Knoxville, Iowa called Cordova Park. It's about 20 minutes away from my house, and I'm surprised that I haven't explored it much.  The trails aren't long, but you can spend hours climbing around on the rocks that line the lake.  Thanks to pre-Illinoian glacial drift, the rock formations out at Lake Red Rock are quite spectacular.  There's a ton of petrified wood lying around as well. Also, an observation tower. The observation tower is coooool.

Jayne and my husband are just barely visible in the photo below.  I tried very hard to get a photo that showed the size of these rock formations, but I don't think I succeeded. It looks fairly easy, but in reality this involved some pretty savvy climbing! Luckily my dogs know Go, Easy, and Wait. They will go where they're told at a specified speed, and they will stop and wait.  Unfortunately, my husband isn't a good communicator when it comes to Go, Easy, and Wait.  As a result, Jayne got himself into some dicey situations and Steve nearly fell to his death a few times.  I had Kaylee, and it should come to no surprise that we did better.

Part of my climbing success can be attributed to my choice in footwear.  Clmbing in VFFs allows so much more control and flexibility.  VFFs allow you to grip the rocks with your toes, and have a better feel for unstable areas. As a loyal VFF wearer, I was duty-bound to take a photo of my feet.  This is a phenomena I like to call footbombing.  Most VFFers are guilty of doing this at least once.  This photo was taken atop a large boulder, probably about 50ft above the water. 

Until next time... the end!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Reviewsday: DogWalkies Biothane

Most of you know how much I love leather.  Leather collars and leather leashes are the gold standard around here.  As fantastic as leather is, it does come with its own set of challenges.  Quality leather is usually fine if it gets wet, but it does take awhile to dry. I don't know about you, but a soggy leather leash isn't something I'm thrilled to carry around on a hike!

Enter beta biothane.  Beta biothane is a synthetic material that looks, feels, and behaves like leather. However, it is 100% waterproof and stinkproof. It doesn't stiffen in sub-zero temperatures, and it doesn't require conditioning to keep it in good working order.  It comes in many colors and does not run or stain coat.  My husband calls it "unicorn leather" because it's basically a magical substance.

DogWalkies (a Canadian company!) crafts fantastic collars and leashes out of beta biothane. They have 17 colors available in multiple widths. Yes, you read correctly - they have seventeen colors!  Owners Christine and Andre (and their English Setters) sent over a 1" collar and a 5/8" wide, 6' long leash for me to work with.

I was pleasantly surprised with how flat the collar lays on Kaylee's neck. Other biothane collars I've used tend to be fairly bulky in the buckle area, but DogWalkies use roller buckles and metal keepers to keep the buckle area low-profile. Sizing is also extremely customizable, which is another way DogWalkies sets their products apart from other biothane collars.

As expected, the collar didn't rub or chafe Kaylee's neck at all.  It rinsed clean and dried quickly.  This is one of my new favorite collars, especially since it's so versatile and sturdy without being bulky. It's well worth it's $22.83 USD price tag, which is a bit higher than commercially-produced biothane collars.  (The 5/8" wide collars are priced at $19.85 USD.)

Let's now talk about the leash.  I love this leash!  I generally am not a fan of thick leashes, and finding thinner biothane leashes is next to impossible.  DogWalkies has 5/8" leashes (yay!) and even 1/2" leashes, though the 1/2" leashes are geared towards smaller dogs.  The hardware is very high quality. One of my favorite features of the leash is the small ring* riveted directly into the handle. Floating handle rings are a peeve of mine, so a leash with a riveted-in-place ring was understandably a huge thrill!  At $21.84 USD, biothane leashes made by DogWalkies are competitively priced and in my opinion a much better product than the commercially-produced biothane leashes available elsewhere.

* I use handle rings to make it possible for me to 'wear' the leash when it's not in use. Handle rings also provide a great place to hook poo bags, keys, etc.

I went out to get some photos of the collar and leash in the field this weekend, but the outing had to be cut short due to the first rainstorm we've seen in nearly two months. Fortunately, it gave me an opportunity to photograph how great biothane works in water!

"It's wet and cold and I really think we should go back to the car now."

In summary, DogWalkies rock.  Christine and Andre respond promptly and are truly dedicated to sending out a quality product.  If price allows, I always prefer supporting small business, and in this case price does allow it.  Doing business with actual people also means the potential for a product tailor-made to your needs is possible.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Reviewsday: The Honest Kitchen

I know this comes as a surprise to you all, but occasionally I travel on the weekends.  (Sarcasm, sarcasm!)  I try to make my "away-weekends" as easy as possible on my husband, but there is only so much I can do when we feed raw meat to our pets.  He's not as raw-savvy as I am, especially when it comes to the cats.

