Lure coursing: a little-known performance event offers benefits to dogs and owners alike
These days, there’s a lot of buzz about engaging dogs in activities of all kinds —especially competitive ones. They’re all interesting and fun for both dog and human, as they typically require both parties to work together.
I hear about various events and activities that take place around the world —some are breed or class-focused while others are designed for most any dog with a willingness to participate.
Whether you’re talking about agility, nose work, herding, Treibball, disk jumping, rally obedience or any of the other ever-growing number of activities, there is something for everyone, depending on breed and ability.
One that you might have never heard of is based on activity that is one of the oldest reasons people have owned dogs: hunting.
Many breeds are suited for hunting, but not all are created equal. Some hunt by scent, like beagles, while others are designed to track things by sight.
Scottish Deerhounds are an example of a breed that falls into the sight hound category, as are greyhounds and whippets, among others. These breeds are excellent at tracking game because of their enhanced visual abilities —a wide field of vision due to being dolichocephalic — and their amazing speed.
Because of the natural abilities and drives of these dogs, humans that have kept them have done their best to indulge these canines so that they are able to hone their skills. And it’s been quite an evolution.
One of the oldest hunting-dog sports is live game coursing, and from what can be discerned, the Egyptians participated in this sport as long as 4,000 years ago. All it took was a horse, an open area and fast game to give the dogs the rush that they needed.
In the 1800s, coursing became popular in the United States and was changed from a hunting event to a competitive coursing event using live game, and called ‘closed park coursing’ — something that organized sporting groups no longer practice in the United States.
Things really changed throughout the last century - especially the use of mechanical lures, since the use of live game was phased out. By the 1970s a breeder, Lyle Gillette, designed the mechanical lure, which is used competitively today in a sport called, quite simply, lure coursing.
Earlier this month, I was able to attend a lure coursing event that took place in a grassy field in Manchester and featured several sight hound (or gaze hound) breeds.
Sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, it proved to be an event that had not only a healthy dose of competitiveness and excitement, but camaraderie between dog owners — some of whom had traveled from Canada, Indiana and Ohio.
The course was more extensive in person than I had imagined; in this case, spanning 800 yards. This grassy field was an ideal setting because of the gentle hills and space, and once the portable mechanical lure system was set up, the dogs could run at their best.
The way that the mechanical lure works is ingenious: it consists of a nylon line run through a set of pulleys and planted in a field on a continuous loop to form a course of no less than 600 feet (the AKC minimum). The way that the pulleys are arranged allows the path of the lure — in this case a white plastic bag — to simulate the running and turning actions of live prey.
All of this is run by a lure operator, who was on that day, standing on a tall ladder to gain an adequate vantage point to see what was going on as the dogs ran. Powered by a portable generator, the system also uses recreational vehicle batteries, a battery charger, portable cooling fans and jumper cables.
If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Standing at a midway point in the middle of the course are judges to keep an eye on things.
Bob Frost, one of three judges on hand for this event has been involved in the sport for nearly 40 years and competes with his salukis, one of the oldest breeds in the sight hound category. As I saw, they are easily the fastest.
Frost, who is from Indiana, has seen a lot dogs in compeition over those years, and said something quite unexpected.
“There are sight hounds that excel in the show ring, and there are those that are perfect for coursing. It’s rare to find an AKC champion show dog that is well-suited to coursing.”
His love of dogs and the sport is evident, and he’s pleased that others find it appealing.
“This activity has grown tremendously in the past 10 years,” says Frost with a glint in his eyes.
“It’s definitely a social thing for people, too. It’s an equal-opportunity activity: you’ll see bank presidents, retirees and janitors participating alongside each other.”
Fellow competitor and Saluki owner, Elise Christol, from Cincinnati, was emphatic about one of the best points of it: the way that the activity brings people together.
“There is a lot more camaraderie in coursing as opposed to dog shows. I really enjoy meeting fellow dog owners and seeing the dogs; they get such a charge out of being here.”
Christol’s dog, Kayla is ranked third in Saluki lure coursing in the AKC.
Other breeds that were present to compete included Ibezian hounds, whippets and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. The Raisin River Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Michigan was responsible for putting together this particular event.
Dogs run no more than three in a trial, and scoring is done numerically; in this case since it was an AKC sanctioned event, it breaks down like this: overall ability (10), follow (10), speed (10), agility (10), and endurance (10) for a maximum score of 50 points. The American Sighthound Field Association also sanctions lure coursing and scores differently, with a scoring up to 100 points.
Bradley Nelson, who you might remember from a post written in April, is active in lure coursing and brought his Scottish Deerhounds, Kes and Balor, out for trials.
Kes did well, and Nelson couldn’t have been happier.
“She took first place on Saturday among great competition.”
Balor can be seen competing in a video that illustrates just how lure coursing works. Click here to view.
An error regarding the ranking of Elise Christol's dog, Kayla, has been corrected.
Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com. Connect with her on Google+ and follow her daily pet adventures or email her directly.