Race Training and Conditioning



 

A. A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO WHIPPET RACING AND TRAINING

Unlike many of its canine colleagues, the Whippet is still carrying out the work for which it was originally bred, i.e. racing and coursing. The amateur sport of Whippet racing is popular in portions of the United States and Canada. Adult Whippets compete to see which is the fastest over the 200 yard straight-away. Speed, determination, courage, and lightning-quick reflexes all come into action when a Whippet competes.

The Whippet is an athletic dual-purpose dog. Many Whippets successfully compete in both the show ring as well as in a physical activity such as racing, obedience, agility, fly ball and coursing. For the Whippet breeder and owner, a dual purpose program helps to insure the mental and physical soundness of their stock. Physical defects surface quickly, with the Whippet's level of performance a revealing indicator.

Show training, even for the non-show prospect, complements race training and vice versa. It acquaints the Whippet with a multitude of sights and sounds. The Whippet performs better as it is confident and not distracted. Obedience work complements overall racing and showing performance. A Whippet can successfully be trained for obedience while simultaneously competing in racing, lure coursing or any other activity. Being very perceptive and intelligent they can easily "change hats." The Whippet will enjoy the variety and thrive on the extra attention.

Select a race prospect from bloodlines that have demonstrated their ability. Look at past racing performance of the sire, dam, grandparents, plus their brothers and sisters. Some bloodlines are not as well endowed with speed and competitiveness as others. Top racing bloodlines do not guarantee success in their offspring, but increase your chance for success.

Since the Breed Standard contains very little which is not essential to an athletic Whippet it should be used as a guide in selecting your race prospect. Good conformation and soundness cannot be overemphasized. When selecting a race prospect, look for the best show prospect. Those points to particularly look for are overall proportion and balance, good length of body with gentle, flowing topline, strong true front, depth of body, breadth of upper and 2nd thigh with muscling carrying down to the hock, adequate but not excessive second thigh and unrestricted, sound movement.

Regarding temperament, look for a puppy to be bright and animated. Temperament is an important
consideration in selecting a puppy. Avoid a puppy demonstrating shyness or unsteadiness.

Sex of a race prospect is most often a choice of personal preference. Whereas a male can compete year around, a female is at a disadvantage in racing as she cannot compete during her season. In addition, her performance is noticeably diminished for approximately two months following a heat season. An unspayed female can compete in top condition for approximately six to nine months out of the year (one-two seasons/year). However, her heat season(s) may fall during active months (e.g. March & September) this further reducing her competitive months.

 

Assuming you have selected your Whippet and are ready to start training, there are three absolutes for successful training and performance: 1) proper nutrition (feeding your dog right), 2) excellent health/physical conditioning, and 3) good parasite control. In addition, keep in mind these important things:

1. Study and understand your dog as an individual and train accordingly. Vary your methods and speed of progression of lessons. Each Whippet is a unique individual and may need to be trained in a different manner because of its temperament ("hard" vs. "soft" temperament) and level of prey drive.

2. With young dogs, lots of regular free play and exercise are essential for optimum development of body, muscle, tone and coordination.

3. NEVER over train, as it will dampen enthusiasm, make a dog lose mental concentration, making it prone to injuries. Do enough to tire, but not exhaust. Leave your dog anxious for the next training period. Since this is a athletic activity and your Whippet enjoys it, it will not want to stop. It is up to you to know when to end training activities. Use your judgement and do not exhaust your Whippet.

4. Whippets should enjoy their training, or they may become obstinate. Keep your dog happy, so it will perform at it's best. Don't let your Whippet become bored.

5. Let other dogs watch as you train to bring out competitiveness.

6. Praise generously, so the dog will know when it has done well.

7. Always finish training on a positive note. Do not end a training session on a negative. This will send your Whippet away with that as the last thing on its mind.

8. Don't be rough physically or verbally when race training; Whippets should not be reprimanded for
doing what comes naturally.

Training a Whippet to race is based on its natural instincts as a sighthound as well as its competitive nature. Whippets love to run so training sessions are looked forward to by the Whippet. As with any animal training program, patience, common sense and good judgement are required.

They're Off!

 

The following suggested training methods are very general, but a basic foundation to work with. Although they are primarily for training the race Whippet, they would be useful in preparing the coursing Whippet as well. It is appropriate for a puppy or an untrained adult. Training basics are listed in a step by step approach.


