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If you aren’t a fanatic about dog sporting events, you may have never heard the term “lure coursing” before. Lure coursing is both a competitive event, and a non-competitive method for training and wearing out certain dog breeds. To sum it up, lure coursing is an activity in which a dog chases a mechanical lure. The game is played on a “course”, or flat stretch of ground that may or may not have obstacles along the way. An artificial lure is attached to a mechanical pulley, which drags the lure across the ground, changing direction and speeds as it does. The dog then chases the lure until it is captured.
Sounds simple enough, but lure coursing has become a unique and complex sport with many qualifiers and characteristics. For example, a competitive lure coursing lure must be able to go at least 40 miles per hour, and there are a specific number of twists and turns required from the lure in a competition as well. While this game was originally created for sight hounds, such as Greyhounds and Ibizians, it has become an event that any dog is welcome to participate in for the most part. However, if you have a sight hound, lure coursing in your back yard is a great way to help them burn that energy and keep their focus sharp.
Here are seven things that beginners should know about lure coursing:
1. Lure Coursing Is More than 4,000 Years Old
The earliest version of lure coursing wasn’t actually lure coursing at all, but was a simple game of chasing live game. Hares, foxes, pigs, and other small game would be released in a course, and dogs were trained to chase them down as a method of training for hunts. This type of sport training dates back to 4,000 year-old tomes from Egypt. They show hounds similar to Greyhounds or Whippets competing in this type of event.
Later in the Middle Ages, royalty adopted a similar game, but it wasn’t until much more recently – in the 1970s – that the mechanical lure coursing we know today was invented. Sight hound lovers in California all got together to create the lure coursing machine, and the rules of the competition that have evolved into what we see today. The main reason that this machine was invented was to reduce the risk of injury. With a controlled lure, owners could be sure that their dogs wouldn’t be led into any dangerous areas or situations, and that there was no chance of small game attacking in return.
2. It’s Easy to Make a DIY Lure Course
Before you go to a professional coursing club, or invest money in a lure coursing machine, you may want to try out lure coursing to see if your dog is interested. One easy way to do this is to create a very basic DIY lure coursing lure. All you need is a lightweight toy and fishing line. You could even substitute a plastic bag for the toy.
Tie the toy or the bag to fishing line, and command your dog to stay at one end of your “course”. Place the toy or bag on the ground ahead of them, and then release the fishing line a little at a time till you get to the other end of the course. Now just pull the fishing line in unexpected directions, over or around obstacles, and so on, till your dog catches the lure or you capture it on your end. Letting your dog win occasionally helps get them interested in the activity.
If you’re very interested in lure coursing but your dog doesn’t seem to be, you can try putting some food inside that plastic bag, or using their favorite squeaky toy as the lure. Be sure to choose a consistent vocal command for when you want the dog to start chasing. “Get it” or “chase”, for example, are two common commands.
3. Toenail Injuries Are Common in Lure Coursing
There are some injury risks with lure coursing because dogs are flying at high speeds, rounding unexpected corners very sharply, and straining their joints and muscles all the while. But one of the most common injuries sustained in this sport is getting the dew claw stuck in the lure. By the time the dog finally reaches that lure, they are general in a frenzy, and aren’t thinking carefully. With the lure being attached to a mechanical contraption, this can often cause the dewclaw to be ripped or injured.
One easy way to prevent this injury is to wrap your dog’s dewclaw in Vetrap bandaging tape. It’s a self-stick bandage, a lot like an Ace bandage, but it doesn’t stick to hair, so it won’t hurt your dog when you take it off. You should also be sure that all their nails are very short. Nails shouldn’t touch the floor when the dog is standing on a flat surface – that’s when you know that their nails are the right length for lure coursing. Because they aren’t trying to injure the prey, just capture it, they don’t need their nails for lure coursing.
As for the other common injuries that come with this sport, be sure that your dog gets a good cool down after each event. A leisurely walk for at least 15 minutes after can help reduce cramps, and let them drink plenty of water. You may want to limit food to half their usual amount the morning of the event to avoid bloat.
4. Lure Coursing Doesn’t Require a Ton of Training
One great thing about lure coursing is that it’s easy for beginners to get into. It doesn’t require much training from either the dog or the human. Dogs are naturally predisposed to chase. If your dog is a sight hound, or shows any signs of naturally chasing prey (for example: their favorite game is fetch), then they will likely know all they need to know to be great lure coursers. The only thing you may have to work on is getting the dog to respond to the verbal cue before they begin chasing the lure.
