You & Your Terrier JRT Racing
Bob Franklin, Farmcliff
Jack Russell Terriers, CT
often been asked, "What is the secret to developing good racing
dogs?" I believe it is about half genetics and half training/conditioning.
A good racer must possess a certain intensity that not all JRTs have.
Many races are won in the last yard or so because one dog simply wants
to get there first. The best racers are "good movers" too.
If a dog has structural defects that prevent good movement, that dog
usually cannot run well. Conditioning helps improve movement or at least
allows good movement to be effectively mobilized. Finally, an overweight
JRT seldom wins racing, so watch what and how much you feed your racers.
The basic instincts
for racing in JRTs are usually there, but these instincts must be awakened
through training and experiences. Start training when pups are quite
young. Use a lure or even an old sock and get weanling pups interested
in chasing it. Most will respond, but some may not. Next, as pups grow
older, use a stick about 6 feet long with a cord about the same length
tied to end of the stick and attach your "lure" to that cord.
Get pups to chase this lure around in circles during frequent 5 to 10
minute sessions as they grow up. Even let them catch the lure once in
awhile so they can "worry" it and get more excited.
The next step is
to use a fishing pole or retractable clothesline with lure attached
to get pups to learn to chase the lure in a straight line. Have lure
go through a hole made from three bales of hay or three cardboard boxes
fastened together in such a way as to make an opening similar to a finish
hole at the end of a JRT racetrack. A retractable clothesline can be
fastened to a post or a tree and the barrier placed 6 feet or more away
from the clothesline reel. This way one person alone can even practice
with a single puppy by holding the lure in front of the puppy and after
"baiting" the puppy, release the lure and let lure puller
do the work of moving the lure. Sometimes with very young puppies, clothesline
lure puller will go too fast so you must somehow slow the lure enough
by creating friction on the rope. Usually the fishing pole technique
is better but this requires two people.
These same techniques
will usually work with older, inexperienced terriers to get them started
racing. Terriers must have their "chase instincts" awakened
before they will race at all. Sometimes, if you have more than one terrier
in training, the less aggressive ones will follow others just for the
fun of it for awhile, but eventually most will catch on that the lure
is the "name of the game" instead.
I am indebted to
Didi Gough, California, who developed some of the above training techniques.
Other training ideas evolved over time at the many racing fun days Farmcliff
has held over the years.
Introduction to Race Track
The next step is
to either construct your own racetrack or find friends that have a racetrack.
Ask you JRT friends if there are any local racing fun days that you
and your terrier(s) can attend. The track should be fenced so pups or
inexperienced terriers cannot escape.
To begin with, ignore
the start box and have handlers, with only one pup per handler, hold
the puppies with all four feet on the ground part way down the racetrack
(usually three at a time and without muzzles). Someone else shakes the
lure under the puppies noses to get them excited about the lure. Start
the lure moving and handlers should let go of their terriers as soon
as lure starts. Try to keep lure just in front of lead puppy's nose
and let them run down the track and through the finish hole. Handlers
then follow the puppies to shoo the laggards down the track. Catchers
should use lure to try and entice all puppies through finish hole, but
if any still refuse, gently push them through the finish hole so they
can see that there isn't anything to be afraid of on the other side.
Catchers must be gentle when picking up puppies so avoid frightening
At least one of
the puppies will eventually get the message and he/she can usually be
used to entice others to follow-the-leader down the track. Repeat two
or three more times trying each time to keep lure as close in front
of the leader as possible. If one puppy is clearly superior to others
and gets quite far ahead, hold that pup longer and release it after
the others are 10 to 15 feet ahead so it has to play "catch-up".
Or, just take that superior puppy out and put it with a more advanced
group so slower puppies can be closer to the lure. Do not over extend
their attention span by running so many times that they begin to lose
Of course, if you
have a heckler in the group, pull that terrier out and only run it against
clearly superior racers that will leave the "fighter" in their
dust so it doesn't have a chance to heckle other terriers. If you are
teaching older terriers to race, you have to be much more cautious about
fighting and quickly take an aggressor out and work with it separately.
Some may even need a muzzle from the beginning, but it is better to
let the terriers get very excited before muzzles are introduced.
to Start Box
Once the terriers
are racing enthusiastically and are readily going through finish hole,
the next step is to introduce puppies or novice racers to the start
box. If you are working with your puppy or novice racer at home, use
a plastic dog crate to simulate a start box. Place the terrier in the
box with the front closed. Wave the lure in front of the terrier and
when the lure starts, open the crate's door and release the terrier
so it can chase the lure.
If you are at a
fun day or have your own racing start-box, the teaching technique is
similar. Don't work with too many terriers at once - 3 or 4 at the most.
Again, it is best to not use muzzles when first introducing new racers
to the start-box. Try to get fairly even competitors so all have a reasonable
chance of seeing the lure as it moves down the track. If one or two
terriers have proven clearly superior to others during hand held exercises
or the first time out of the start box, hold them out and race them
with others closer in speed. Carefully put terriers in start-box and
have someone constantly waving lure right I front of the box to keep
terriers headed toward the front. Start lure moving, open box and hopefully
all terriers will follow the lure down the track. Skill of lure machine
operator is very important since it is critical to keep lure just in
front of lead terrier so they don't lose contact with the lure. Repeat
this step a few times trying to keep dogs of equal ability together.
