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Lure Coursing

July 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Dog Activities and Training

There are many sporting activities your dog may enjoy, but if you have a sighthound, perhaps the most fun will be lure coursing.  The combination of running at full speed and chasing a lure uses your dog’s natural prey drive to provide great exercise as well as a mental workout.

The history of lure coursing

In the early 1970’s, Lyle Gillette and some of his friends from California hunted jackrabbits in open fields with their sighthounds.  However, barbed wire fencing separating the various fields caused numerous injuries to their dogs as they tried to follow the escaping hares into adjoining fields.  So, Gillette invented lure coursing to enable to dogs to use the skills of their heritage without actually running down game.  Plastic bags were used as lures, and the American Sighthound Field Association was born in 1972.  Since those early days, 120 member clubs have been formed throughout the United States.  The American Kennel Club began sanctioning events in 1991.

Whippet lure coursing at full speed

The Players

In the United States, the major sanctioning bodies for lure coursing are the American Sighthound Field Association and the American Kennel Club.  In Canada, races are sanctioned by the Canadian Kennel Club and the Canadian Sighthound Field Association.

Lure coursing was developed specifically for sighthounds such as the Afghan, the Russian Wolfhound, the Greyhound, the Whippet, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Basenji, and the Scottish Deerhound.  There is now a mixed breed dog club that runs its own races and is petitioning the AKC for inclusion of non-purebred dogs in their events.

Most of the national clubs for each breed have a portion of their websites devoted specifically to lure coursing.  A few examples are:

Although currently only purebreds are allowed to compete in ASFA and AKC trials, it doesn’t matter if the dog has full or limited registration.  The less expensive limited registration is sometimes the type of AKC registration pursued by dog guardians if they have no intention of breeding their dogs.  In contrast to some other AKC events, lure coursing dogs are allowed to be spayed/neutered, as the point of this sport is not furtherance of the breed.

The rules

The rules are slightly different, depending on which organization is sanctioning a particular event, but there are certain common elements.  The course is usually 600 – 1000 feet long and includes several turns to simulate the way a live rabbit or hare would run.

A lure is attached to a string and pulley system that maps out the course, and the object is for the dog to chase the lure through the course with the fastest time.  The course may or may not be fenced.  Dogs are brought to the start line wearing quick-release collars known as slip leads.  When the huntmaster signals the start of the race by calling “Tally-ho”, the dogs are released onto the course, completing a run in anywhere from 45 seconds to three minutes.

Dogs run in heats of two (a brace) or three (a trio) against other dogs of the same breed.  The dogs are identified by the color of blanket they wear.  One dog of the trio wears a pink blanket, one wears yellow, and the third wears blue.

If only one dog of a particular breed is entered in the event, that dog runs alone.  Dogs who run alone do not qualify for championship points unless they subsequently beat another dog in the Best of Field run-off at the end of the competition.

Running mates are chosen by random draw and no effort is made to match the dogs in ability or size for each heat, but there are different divisions that take into account previous experience and age.  Dogs may compete in Open Stake when they begin their careers.  Once they have amassed enough points to earn a Field Champion title, they run in the Field Champion Stake.  As most competitors reach the tender age of six, they advance to the Veteran Stake, although Irish Wolfhounds are promoted to veteran status at age five and Whippets don’t advance until age seven.  The rules were changed in 2010 for AKC races to promote Afghan Hounds and Rhodesian Ridgebacks at age seven, as well.

The typical day of competition involves preliminaries for each breed, where all of the Greyhounds run one trial, then all of the Salukis run one trial, then all of the Whippets, and so on.  Once all of the preliminaries are completed, the course is reversed, and the dogs run a final trial, again separated by breed.  A Best in Breed is determined for each breed, and some clubs then have a Best in Field run to pick the best hound for the day.  If there are multiple days involved in the event, they may have a Best in Event run on the final day pitting each day’s Best in Field winners against each other.

Interestingly, the tiny Italian Greyhound is not permitted to run in Best in Field events for the AKC because other breeds may chase him instead of the lure!

Earning a lure coursing title

In an ASFA event, the best possible score is 100, based on 25 possible points each for agility and speed, 20 points for endurance, 15 points for enthusiasm, and 15 points for following the lure rather than the other hounds.  Up to 10 penalty points may be assessed if the dog is released early at the start of the course or if the dog delays the trial.  Dogs are disqualified if they interfere with another hound or if they are too aggressive.  A dog is granted a field championship title after he or she receives 100 title points and places first in two races or completes three races with at least one first place and two second place runs.

For AKC events, the maximum score is 50, with 10 possible points each for overall ability, follow, speed, agility, and endurance.  A dog who receives the full 50 points in each of four qualifying runs earns a Senior Courser title.  Dog also receive points toward their field championship title by competing in trials, with each trial awarding 1 – 5 points based on the number of dogs competing.  A “major” is a trial that awards 3, 4, or 5 points.  Dogs who have received 15 points by participating in numerous events, including at least two majors, are designated as Field Champions.  As a dog earns more points, he or she may be given the title of Lure Courser Excellent (LCX).  For each 45 additional points earned, the dog goes from LCX to LCX II to LCX III, and so on.

Different from Greyhound racetracks

Greyhound racing has fallen into major disfavor in the United States due to the treatment of the dogs involved.  These dogs are raised only to race, and are typically kept in small cages and euthanized when they have reached the end of their racing days.

In lure coursing, it is more common for the animals to be family pets who incidentally compete in the sport.  The dogs are usually pampered and cherished members of the family, rather than a commodity used for financial gain.  In fact, no money is awarded to the winners of lure coursing events; people enter their dogs strictly for the enjoyment of seeing them run.

In addition, Greyhound racetracks provide only a simple oval for the dogs to run, rather than the back and forth turns of lure coursing, which more closely simulates how a dog would run after live prey.

Check out the event schedules on the ASFA and AKC sites to find upcoming trials in your area.

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