If you share your life with a sighthound, you know what quick moving little critters do to your dog. Without warning, your dog takes off running, ignoring all potential danger, in order to catch whatever it is that caught his fancy. It could be a rabbit, or it could be a piece of paper floating in the wind. No matter how you try, you just can't seem to break him of this hunting habit. This natural drive to chase is the primary reason sighthounds should not be allowed to roam freely and should be supervised when outdoors.
But, what's a sighthound owner to do? Your dog desperately wants to chase something and this pent up energy has the potential for some resultant bad behaviors. You are in luck. The sport of lure coursing may be just the thing for you and your dog.
Lure coursing is a fun and exciting sport you can share with your dog. To be eligible to compete, dogs must be a purebred member of the sighthound group of dogs. These dogs are used to hunt by sight and instinctually have a desire to chase and catch rabbits and other small, fast moving critters. Breeds considered sighthounds (or gazehounds) include:
There are other sighthounds, such as sloughis. These dogs are not fully accepted by the AKC and can only run in AKC approved lure coursing events as part of the miscellaneous group.
Lure coursing is a sport that attempts to imitate the running of a rabbit or hare and allows the hound to chase it. Real rabbits are not used in this particular sport. Instead, lures are used – usually white or colored trash bags attached to a string. Three lures are often placed on the line.
The course is set up with a line of braided fishing trolling line (about 100 pound test trolling line). This line is then passed through strategically placed pulleys staked to the ground. This is a long course and requires a field of at least 5 acres. The three lures (trash bags) are attached to the line about 10 feet apart. This can help reduce fights between the contestants at the end of the race.
The whole course is driven from a lure machine. This machine can be made from a variety of engines but must be able to drive the lures at speeds up to 40 mph. The movement of the lures and line is controlled with an on/off type switch connected to the lure machine. It is very important that the lure machine has enough power to pull the line (and thereby move the lures) faster than the dogs can run to keep the sport safe.
The course itself is about 650 to 800 yards long with lots of twists and turns to simulate a real chase of a rabbit or hare. Some events are sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, and only certain breeds can compete. Others are for fun or for breed club events.
Dogs are run in groups of two to three. If there is not another dog available in the same breed, single dogs can run. Initially, the group is made of the same breed (Afghans run against Afghans, etc.). The dogs are competing against each other but the fastest runner is not necessarily the winner.
To be able to tell the dogs apart, they must wear colored 'blankets,' which are colored jerseys. Bright pink, yellow and blue are the only accepted colors.
All dogs are lined up at the start of the pulley/line. When given the "Tally-ho," the pulley begins moving the lures and the dogs are released. They chase after the lures as they twist and turn over the course. The lures eventually end up back at the beginning and the race is over and the owners are told to "Retrieve your hounds!"
Dogs are given points based on overall ability and enthusiasm, ability to follow the lures, speed, agility and endurance. If the dog is let loose early, he is penalized a few points. These points are then applied toward the dog's course title. Course titles include junior, senior and master courser.
If you have ever seen a sighthound in action, you quickly realize that these dogs naturally chase the lures and really don't need much training. They love to run and chase and this is a great family event that can allow the dog to safely display his natural tendency to run and chase little moving things as well as allowing you to meet with other sighthound owners.