Tips from Top Coursers

This document contributed by Larry and Donna Richards
reprinted from Sighthound Review

Written by Sherri H. Ecksmith

Larry and Donna Richards live in Denver, NC with their son Donnie. They own and operate Diagnostic Ultrasound Services. Donna is an all-breed AKC lure coursing judge and all-breed ASFA judge.

Do you show in conformation?

Donna: Yes, we have, most of the time just for fun. Two of the puppies are pointed. I see too much difference between the coursing dog and the breed dog.

Do you feel conformation plays an important part in the coursing Whippet? Do you believe the instinct to course is hereditary? Describe your ideal Whippet.

Donna: Yes, I feel conformation is important: a deep chest to carry lungs so a dog can go 1,000 yards if it needs to, muscle and tone and condition. That goes for all sighthounds, just the way they are built; they carry no body fat or very little. They are little athletes and you have to treat them that way.

I believe the instinct is there but I also think you need to develop it.

My ideal Whippet: I like to see large dogs. I like to see a mass of muscle, an athlete, a lot of bone and deep chest. That gives the ability to do the job they have to do on the field. I like to see the males on the top side of the standard. However, I think some of the bitches are too tall, but I don’t want them little or petite. I like to see a dark eye, but I believe color should be irrelevant.

How do you train your puppies? Adults? At what age do they begin to compete?

Donna: Starting with puppies, when we get a new pup or have a litter we start as soon as their eyes are open, playing with them with a lure toy. We hang tanned rabbit skins over the whelping box or the ex-pen to get them interested in chasing. We pull it back and forth and let them chase it in groups. As they get older we move to the buggy whip with a plastic bag at the end or a tanned hide.

Larry: I think puppies have to learn what is fun and what’s not. People teach their dogs that it is fun to show; I like to teach mine first that it’s fun to play. The instinct to hunt is there. I think playing with them and letting them know it’s OK to hunt should give any courser or show dog an edge. I think too many people concentrate on one or the other.

Donna: You have to give play and training equal balance. You can’t overdo them on one or the other. And you can over do them as far as practice. When you do, practice only a few minutes at a time. Always leave them wanting more. The thing you have to remember is that when playing with puppies, it’s fun for you, but don’t play too long, just a few minutes is enough.

As the dogs go up in age we take them to the coursing field, not so much to course but to socialize. We run them 10 or 20 feet on a straight lure.

Something else we feel is very important is when you send a puppy away from you, always make sure someone is there to turn the line around and bring them right back in to you. Make the biggest fuss over what a good job they did. They have just done the most wonderful thing in the world. You are sending them away from Mom and Dad, and in order to build their confidence you need to really praise them.

Larry: We have taken friends’ show dogs and they won’t leave your side.

Donna: At about 6 months to a year we very slowly increase their activity. About a month before it’s time for them to turn 1 year we start letting them run as test dog for the event. We work two together with the buggy whip at home but won’t let them compete together until at least 11 months.

We make sure they are in condition. People believe you can take a couch potato and put them out there and expect them to course. Tempest was a prime example of what happens. She had been a show dog and she never learned that it was all right to go away from a person. We tried to teach her and today if I ask her to course and spend 15 minutes getting her pumped up, she might course for me.

Just because a dog is a year old doesn’t mean it’s physically or mentally ready to course. That is a judgment each person has to make with each dog. One thing that we thing contributed to our success is the fact that we have so many different kinds of running styles in our dogs, and no two are alike. Each dog takes a different type of conditioning.

How do you keep the dogs in condition between trials?

Larry: We don’t have a heaving training schedule. I’ve road-worked some and never saw a big difference. I think the area they have to play in is important. I have a jungle gym I built for them to play on. I had several dogs that were lacking in muscle in the front and thought about how I could improve it without hurting the dogs, so I built a big doghouse and put eight-foot ramps up the sides with a large platform on the top. It seems to work just fine. All the dogs run it.

How much practice should the puppies and adults have?

Larry: Every dog must be taken on an individual basis. It’s very important for puppies up to 8 months not to take turns. Dogs mature at different rates, but face it, most dogs at a year old are not fully developed in their bones and muscles. You don’t want to stress the dog until it is mature. Thirty to 40 yards on a straight is plenty at 6 months and at 8 months 75 to 100 yards straight is enough. I like a dog to be at least 8 months old before it takes a turn.

If you have a dog that needs conditioning and it’s a 700 to 800 yard course laid out, you should only run it once. I don’t think a dog that’s not in top condition can handle more than that and it will lose interest. You want to make it fun for the dog. If he’s hurting himself he’s not going to run. A lot of good dogs have been ruined by over practice.