Basic Training Program for Dogs Between 3-6 Months (or Untrained Adults)

1 . Develop and encourage keenness and determination on the lure. An effective training aid is brief (1-2 minutes) periods chasing a "fishpole lure." Use a cane fishpole, attaching a long string with a "jack-a-lure" squawker or an attractive fur-like lure at the end. In a large yard, free of obstacles, let the puppy chase the lure on the pole, making large circles. Let the puppy catch the lure and intermittently and give lots of praise. Doing this daily is a terrific aid. This is most important for those that do not have track facilities readily available.

2. Hand release your Whippet alone after a drag lure for short distances, no more than 20-30 yards for 3 month olds, increasing distance with age.

3. Train Whippet individually, but if possible, with other dogs as spectators.

4. If the Whippet is one of the few that is reluctant, let it become a spectator and let it watch others
racing in order to develop a "me too" attitude.

5. Build confidence. Familiarize with strange objects and noises. Attend local conformation training classes or go to a shopping center.

6. During this tender age period let puppy develop--don't push training.


Basic Training Program for Dogs Between 6-8 Months

1. Proceed slowly, never overtrain. Do not proceed with steps 3, 4, and 5 below unless the dog
has demonstrated enough keenness and confidence on the lure to ignore all but the lure.

2. Continue to develop keenness and competitiveness with teasing using the fishpole and drag lure. By this point the Whippet should be running 150-yard distances.

3. Muzzle break. Some dogs dislike and "fight" the muzzle at first. Accustom dog to wearing muzzle for brief periods around the home. Use praise to encourage.

4. Box train:
a. Accustom dog to opening and closing sounds and actions.
b. Walk dog through open box while teasing at front with a lure. Again, praise is important.
c. Put dog in box with closed front door, releasing immediately, while teasing at front with a lure.
d. Place in closed box, tease and release.

5. While on lead, hold puppy side by side with an experienced adult and tease with slow moving lure; if the puppy is more interested in the other dog than the lure, do not proceed to step #6.

6. Hand release a short distance (50 yards) with an experienced, well trained and slower dog to give experience running and finishing with competition. Graduate to box work with experienced slower dog (200 yard distance). Do not graduate to 200 yards if dishonest tendencies (i.e. intentional interference or fighting with other racers) are noticed.

7. Puppies with dishonest tendencies should be run by themselves for 2-3 months before testing again with another dog; some Whippets will eventually run clean while others will always be more interested in other dogs than the lure.

Basic Training Program for Trained Dogs Over 8 Months

1. Work on problem areas--don't bore dog. Remember that each dog is an individual and some will catch on quicker than others.

2. Bad habits, such as breaking from the box slowly, or running wide to the left or right will oftentimes disappear once the dog gains experience; however, some Whippets will always show these tendencies so do not be overly preoccupied with trying to correct them.

3. Condition your Whippet, but don't exhaust it. Physical conditioning is important for all phases of competition, including the show ring. Conditioning involves bringing the dog to the highest state of health so it looks fit and can give it's best in competition.

Components of a conditioning program are:

a. Free exercise--to keep dog happy and maintain flexibility and coordination.
b. Regular walking (30 minutes per day at a brisk pace). Walking conditions the entire dog and is
excellent for rehabilitating an injured dog.
c. Sprinting (varying distances occasionally) once or twice per week.
d. Brush your dog regularly using a horsehair hound glove (available at Dog Shows or from Mail
Order Catalogs). Brushing stimulates circulation and skin and it helps overall health and mental
attitude.

This training program emphasizes how much fun training can be for the Whippet. Exhaustion and
boredom are to be avoided as they have serious negative effects in your training program and can set you back in your efforts.

Proper equipment is important. Whippets race wearing muzzles to avoid biting owners, other Whippets and the lure during the excitement at the finish of a race. The muzzle should be properly fitted and give a Whippet full freedom to open its mouth, before, during and after the race. If a muzzle is well made and properly balanced, a Whippet should not be able to paw it off or bite the lure through the muzzle.

In addition to muzzles, each racer wears an identifying blanket or jacket during an official race. These blankets are of specific colors and bear a number, which is used to determine starting box location as well as finish line placements. The blankets should be designed to give complete freedom of stride. Owners are expected to provide their own muzzle and blankets and their dogs should be accustomed to both prior to competing at an official race meet.

