NZFarmer : February 3rd 2009
Straight Furrow • February 3, 2009 17 Experience pays off for Otago pair N ATIONAL dog trials champion John Tweed, of Waitahuna in the Otago hill country, reck- ons there is no substitute for experience. Both dogs and masters get better with age, he said. The proof of that is in the fact that most national titles are won with older dogs. John has been training and trialling working dogs for more than 30 years. His top huntaway, Mark, who turned eight last August, had the breeding, temperament and expe- rience to handle the pressure of competition against 260 of the country’s best dogs in the zig- zag hunt at the Tux New Zealand dog trials cham- pionships at Blenheim in June last year. In the pair’s second foray into the heat of the national trials arena, John was confident. He had learnt from his own experience of the national run- off in Wanaka the year before and knew the tricky Blenheim zig-zag course suited his dog, who was well rested, relaxed and focused on the job. “Some dogs don’t travel well, but Mark’s good,” he said. “He doesn’t get hyped up. He’s good in that he doesn’t need to be worked all the time. I was pretty confident that whatever the sheep were going to throw at us, we would handle it.” They certainly handled the pressure of the run- off and John was still wearing a smile from his first national success a couple of weeks after the dust had settled. But the pair nearly missed the cut to qualify at all. In the middle of the trials season, Mark had had an operation on an abscess on his back leg that put him out of action for a fortnight. “Then when he came back he wasn’t fit and he wasn’t going all that well,” John said, “so it was touch and go whether we were going to get quali- fied.” The pair only just qualified as a late entry at the Otago championships at the end of the season. “If he hadn’t qualified, I was actually planning his retirement,” John said. “I thought that’s it. If you can’t get qualified you’re out.” As the saying goes, form is temporary, but class lasts, and his dog has plenty of that. John bred and trained Mark, who comes from a particularly good litter that includes national, North Island and South Island champions. Fellow Otago competitor and friend Graeme Dickie won a national title at Omarama with Mark’s brother Ben. Brian Dickison won a North Island title with Jim, another dog from the same litter. Mark was the top huntaway in Otago in 2006 and 2007 – honours John has shared with fellow Otago representative, arch-rival and friend Boyd Tisdall (and his dog Lou), who completed the Otago dou- ble when he won the national straight hunt at Blenheim. In 2006 John and Mark, along with Barry Hobbs and heading dog Waite, were selected to represent Otago in the national Top Dog competition at the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek. Mark proved his brains and versatility over a range of farming tasks that contributed to the two-man Otago team winning the event. “He’s a dog that suits me and he suits the envi- ronment around here,” John said. “I probably haven’t got enough work to work down the really hard dogs with a lot of go. Mark’s a bit easier. He suits the trickier, winter type sheep.” So what’s next after winning a national champi- onship? “I’m forever training dogs here,” John laughs. “I’ve always trained my own dogs because then you know everything you’ve done and you get that good bond with them. I’ve only ever bought one or two dogs but they never worked out any good.” John has a young huntaway coming on but thinks his next big challenge may be to win a national title with a heading dog. firstname.lastname@example.org John Tweed of Otago and his champion 8-year-old Huntaway, Mark. Taking care of your hard-working athlete T he foundation of a good working dog is genetics, conditioning, training, communication with the handler, and diet. If any one of these is compromised, performance suffers. Hard-working dogs may need two times the calories per day of a typical house- hold pet and more when working in cold- er conditions or with greater workloads. These calories need to come from a balanced diet consisting of high quality protein for building strong muscles and a healthy immune system; high levels of fat to fuel endurance work and carbohy- drates to provide energy. Protein Dogs exercising at low to moderate intensity with short bouts of high inten- sity work need more protein to prevent soft tissue injury like muscle strains. Dogs fed diets with low protein have more soft tissue injuries. This meant they had to be removed from the exercise rotation for at least three days due to lameness or soreness. Carbohydrates Small amounts of dietary carbohydrate are useful in stabilising gut motility in endurance canine athletes. Highly active dogs fed diets without carbohydrate were more susceptible to stress diar- rhoea than those that had a moderate amount of carbohydrate from grains in their diets. The fibre in some grains also supplies prebiotics to nourish good gut bacteria, building a healthier digestive system and allowing better absorption of nutrients. Antioxidants Working sheep dogs are susceptible to breakdown of cell membranes from free radicals. Diets with extra antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium help to minimise excessive free radical production, especially when dogs are consuming higher fat diets. The effect of extra antioxidants is a healthier immune system and stronger body tissues. Home-kill While home-kill is regarded as a cheap and readily available source of nutrition for farm dogs, there are a number of areas where it falls short. Fresh sheep meat provides around 24g of protein per 100g. While it is a good source of protein it does not provide the same high levels as some dry dog foods, which comprise 30 per cent protein and are specifically designed for high perfor- mance dogs. Sheep meat does not provide carbohy- drates and is often deficient in minerals such as calcium while being high in others such as phosphorous. These imbalances can have serious health implications for the short-term and long- term health of the animal. A commercially prepared dry food supplies all the energy, vitamins and min- erals a dog requires and in the right ratios, ensuring optimum health and per- formance and along with ideal body con- dition can increase the useful, healthy life of a dog by up to two years. As important as nutrients are feeding practices. Three things need to be considered when managing food intake in canine athletes: diet digestibility, hydration and feeding time. Hard-working dogs can vary in energy requirements depending on the type of work or sport they are participating in, the environmental conditions and the fre- quency of exercise. Hydration Working dogs need at least 2-6 litres of water per day. Hydration is important in exercising dogs. Exercise is a heat pro- ducing activity and water is required to help dissipate heat. Timing of meals is important in canine athletes. The heat of digestion can increase heat load in exercising dogs that are already at risk of overheating. About 23 hours are required for diges- tion of a large meal. Dogs fed less than 23 hours before an event may have fecal matter in the colon, which can compro- mise performance. If participating in a multiple day event, dogs should be fed as soon as possible after exercise so they have time to digest the meal before the next session. It is appropriate to feed a dog only when it is no longer panting or exhibiting signs of heat stress or dehydration. Most dogs can be fed within 45 minutes of stopping work. All you need to feed.
January 27th 2009