First of all, you have to love your dog and try to understand that they are limited in their abilities, just like we are. If you do something time and time again and continue to stress yourself to the point where it hurts, then you are not going to do it anymore. There are a lot of dogs that can run weekend after weekend and be just fine and a lot that can’t handle it mentally or physically in continuous competition.

How many trials do you attend each year?

Larry: Dino ran in 64 trials last year. There were some that Donna went to that I didn’t. Probably between 64 and 80 different ones, including ASFA and AKC.

What areas of the country do you travel in?

Larry: Region Seven is where we live and that includes North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. We’ve also coursed in Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas. That’s a lot of states! Region Seven alone had five of the top 10 Whippets last year. The competition here is the toughest of any place I’ve been in the U.S. I have coursed with dogs from all over the U.S. and Canada and it’s amazing the number of Whippets we have here, and the competition.

How do you know if a dog has the potential to be in the top 10?

Larry: The dog has to be a consistent runner and show abilities in all areas of coursing, which is follow, speed, agility, endurance and enthusiasm. All the categories are equally important. A dog has to have the enthusiasm to run. I say that otherwise he will not be consistently running as hard as it takes to be in the top 10. A lot of people say that since we attend so many trials, it’s no wonder we are in the top 10 or have the number one dog. The thing there is, you have to have a dog and compete in any kind of competition and constantly win.

Describe where your dogs live; kennel facilities, in the house, etc.

Larry: I have a small barn I built for the dogs. Being in a rural area, we tried to make it nice and keep a lot of it out of the house. although our den sees a lot of playtime for both puppies and big dogs alike. I have about a third of an acre that is fenced. In that area I have a lot of trees. We have the jungle gym for them to run up and down and play on.

Inside the kennel each dog has an individual kennel space. We have facilities for about 26 dogs. We also have a bath, hot water and electricity and a TV and radio for them to listen to.

What food and supplements do you use when competing? When not competing?

Larry: I have fed Joy Demand since we first had the dogs. We had tried everything but I’ve found Joy to be the best all-around product. At times when they are really competing I add some Diamond. There are supplements in these dog foods that high-performance dogs require. The most important thing you can do for your dog is feed him the proper diet. Fat content and protein are very important. We feed no soy. Sometimes I cook chicken for them. We give Nutra-Cal when coursing.

Some dog’s appetites decrease when running and it’s nothing for them to drop two or three pounds over a weekend. Of course, we don’t feed the morning of the trial. Nutra-Cal is a good supplement to use while coursing.

Keeping the dog hydrated is most important when you go out on those hot days. There are some sports drinks we use, but you don’t want to give your dog sodium. We have used Pedia Lyte, and there are a lot of other products on the market for track dogs that you can use.

There are some very important things that you need to do before you run your dog. You need to warm up his muscles. We get them out and move them around. We use Trainers Choice to rub them down. And it’s very important to walk a dog for anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. A lot of people put the dogs up way too early and don’t keep them hydrated well enough, and they can’t come back and perform like they should. They are athletes and you need to treat them that way.

Do you have any ideas or suggestions to pass on to other coursers or newcomers? What reasons would you give someone who never coursed to try it?

Larry: You have to have your dog in your heart. When I say that I mean that you have to watch out for the safety of your dog. I believe in wrapping feet, vetwrap or something to help protect the feet. If you don’t have experience doing this, ask someone who does. You don’t want to do it yourself the first time.

I run a lot and I try to give my dog every protection and every advantage I can to allow him to perform safely. Warming them up and cooling them down — rubbing them down; there are a lot of people who do these things and a lot who don’t. I believe in giving my dogs the best I can.

Why would I recommend coursing to a new person? It’s good fun! It’s good family fun! I started this with my family and friends and we’ve made a lot of friends over the years who are as close as family.

Donna: You share a common bond with them.

Larry: Yeah, and the competition can get tough, but that’s not what it’s all about. Knowing the other people and their dogs and getting into what they are trying to accomplish is very important.

Donna: If you take your dog out and compete and have a good time with your friends and your dog is happy, even though you might not have brought home a ribbon you are a winner.

Do you course ASFA or AKC and why?

Larry: We course both. When we first started there was no AKC coursing. I enjoy both of them. I think they are both good titles to receive.

Donna: I hope AKC is going to do something with their program to allow dogs to go further than F.Ch.

Are there any changes you would like to see in the program?

Donna: Like I said, I would like to see AKC have a way as ASFA does for you to go on accumulating titles. I also would like to see some sort of lure operator training program.

But back to the newcomers for coursing. For one second I just want them to know that the coursing family as a whole is very nice and to always feel that they can approach any one of experienced people and they will be glad to help them. So never be afraid to ask for any advice or help.