The lure machine and the lure are very important in training the race Whippet. The lure should give the appearance of a fluffy, furry animal and be large enough to be kept in sight at all times. The best type of lure is made of synthetic fur and contains a squawker. The squawker has been proven to create extra keenness, and is especially useful in training puppies or inexperienced adults. The lure machine should be able to pull the lure at a consistent steady pace ahead of the Whippet. They are custom made with automobile starters.

Starting boxes are a major investment for any individual or club. Practice at a local Whippet racing club is a good alternative to buying or building your own. If you do decide to build your own, it is important that they conform to those used at official race meets, otherwise your dog will be at a disadvantage. If you live nearby a local Whippet racing club, you may be able to take advantage of their facilities and expertise. In addition, well-trained dogs will be available to assist in training novice dogs.

As an owner of a race Whippet, you have responsibilities as well. If you are starting a new activity, you have to learn and understand. Ask questions of those who have participated successfully. Learn from them. Watch and study procedures. Know the rules. Don't compete with your Whippet until you are both ready.

Keep things in perspective. Remember the dogs don't know they finished first or last, only the owners do. Training your Whippet to race can be satisfying as well as disappointing. Like everything else, success does not come overnight. That curious little puppy sniffing the lure may or may not turn into a top racer. What is important is to give that puppy proper training so that whether Grade A or Grade D it will perform to its full potential.


Cooling Off

B. Schooling Locations

There are several CWA Clubs that conduct regular schooling sessions for those Whippet owners interested in preparing their dogs for racing. Contact the following people for information regarding dates and exact location:

Mary Beth & Doug Arthur
Dairyland Whippet Club

12035 W Brown Deer Road
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53224-1417
phone 414-355-4776

Gail & Rod Wieberdink
Greater Twin Cities Whippet Club

569 Woodhill Drive
Roseville, Minnesota 55113
phone 612-483-2144

Ule James & Connie Austin
C-U Racing

4517 Sage Road
Rochester, Illinois 62563
phone 217-498-8661

 

C. NUTRITION AND FEEDING

Proper nutrition is most important to general good health and performance of the Whippet athlete. Most owners feed their dogs a diet of dry kibble with or without additional items, i.e. canned food, meat or nutritional supplements. Large companies, such as Purina, Hills, Gaines or Quaker Oats, conduct ongoing research on canine nutrition and many owners rely on the quality of their products insure their dog's health. You have a choice of commercial dog foods for all life stages as well as levels of activity. More recently, people are becoming interested in the virtues of home prepared cooking and feeding their dog a "natural diet." If you decide to do this, be completely familiar with the essentials of balanced canine nutrition before you start your dog on a completely home prepared diet. A home prepared diet may need to be modified if your Whippet will have the extra demand of racing competition, requiring extra energy.

In a discussion of nutrient needs, don't forget water is essential to your Whippet's body functions. The importance of having clean, fresh water available to replenish your dog cannot be overemphasized.

For those interested in nutrition for the Whippet, you may wish to read Chapter 8 in Care of the Racing Greyhound. The book is available from the National Greyhound Association. Interesting Do's and Don'ts at the end of the chapter which are applicable to Whippets are:

The Do's

1. Feed at the same time everyday. Remember it is a creature of habit.
2. Use a clean feeding dish at every meal.
3. Never feed cold meat straight out of the refrigerator.
4. Check the droppings from your dog daily. Much can be detected from the stool that will required alteration to your feeding.

The Don'ts

5. Don't leave uneaten food in the kennel and don't re-use a half meal. A dog will know better than you if something in the meal will upset him.
6. Do not use double or increase the amount of recommended proprietary supplements (e.g. vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes) as this may well be detrimental and detract from performance if used in excessive doses.
7. Don't feed closer than 8 hours before a race.
8. Don't change your diet if you are having success with your present feeding methods unless there is a real compelling reason to do so.
9. Don't feed immediately after you finish walking or after a run.

The dog food market is inundated with many choices and brands for you to pick from. It is up to you to read the labels and decide for yourself, what works best. If your Whippet is healthy and has a shiny coat, what you are feeding is perfectly OK. See #8 above.


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