Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Day At The Races

Moose with his former trainer
 I took Moose and Miles to Jacksonville, Florida to a greyhound training track where they were running a NOTRA race. This is a "for fun" type of racing that a lot of retired racers do to stay in shape and to still have the opportunity to do what they love to do most - chase a lure. NOTRA is open to all sighthounds and Italian Greyhounds so there were other breeds there running - lots of whippets, borzoi, and silken windhounds. There were also show greyhounds running - not just retired racers. It is run like any other performance dog event. The dogs win trophies, ribbons, toys and occasionally a title if they are really fast.

In most cases the NOTRA courses are set up in a field with a lure on a string. This is the only one that I know of where they use an actual racing lure on a sand greyhound training track. The manicured sand track is soft and gentler on their feet than the grass and helps prevent toe and pad injuries. When you have a dog that runs 40+ miles per hour you end up with a lot of those injuries just from them running in the backyard. They love to run and sliding to stop on grass or rocky surface at that speed can take a pad off. I wish I could fill my whole backyard with sand so they wouldn't have that happen as often.

When we got to the track for the competition a former greyhound trainer that was there to run his retired racer pets came up and asked to see Moose. He recognized his racing name on his entry and had actually trained Moose to race! He remembered big Moose, then called Kevin, and was thrilled to see him again. Moose seemed happy to see him again too as you can see from the photo of them together. 

I entered Moose in the competition because he is an old pro at racing. After racing 140 something races he would know what he was doing. I didn't enter Miles because he had never run on a track. I wanted him to learn to run alone before letting him run with 3 other dogs. I let him do 4 practices in the 2 days I was there. I was really curious to see if Miles would even chase the rail lure since it kind of floats in the air and didn't seem as interesting as the one bouncing around on the ground that he was used to chasing. The lure itself is silent but the machinery makes a high pitched metal on metal squeaking as it comes around. The dogs that have raced before know that as the sound of the lure and go nuts when they hear it. But would Miles respond to that sound?

I didn't need to worry. Miles responded just like the racers to the first squeak of the machinery. He went nuts flipping and pulling and jumping around trying to get through the fence to get to the lure. I have no idea how he associated that sound with the lure, maybe it is in their DNA somehow? Maybe that high pitched sound just automatically sets off that prey drive that Miles has so much of. Whatever it was, he and Moose went crazy at the first squeak.

Moose ran his first race but came off limping a little. One of his toes he had had a problem with before was hurting him a little so I only let him run that one race. He had a dog pass him right before the finish line so didn't win the race but he was ahead for most of the race. I wanted to watch his first race and photograph his later races, so ended up not getting any photos at all of him running. Hate I missed that opportunity but we will definitely go back.

There are a lot of things that Miles needed to learn before racing with other dogs on the track. Race training doesn't teach them to chase. That is a drive that they are born with or not. If they don't have the drive to run and chase and push themselves to get the lure that isn't something that can really be taught. Miles definitely has that drive. What is learned in training is that they need to stay near the rail or they have to cover a lot more ground and will be slower than the dogs that do. They have to learn how to break out of a box - Miles has already worked on that quite a few times. Races are so close sometimes that the race is won or lost just by the speed that they break out of the box. Sometimes even the fastest dog just can't recover from a bad break. The dogs have to learn to break out of each box.

The dogs also have to learn the timing of the lure and how long it takes to get from where it starts behind them to where it is when the box opens. They learn not to turn around in the box when they hear the lure coming up from behind. They must wait for it to get in front of them and stay facing the front. It is good if they keep their head down low and their back end up to give them the most power coming out of the box. Then they have to learn how to take the turn at speed. I could see Miles slow a bit the first few times the lure turned because it surprised him. They have to learn how to control their front and back end in a long turn running at a bit of an angle. When you are a long dog that takes a little practice. Once they learn all those things running alone, then they have to learn how to run with other dogs around them and stay totally focused on the lure. We will tackle that in a race meet that is coming up on a grass track that is closer.

Here are some photos of Miles breaking out of the box on his 3rd run. Moose's trainer boxed him and is in the photo. He gave me some good training pointers so I guess I can say that Miles and Moose have had the same trainer now. He said Miles did great and just needs some practice on the track to figure everything out and build up his speed. Miles had good breaks out of the box and was absolutely crazed wanting to get the lure.
You can just see Miles white racing muzzle in the 3rd box right in front of the man.

Here comes the lure between Miles and the camera. He is facing frontwards

The break out of the box. His head is down butt up!!

Close up of him gaining speed. Head is still down and he is digging in.
And there he goes

 This is Miles fourth run. Since he was practicing I could put him in any jacket I wanted so I put him in a different number jacket each time so I would know which run it was. We started him in the 4 hole this time on the outside so he could learn to make his way to the rail. In NOTRA racing there are only 4 greyhounds running at a time so the 4 box is the farthest one from the rail and the lure. The day before these were shot we started out by hand slipping him the first time without using the box. Once we knew he was going to chase the lure around we put him in the first box closest to the rail and the lure. If you look back in the blog he has done box practices before several times so knows to stay facing frontwards and to keep his head down. 

These are frame by frame taken with a Nikon D80. I just held my finger on the button so the camera was taking photos as fast as possible. Pretty amazing how much ground Miles covers between frames.

Still in the straight getting ready for the first turn

 His head is down where it should be. That is important.

Beginning the turn

Head pops up a bit at beginning of turn

I can't believe that this stuffed bone causes this much excitement

Head back down in the turn

Digging in and headed for the rail


Still flying

Coming out of the first turn

All you can see is the very tip of his tail on the far right and the dirt he threw up.
We had SO much fun!! The boys actually had too much fun and got so excited by the sound and sight of the lure that they both had blow outs. When Moose was racing his race I came back to a van FULL of poop. Miles never has accidents. Obviously he did it while watching the race because the poop was spread all over the van and then he had run back and forth in it smearing it around. I had their crates set up but it was still chilly in the AM so had Miles in the van to stay warm. Big mistake I won't make again.

After that I moved them both to the crates. For the most part it was all on the blankets I have covering the floor and seat - except for the pile he had left ON the drivers seat. I shook out the blankets and put them in the box on my hitch carrier so I wouldn't have to smell them. I used most of the roll of paper towels but got the mess cleaned up. About the time I finished cleaning up Miles mess, Moose blew out in his crate and it went all the way across the other crate. I had no more clean blankets so had to shake those out and flip them over so the dogs had something soft to lay on in the crates. I used the rest of the roll of paper towels and had to hose both dogs off. Moose doesn't have accidents either but in the excitement they just couldn't hold it. They haven't even done that at lure coursing before. I took them out every few minutes for the rest of the day so we wouldn't have any more accidents and went straight to the nearest laundromat when we finished for the day. It was a huge pile of blankets and cost a small fortune to wash at the laundromat.

We stayed over night and came back on Sunday so Miles could practice a couple more times. I didn't let Moose run on Sunday either because I didn't want him to hurt his toe more. He was NOT happy with me and let me know he had plenty of other toes and really didn't need that one. He REALLY wanted to chase that lure and did a high pitched, excited bark whenever the lure was running ALL DAY! He is a very, quiet, low key guy normally but not when a lure is running.

I am planning to go back in February for a big greyhound and whippet only competition.

1 comment:

Hiking Hounds said...

Moose looks so happy and cute with his former trainer. This looks so fun. I wish we had Notra here.