To give you an idea of the unique challenges of packing up raw meat for someone else to feed, take a look at the photo below.  This is what I come home to... in addition to a garbage can full of stinky, bloody ziploc bags.  When I do raw, it's clean and beautiful.  When Steve does raw, it looks like a crime scene and smells like we have dead bodies hidden in our walls.  Yuck!

For small trips, there has simply got to be a better solution.  However, for me, the answer is not kibble.  Kibble is the ultimate convenience food, but leads to huge piles in the backyard for me to scoop when I get home, and sometimes even vomit for my husband to call and complain about! It means the dogs have nasty coats and need baths when I get home. It means I have to worry about one of the Dobermans bloating.  With the cats, it means cow-pie poops everywhere except in the litter box.  Also, they like to hork up kibble on the bath mat, which leads to stepping in cat vomit while getting out of the shower.  Eww eww eww.  Kibble is not the answer.

So... what could I leave for the dogs (and cats) that would be easier, less stinky, and less messy?  The folks at The Honest Kitchen sent over some stuff to see if it would fit my needs (and the needs of my raw-feeding-traveling-readers-with-busy-or-possibly-absentminded-or-basically-just-dumb spouses.)

(Oh yeah... this too.  But the cats decided they were going to test these haddock treats on their own, before I got home.  They went through three layers of cardboard for these. Jerks.)

Just like the Wishes treats that the cats destroyed, the Quickies (for dogs) and the Smittens (for cats) have a strong fishy odor, presumably because the only ingredient is dehydrated haddock.  This may bother some people, but I've found that most dogs (and cats) prefer stinky treats.  If you don't mind stinky pockets, they're a perfect size to carry with you on walks.  The Quickies and Smittens are heart-shaped and exactly the same size. This surprised me as I expected the Smittens to be smaller, but the size didn't stop my cats from devouring them with gusto.  Obviously, Dart thought the packaging was edible as well.

Random Fun Fact:  The haddock is a type of whitefish. They aren't "junk" fish, but extremely tasty, and often used in fish 'n' chips.  They also have big googly eyes that give them a surprised-yet-confused expression that make them one of the most adorable fish species I've ever seen.  Seriously.  Google them. Google them and laugh at their little fish faces.

The 4 oz trial sizes of cat food (retail price $3.50) were more than enough to feed the cats for a long weekend.  I imagine the next size up (2 lbs for $28.99) would last quite awhile, especially if only fed on weekends when I'm away.  The cats loved both formulas - Grace and Prowl - but my husband discovered that they didn't know what to do with it when too much water was added.  When the appropriate amount of water was added, however, the cats went nuts for it!

Now, for the dogs! I portioned out the dogs' dry mix and added their pills directly to the containers.  Kaylee gets glucosamine, Jayne gets an immune booster, and both get probiotics.  In the past, I've had to package each group of pills separately for my husband to add to the raw meat.  Being able to add the pills directly to the dry mix is a huge convenience.  When I asked Steve which type of food (raw vs. Honest Kitchen) was easier, he did admit that "that powdered green glop" was much more convenient.  After a show weekend, I simply came home to a sink full of empty plastic containers instead of a smelly trash can and a bloody fridge. There was a bit more poop in the yard, but less than I had expected.  Honest Kitchen poops are much more similar to raw poops than kibble poops.  (Be happy I didn't take pictures.  Public sharing of dog poop photos is one thing I can't bring myself to do... yet.)  Also, there were no farts... amazing!

I was sent 4 lb boxes of Embark and Love, which retail for $45-$47. The formulas with grains and more common protein sources are cheaper. If I was going to be going out of town for more than a weekend, I might consider buying a box to make my homecoming a bit less stressful.  The cat food is a much better deal, in my opinion, simply because three cats don't eat nearly as much as several large dogs.

The only downside I can see to The Honest Kitchen is more of a minor annoyance than an actual problem.  When it dries, it sticks to the bowls and it can be difficult getting it off without having to resort to a lot of scrubbing.  Otherwise, this food really fits the need for which I had hoped.  The cost is a higher than what I pay for raw, but to me it's worth it when I'm planning an out-of-town trip.