Lure Coursing – Let ‘Em Run!

Most dogs, no matter what breed, have what is called ‘prey drive’.  It may be very pronounced in some dogs, less so in others, and occasionally, seemingly non-existent.  Generally speaking, most dogs have a certain amount of it in varying degrees.

Sighthounds, more than any other group of dogs, are the kings and queens of chase.  If it moves, they want to catch it, and with their speed and agility for just such a purpose, they are very good at it.  According to the AKC, the sighthound group currently includes Greyhounds, Whippets, Basenjis, Italian Greyhounds, Afghan Hounds, Borzois, Ibizian Hounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Salukis and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  Some breeds are currently on in the AKC’s Miscellaneous group including the Azawakh, Portuguese Podengo, Cirneco dell’Etna, Sloughi and Peruvian Inca Orchid.  Others, are simply waiting in the wings.

Though, in all honesty, an age old hunting practice, Lure Coursing, as we know it today, was developed in the 1970’s by Lyle Gillette and others in California.  Fans of hunting jackrabbits in open fields with their hounds, they were looking for a safer alternative by which they could still run their dogs.  Lure Coursing was a way to continue to test the abilities of their dogs without the inherent dangers of live coursing in somewhat unknown environments.  By simulating a live hunt, the dogs can still show their ‘hunting’ prowess.  In coursing, dogs chase an artificial lure across a field for anywhere from 600-1000 yards.  The course incorporates twists and turns that imitate the path that live game might take.  Sighthounds usually need no training to chase and stay on the lure as it moves – it is what they are bred to do.  Some may not be as keen as others and do benefit with some training work early on but by in large, they simply do it.

In most venues, including the AKC, dogs are not permitted to course until they are one year of age.  The rigors of chasing a lure around turns at full speed can be taxing on joints and the physical body, and dogs benefit from being mostly grown before taking part.  Short practice runs for pups can and are often employed to give some practical experience before actual coursing takes place.  The coursing field is sometimes fenced, sometimes not.  While most sighthounds will not waiver from the lure and follow it from start to finish, if you have a dog who tends to show only occasional interest and may leave the lure, having a good recall is optimal when a fence is not in evidence.

Sighthounds compete against each other in lure coursing trials.  In order to run in an AKC trial, dogs must be at least 12 months of age, be registered with the AKC or an AKC recognized registry and have no breed disqualifications as listed under the standard of that breed.  Bitches in season will not be allowed to participate though spayed and neutered sighthounds are perfectly acceptable.  A dog must first earn their QC, or Qualified Courser, certificate.  To do this they must complete a course running with another dog of the same breed or coursing ability showing enthusiasm, without interruption and following the lure and not the dog they are running with.  A licensed judge will decide the outcome.  Once a QC is achieved, the dog is free to enter the actual trial.  Dogs can also run for a Junior Courser title which requires that they complete two solo courses of at least 600 yards under two different judges.  This title does not qualify them to run in competition.  In a trial, hounds first run against dogs of their own breed in groups of two or three in Open Stakes, Veteran Stakes or the Specials Stake.  There can be one or two judges and dogs are scored up to 50 points based upon overall ability, follow, speed, agility and endurance.  Two courses are run and the scores are added together for an end total.  If two or more hounds tie for placement, a run off occurs or they can choose to forfeit placement.  Best of breed winners compete against other best of breed runners for Best in Field.

Other titles include Senior Courser (SC) which requires running at 4 trials with at least one other sighthound and qualifying scores.  If, at these trials, the sighthound wins a placement, he earns points towards his Field Championship (FCh).  Points depend upon placement and the number of dogs running.  To achieve the Master Courser (MC) title, the hound must earn his SC title and then run at an additional 25 trials with at least one other hound and receive qualifying scores.  Finally, to earn a Lure Courser Excellent (LCX) title, the hound must be a Field Champion and then win 45 points.  Different levels of the LCX are earned with each 45 points the dog receives at trial.  For dogs who become Field Champions, the title goes at the beginning of their name, and for dogs who are both field and conformation champions, the title Dual Champion, or DC, displaces both Ch and FCh before their name.  All other titles sit at the end of the dog’s name.

While only sighthounds can actually compete at trial, the AKC has recently opened up trials to dogs of other breeds with the Coursing Ability Test.  Thought not allowed to run against the sighthounds for obvious reasons (they simply wouldn’t be able to keep up!), this gives owners of other breeds the opportunity to achieve titles and test their dog’s acumen in chasing a lure.  For any dog of any breed, including mixes, the test is open for all dogs, one year of age or older, who are individually registered or listed with the AKC.  To pass the CAT test, a dog, running alone, must complete the course with enthusiasm and without interruption within a certain amount of time.  Dogs who pass three CAT’s, will receive the Coursing Ability (CA) title.  After ten passes, they receive the Coursing Ability Advanced (CAA) title, and after 25 passes, will receive the Coursing Ability Excellent (CAX) title.  These CAT’s can be held in conjunction with an actual lure coursing trial or as their own event.

In order to make the CAT’s more amendable to non-sighthounds, dogs are not required to run as far, as fast or through as many sharp turns as the sighthounds.  Length of course will depend upon height of the dog.  Dogs under 12″ run 300 yards within 1 1/2 minutes, while dogs over 12″ will run approximately 600 yards within 2 minutes.  While many dogs will run the CAT without much training or prompting, remember that there is a need for a decent recall on any participating dogs as well as some measure of control and attentiveness.  If a dog is out of control and does not listen to simple commands, those problems should be addressed prior to bringing any dog to such an event out of fairness to other competitors and as a safety precaution for the dog.

With both sighthounds and other breeds running in a CAT, the condition of your dog is of utmost importance.  If your dog is overweight, out of shape, injured in any way – do not attempt to run them.  If you run a dog, sighthound or not, who is in poor physical condition, the chance for injury is high.  If your dog gets hurt running a course, chances are they may balk at running again.  Use common sense and know the health history of your dog.  When in doubt, the advice of a licensed veterinarian should be sought. Fun when done correctly, lure coursing, just like ANY physically demanding activity, can be disastrous when done without thought. Conditioning a dog prior to competition is a must – don’t expect a couch potato who hasn’t broken more than a trot in the last year to excel or be able to perform without injury. Always, common sense.

Lure coursing is a way to get out, meet other dog people and their dogs, and have fun.  For sighthound owners it is a way to allow your dog to do what they were bred to do – run and chase down prey.  It will test their talent and aptitude for coursing which can be an important part of breeding and developing a perfect all around dog – who can look good AND run!  For other breeds it is simply a fun thing to do that allows people to go out and spend time with their pooch.  Check at the AKC Events page for lure coursing trials and CAT’s in a variety of areas around the country.


For people local to the NE Ohio area, a lure coursing trial will be held on November 3rd and 4th in Austintown Ohio.  Here is a link for more details.