Once terriers are
enthusiastically coming out of start-box and following the lure down
the track, it is time to introduce muzzles. Hopefully the terrier's
eyes are "revolving in their sockets" and they are screaming
when you first put on muzzles just before putting them in start-box.
Quickly start lure and open start-box and terriers won't even realize
they are muzzled. Have catchers remove muzzles immediately. Repeat a
couple of times. If terriers start fussing with their muzzles, then
back up and seek to get them excited again so muzzles can be re-introduced.
terriers will associate muzzles with racing and will almost stick their
noses into the muzzle. Attaching a muzzle to a wriggling terrier is
a two handed job and trying to hold a terrier under one arm and do it
one handed is almost impossible. I long ago developed a simple technique,
which I have since taught to many terrier handlers that works very effectively.
Simply "park" the terrier between your thighs holding it in
region just behind its ribs by exerting pressure on the terriers sides
with your thighs. I suggest that you wear long pants when racing terriers
because otherwise you will probably get your legs scratched when putting
on their muzzles. Terriers usually settle after some initial wriggling
and will place their front feet on your knees. This frees both hands
and you can easily attach a muzzle to the terrier's nose. After that
is done, just open your legs enough so terrier lightly drops to the
ground. Put muzzles on only just before you enter racing heat staging
area and after a catcher hands you your terrier, remove the muzzle immediately.
Once terriers have
learned to accept a muzzle, it is only a matter or experience or mileage
for them to really learn racing. Some terriers balk at hurdles the first
time, but usually after a few races, they learn to jump hurdles with
no hesitation. I suggest you keep and wear specific sweatshirts and
tee shirts for racing only. Your shirt will always get muddy from terrier
feet and often they will get ripped and torn because of struggling terrier
feet. Your side and arms may also suffer scratches from these same terrier
toenails. In my case, my eardrums often suffer from the screaming of
some of my terriers who really, really can't wait to race.
Conditioning Your Terrier For Racing
Depending on the
category where your terrier races, it may run only 2 races during Jack
Russell Trial racing or up to 8 races. Those terriers which place first
in one of their races and thus qualifying for a Championship run-off,
will run still another race. If a stakes race category is added, this
could add another 3 or 4 more races. Throw in the possibility of one
or two re-runs for whatever reasons and this adds still more potential
times your terrier must run down the 75 yard track at full speed. Add
to this, the energy many terriers expend clawing at their cages or jumping
up and down in eagerness while waiting to race and it becomes evident
that conditioning of racing terriers is very important.
Start by feeding
a good quality dog food usually purchased from a high-end pet supply
house. A canine in the wild would consume mostly protein, fat and calcium
as it eats the small animals or birds it catches although some of these
animals/birds may have some partially digested grains in their stomachs
or crops. You will almost never see a canine eating corn on the cob,
wheat or beet pulp because the canine system evolved with mouth and
digestive juices designed to digest animals - not grains. Therefore,
it makes sense to look for dog foods where animal by-products (chicken,
turkey, lamb, etc.) are listed as the highest percentage ingredients.
Note also that dog biscuits are mostly wheat because the gluten in wheat
is required to make biscuits hard.
Never let your terrier
get overweight. You should be able to feel ribs and back bone easily.
General rule-of-thumb is that terriers should weigh about one pound
per inch of height at its withers. Usually, smaller female terriers
will weigh slightly under this rule and larger male terriers may weigh
slightly over this rule. So, regulate the amount your terrier gets each
day by the condition of the terrier rather than mfgr. recommendations.
Obviously, terriers that run all day need more food than terriers that
sleep on the couch or in their crates all day.
Exercise is vital
to condition terriers for racing. Hopefully your terrier can be loose
in your yard a major part of each day. If possible, walk your terriers
off-leash in the woods several times each week. If you walk a mile,
your terrier will run as many as 5 miles back and forth, digging, exploring
and generally having a great time. A mile walk for you terrier on a
leash is hardly any exercise at all. Running in the woods is especially
good because it also teaches your terrier how to jump hurdles as it
leaps over logs, rocks, etc. while running at full speed. If walks in
the woods are not practical, then teach your terrier to fetch a ball
and throw the ball 40 or 50 times several times each day. If your property
has a hill, throw the ball up the hill as this increases the exertion
level for the terrier dramatically.
Some people say
their terriers swim a lot. This probably keeps terriers in good physical
condition, but swimming is probably not the best type of conditioning
for racing. Muscles used in swimming are different than required for
speed running. Lure coursing in moderation is probably good for conditioning,
but too much lure coursing may make for lazy dogs. They rarely ever
catch the lure and eventually realize it is a futile effort so start
loafing or cutting across.
If you plan on racing
your terriers frequently for conditioning, it is recommended that you
do this in moderation because too much racing can lead to boredom and
make lazy racers. Let racing be an infrequent activity and they will
really stay excited.
I hope this article
helps you to condition your terriers for racing. On the other side of
that coin, I hope not too many of you begin beating my terriers so that
I rue the day I ever wrote this article. Just kidding of course.