03 March 2011

The Devil Hounds of Kenya: Canine Persistence Hunting

Several years ago I was emailed these images from a 1958 Adventure magazine. Besides being solely about my favorite breed, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the article was the first one where I got to see photos of dogs being used to hunt large game and the first time I’ve read about dogs hunting in a persistence fashion.

“Their teamwork is instinctive. One hound will dart out of the pack, put on a burst of speed, outdistance his confreres, and overhaul the target. When he draws near the fleeing animal, the ridgeback alternatingly snarls and snaps at the victim’s legs, occasionally coming off with a piece of flesh as a reward for his intrepidity. When he tires, another of the dogs shoots out, replacing the lead animal who drops back with the rest of the pack. In this way the prey has to keep up a bristling pace to stay ahead, and this can’t be done.”
Imagine that instead of dogs we have athletic human hunters with spears. Sure the speed of the dog is one of its attributes, but the throw of a projectile can cover significant ground in a short amount of time even if the thrower cannot. A near hit spear throw would startle prey similar to the snapping of a dog’s jaws, forcing it to run faster and further. That hunter goes to retrieve his spear while the others keep after the prey at a decent pace. The next hunter sprints ahead and makes his throw when in range and so forth it goes until the prey is too tired to dodge or run away.

So while there are some out there who may argue against the theory we evolved as persistence hunters, I think there is a good chance we did it. I am sure our ancestors did, or at least tried, everything to survive. Maybe this endurance style of hunting is not the most efficient or healthy method to mimic for optimum fitness, but I am sure no type of hunting was ever done with fitness in mind. It was all about securing food and simply what worked, worked. So I’m thinking if you want to keep your endurance training fairly paleo you would follow these general guidelines:

  • Don’t Do It Every Day – Even if we did evolve as persistence hunters, we sure as hell didn’t do it every day. Maybe once or twice a week?
  • Ditch The Shoes – Although barefoot is ideal, minimalist shoes work well and protect your feet from that random piece of glass or prickly leaf.
  • Trail Run – From dodging roots to tromping through mud, you are bound to get a better workout on this uneven terrain. And your feet and knees will enjoy getting away from the hard pounding that comes with running on roads or sidewalks.
  • Mix In Sprints – I usually try to sprint up any inclines and would rather randomly pick an object ahead of me and try to beat the dogs to it. I must say that the times I felt most alive have been when I am sprinting along a dense trail with the dogs at my heels.
  • Take A Break – Periodically stop, catch your breath, and take in your surroundings. Just zooming through the woods isn’t enough for me. I like to experience the tranquility or take in an amazing view. If you’ve got dogs running with you, let them stop and sniff.
  • Bring Something Back – Grab something big and drag it. Toss a big rock or log. Mix in some squats and lunges. If I were on a trail that looped, I would sometimes grab a log and carry it on my shoulders until I worked my way back to that same spot where I would put it back.
Maybe I just had too good of a time running the ultras that I did and deep down I am looking for anything to justify that experience. My knee injury aside, I had planned on not running any more endurance races for a while. The main reason had more to do with the dogs. Often taking the dogs with me to a race was unfeasible, as rarely did I have anyone go with me. The question “want to go camping several nights, no nearby showers, and watch the dogs for me while I run 6 to 12 hours?” never drew the crowd I was hoping. Instead I like the idea of going backpacking with the dogs, somewhere I can bring them, still get to be out in the wilderness, and get a great workout.