Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lure Coursing: a Fascinating and Fun Dog Sport

By Ruthie Bently

Do you live with a sight hound breed? You might consider the sport of lure coursing to relieve them of their excess energy. Lure coursing is a continuous loop on a pulley system that utilizes a plastic lure to simulate hunting for sight hounds.

Some breeds allowed to compete in lure coursing events include Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, Borzoi, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, Thai Ridgebacks and Whippets. There are several provisional or limited breeds allowed to participate, including the Galgo Espanol, Magyar Agar, Peruvian Inca Orchid, Portuguese Podengo and Silken Windhound.

Lure coursing originated in England, though it was more formalized in the United States. While some form of lure coursing has existed for many years, the mechanical system that was previously used ran on a race track and lacked the turns hounds would use if they were pursuing live game. Lyle Gillette is credited with designing the mechanical device that uses a plastic lure. He wanted to find a safe way for hounds to be able to enjoy the chase with less chance of injury that could occur in an open field hunt.

Lure coursing as a sport began in the early 1960’s in the U.S., and Don Papin was one of the people influential in bringing it here. Sanctioned events began in 1972 and were conducted by the American Field Sighthound Association (AFSA). Lure coursing events are also conducted by the American Kennel Club, though the AKC did not begin until 1991. Lure coursing events conducted by the AKC or AFSA do not use live game; a plastic lure is used to imitate prey. While the scoring systems are different between the two organizations, the rules are similar. Only purebred dogs are allowed to compete, and unlike confirmation shows, spayed or neutered dogs are allowed to compete. You can visit the AFSA’s or the AKC’s website to find more information on events, and to read the complete rules and regulations.

Lure coursing events are conducted in an open field, and your dog is judged on their endurance, agility, speed, following, and overall ability. To compete in a lure coursing event, your dog must first be tested to see their capability of running the lure. This is done in two legs running alone while judges rate them. If the dog completes these legs to the judge’s satisfaction, the dog is awarded the title of “Junior Courser.” A dog must become a “Qualified Courser” before they are allowed to compete in a trial. To become a Qualified Courser, your dog must be able to run the course with another dog.

You can begin training a puppy in lure coursing as early as three months of age. To see if your puppy seems interested in this fun dog sport, you can use a plastic bag attached to a whip to simulate the lure. To test your puppy out on the lure, waiting until the age of six months is better. They should be able to do a straight run and return to you.

The key commands used in lure coursing are “tally ho” and “retrieve your dog.” Tally ho is the command to release your dog, and you are not allowed to slip the dog until you hear that command. This lets you know that the lure course operator, judges and handler are ready. The “retrieve your dog” command is given if the lure breaks down or after each course is run, and then the dog handler needs to retrieve them.

Lure courses can be conducted at a park or school, and depending on weather can be run in any season. The course size ranges from six hundred to one thousand yards and will not just be a big circle. The course should simulate the turns the “prey” may be making. A pilot dog runs the course first to test the lure. Then the course is reversed and run again to check for any additional issues and to make sure the course is running properly. Dogs compete in heats of three, and each dog wears a jacket so judges can rate them individually.

If your dog has extra energy and likes to run, the fun sport of lure coursing may be just what he needs.

Photo courtesy of Jim Wallace.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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