As for you, all you really need is the ability to command your dog, the ability to keep an eye on your dog’s health, and enthusiasm for the game. If you intend to join a club, you won’t need to know how to operate a coursing machine. If you intend to create a lure coursing routine on your own, then you’ll typically find that lure coursing machines are easy to learn the first time you use one. People even build their own in many circles, though this does require an understanding of mechanical components.
All you really need for lure coursing is:
Create for transporting your pet to and from events
A lawn chair for you to watch the event from
Muzzle – Some professional clubs require all dogs to be muzzled prior to the event, regardless of the dog’s personality. While I don’t 100% agree with that, I understand that having a lot of dogs together in a high-energy event can lead to unexpected aggression. If you need to muzzle, I would recommend something lightweight like the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle from The Company of Animals.
If you get heavily into the competitive side of lure coursing, you may eventually want your own lure coursing machine and an exercise pen, plus obstacles for your lure coursing course. But to start, you’ll just need things that you likely already own.
5. Getting Started Is Easy and Lure Coursing Clubs Are Very Open to First-Timers
Unlike a lot of human sporting events, lure coursing clubs are typically more than happy to welcome dogs that have never been on a lure course before. Usually it’s a good idea to bring your dog to an event and let them watch. But many clubs also have specific times set aside for first-timers to run the course without the distractions of other dogs. Many will also offer tips and help for you as well. They can show you how to properly use slip leads, for example – the special type of leash that is needed to hold a dog in place until the very moment that they can begin the chase.
If this is your dog’s first time on a lure coursing course, it’s best to keep things short and sweet. Two or three straight runs over the course is plenty for an introduction. Don’t introduce any turns till the second time they visit the course. Some clubs will require two practice runs like this before they allow a dog to compete, but not all.
The biggest concern for any lure coursing club is the owner’s ability to recall the dog. If you are not 100% sure that your dog will return when you call him, no matter what he may be doing, then you need to work with them more before entering into any events. It is your responsibility to get your dog back to you despite all distractions during an event. Failing to do so could result in being disallowed from participating in future events.
6. Puppies Usually Cannot Compete in Lure Coursing Events
There aren’t many restrictions on what breed of dog can compete in lure coursing events. Naturally, many clubs will try to aim for catering to sight hounds, as that is what the game was invented for. However, I’ve heard of all kinds of dogs competing – everything from corgis to Great Danes. If the event is somehow connected to the AKC (such as sponsored by the AKC), then you likely will need to be able to prove your dog is a purebred sight hound; private clubs typically are not so picky.
However, there is one thing that competitive lure coursing clubs all agree on: puppies under the age of one year are generally banned from competing. This is because as puppies, they are still growing at rapid rates. Their joints are already strained from growth. Adding the extra strain of high-speed, sharp turns, and fast stops, could be very dangerous for a puppy. If you want to start training a puppy to chase lures, start with a simple straight course, or with broad turns and low intensity obstacles.
You can also simply encourage your puppy’s chasing instinct with a flirt pole. These are a lot like cat toys, with a long pole that you hold, and a dangly toy that hangs off the other end. You can have the dog run circles around you, chase you, or simply bounce around chasing the lure while you make it hop from side to side. These are easy to DIY with a fishing pole and a favorite toy (tie the toy on, don’t use a hook!) but you can also grab one from a pet store. Squishy Face Studio makes great flirt poles that are very durable.
7. Lure Coursing Information Is Typically Up-to-Date and Easy to Find
Unlike many other sports, modern day lure coursing doesn’t have much written history. This is actually a bonus for newcomers – it means that any information you find on lure coursing is going to have up-to-date rules and tips for training. You won’t be wading through old manuals that no longer apply to a modern sport. I like the book Lure Coursing: Field Trialing for Sighthounds and How to Take Part by Arthur S. Beaman. It may have been written in the early 90s, but it’s still completely up-to-date for new lure coursers.
Lure coursing is a lot of fun to watch and participate in, and it’s a great way to mentally and physically challenge a high-energy dog. As long as you have patience and enjoy spending time with your dog, I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to give it a try. Be sure to keep an eye on your dog’s joints and nails, and you’ll have a great time.