Lure coursing is a fun sport for all sighthounds, which are breeds that traditionally hunted their quarry by sight, as opposed to scent.
The sighthound breeds include Afghan hounds, Basenjis, Borzoi, greyhounds, Ibizan hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Italian greyhounds, Pharaoh hounds, Portuguese Podengos, Rhodesian ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish deerhounds, Sloughis, and whippets.
Lure coursing, which was invented by Lyle Gillette in the Bay Area in 1972, was designed to simulate a rabbit or hare hunt in an open field without the actual pursuit of live game. An artificial lure of white plastic trash bags on a strong string is pulled through a series of pulleys by a lure machine. The string is turned by a wheel or take-up reel attached to the lure machine, and the operator is able to control the speed of the lure to keep it strategically placed in front of the hounds. The course is laid out before the trial and may vary in length from 600 yards to 1,000 yards or more. This can include turns, straightaways, and can run up and down hills, depending on field terrain.
Lure coursing competitions are known as trials. In a trial, trios of hounds, each wearing a brightly colored yellow, pink, or blue blanket, are run together over the course, following the zipping lure. One to two judges watch the course and score each hound based on six criteria: overall ability, speed, agility, endurance, enthusiasm, and how closely they follow the path of the lure throughout the course.
All hounds run at least twice, and their cumulative scores determine their placement relative to each other. Any hound that shows aggression to its running mates or plays during a course run is dismissed or disqualified from further competition. At the end of the trial, ribbons and prizes are awarded, and the top scorers in each breed are awarded points towards a lure coursing championship, known as a Field Championship. Often a “best of the best” final, with each Best of Breed winner competing, is run to determine Best in Field for the day.
The three main organizations that sponsor sighthound lure coursing are American Sighthound Field Association, the American Kennel Club, and the United Kennel Club, with local breed and sighthound-specific clubs putting on the actual trials under a particular organization’s rules and regulations.
There are slight differences in rules and scoring from organization to organization. In Northern California, there are usually about 20 lure trials scheduled throughout the year. The dates and locations for ASFA, AKC, and UKC lure trials throughout the county can be found on the respective organizations websites, ASFA.org, AKC.org, and UKCDogs.com.
Most sighthounds require very little in the way of training to be successful lure coursers. The instinct to chase a moving object with great focus and intensity is a strong inherited trait for all the sighthound breeds. All three of the organizations require a certification run to assure that the hound will “run clean” and not playfully or aggressively interfere with their coursemates. To this end, all local clubs offer training and practice runs for puppies and novice hounds before they officially enter their first trial.
Lure coursing is a great way to keep your sighthound mentally and physically fit, and nothing is more fun that seeing the sheer joy on your hound’s face as he courses his quarry instinctively. Lure trials are also social occasions for their human participants, and we are really one big happy family, celebrating our love for our hounds, win or lose. The reward of a happy and tired hound that has spent the day chasing the “bunny” is a wonderful thing. First or last, every hound has the best time, and they all think they were Best in Field!
Dogs That Cat
Coursing Ability Tests, or CATs, are a fairly new AKC event for all breeds and mixed breeds that allows all dogs to discover the excitement of chasing a lure.
The Coursing Ability Test, or CAT, is for any dog of any breed, including mixed-breeds, as long as it is at least 1 year old and individually registered or listed with AKC. To pass the test, a dog running alone must pursue a lure, completing the course with enthusiasm and without interruption within a given time. Dogs that pass the CAT three times will earn a Coursing Ability, or CA, title. Ten passes, and a dog earns a Coursing Ability Advanced, or CAA, title, and 25 passes results in a Coursing Ability Excellent (CAX) title.
There is an even newer running event for all dogs from the AKC; the Fast-CAT. The Fast-CAT event is similar to a 100-yard-dash, where each dog, running alone, is timed over a hundred yard straight race and that time is translated into MPH. A handicap system, based on the dog’s height at the shoulder, is applied to the MPH to determine the number of points earned. Titles are earned at designated milestones, for example the BCAT title is earned at 150 points.
Dates and locations for CAT and BCAT Tests can be found at AKC.org.
Photo by Marc Beauchamp
San Francisco native Guin Borstel has owned and loved whippets for over 25 years and has been involved with the breed on every level, from rescue to showing to lure coursing and racing. She is currently the secretary for both the Northern California and National Whippet clubs, as well as the editor of the American Whippet Club’s monthly Whippet News. She feels that whippets are the best-kept secret in the dog world and knows that her life (and furniture) would be much emptier without a waggle of whippets in it!
Main article photo by: Rob Vollmar