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  • Writer's pictureSacha Packer

What's This Lure Coursing Thing All About?

Photo: GingerNinja (AR) - Photo is Copyright of Pinnicle Photography March 7th, 2021, we headed out to Dogs NSW for a try out day for Lure Coursing, this is where you can see if your dog will chase the lure before you enter an actual trial. The dogs are chasing a white plastic bin liner which zips through a field mimicking live prey i.e. a rabbit, the lure zigs and zags, it's not purely a straight line. Any dog of any breed can participate in a try out day including cross breeds like our girl Ginger. At the start of the day we were briefed by the team as to what would occur, showed us the lure in action, how to release the dog which there is a technique to and also about the injury risk - the injury risk is real! I was stoked that a warm up and cool down was discussed because without this, you increase the risk of injury. I trained Ginger for over 2 months to have her fit enough to participate in the try out day which is only about 400 metres which represents about half a standard course. Ginger was out there doing cardio every 2nd day by mostly trotting but some galloping over 5kms and then 10kms once a week.

Lure Coursing is a sport for sighthounds such as Saluki's not for necessarily Ginger types especially with her weird breed mix, she was not born with a talent for endurance so we had to work hard to get her ready to reduce the risk of injury BUT there were certainly people who turned up on the day with non-traditional breeds without any fitness training and who didn't even warm up their dogs.

Photo: GingerNinja (AR) - Photo is Copyright of Pinnicle Photography I was pretty sure Ginger would chase the lure given she is happy to chase a remote control car but you just never know if they will on the day and in that environment but she did and I was stoked. She wasn't the most athletic looking dog out there and did some drifting on the corners but I was super proud of her and she completed the try out without injury and pulled up great the following day. When you watch the video below, know that we were told that as we walk through the gates to the field that there is no obedience, they are there to show instinct so Ginger was not in heel, she was just allowed to walk on in out in front and I didn't ask her to sit. The Hunt Master asked how I was going to release my dog and then showed me with her arms how my arms should release - I choose a to remove the collar and hold her, she also said to wait until she said "Tallyho" as the lure needs to get to a certain distance in-front before a dog is released and this is individual per dog. The Hunt Master asked that we retrieve our dogs quickly and exit as to not hold anyone up. Ginger was still chasing the lure as she came in so it was an easy catch.

One my clients is actually a Lure Coursing Judge so I asked if she could help me learn more about the sport and she said she'd be happy to - everyone, meet Shell Gurney, slave to multi-disciplined and highly titled Finnish Lapphunds!

Me: Shell, What is a try out day, what happens, how often are they conducted. Shell: Unlike other most other sports, which require dogs to be trained to compete, lure coursing relies entirely on the dog’s instinct to chase. Try Out Days are the best way to find out if your dog has that instinct, and if they do, get a gauge on their fitness level before you enter a trial.

Lure coursing is a winter sport and try out days are usually held before the coursing season starts, in March or April. These events are held by the NSWLCA and generally there is on held in Sydney, and one held in Southern NSW (in the Yass/Canberra/Goulburn/Tarago region. The days are usually split into three different groups:

Puppy runs, which are a straight line run with 1 gentle corner to test if a young dog has the instinct, while minimising the strain on their growing joints,

Assisted runs, which are for dogs who are new to coursing or who have had issues coursing in the past. One of the experienced NSWLCA committee members or volunteers (most of whom are judges for the sport) help offer advice and support for the handler, and will manipulate the lure, often moving it back and forth to give the dog the best chance of success.

Cash and Dash, which is for experienced coursing dogs or those that registered late and couldn’t get a sport in the assisted runs. These are unassisted runs where the dog either chases the lure or exits the field. Cash and Dash is a great way for experienced owners to test their dogs before the season so they can rectify any fitness/conditioning issues.

Image: M's Wrong Dog competing in the 2004 International Invitational Championship. Shot on Site Photography Me: What are the most common Sighthounds breeds that participate in Lure Coursing?

Shell: In NSW, the most common Sighthound breeds entered are Whippets and Salukis, however we do see several other breeds regularly, like Basenjis.

Image Me: What types on non sighthounds breeds do well? Shell: Coursing Ability Test (CAT) dogs, which are the non-sighthounds, are a bit of a mixed bag because there are so many different breeds. There is no one type of dog which does well but they can be very interesting to watch as a lot of them will show what they were bred to do when chasing the lure - for example, the working breeds will “herd” the lure rather than coursing it with the dogs running in a much more upright, loping way, running wide of the lure and turning in big arcs as they would on stock. Generally though, anything that was bred to chase can do well (as well as some dogs that aren’t bred to!) with the right level of fitness and conditioning, though dogs that can bring down game (like Terriers) can have an advantage because of the way they chase.

Me: What breeds/cross breeds have you been surprised by that do well? Shell: Interestingly, the breed that we find does very well is the Border Terrier! We have several which course regularly and they are brilliant little dogs. They’re very quick and agile and have amazing stamina, even though they are on the smaller size and need to take a lot more steps to get around a course than the bigger breeds.

Photo: GingerNinja (AR) - Photo is Copyright of Pinnicle Photography Me: What do guardians need do to prepare for lure coursing to be safe? Shell: I can’t stress the importance of fitness and conditioning enough. Lure Coursing relies on instinct so the dogs are getting huge amounts of drive satisfaction while running and are often quite over the top when running. Young and inexperienced dogs in particular are not always careful about how they move their bodies on the course, which can create a significant injury risk if they are not in adequate condition for the strain the sport places on their bodies. Inexperienced dogs have a tendency to take corners too fast, and can roll themselves if they are not careful, so having a dog who is in peak fitness, with good muscle and who is adequately warmed up before they run does make all the difference.

Me: What are the most common injuries?

Shell: Injuries are not hugely common, but the most common injuries we do see are probably toe injuries, muscle strains and the occasional line injury where the dog has caught itself on the line, which has burned or cut them as it ran over the skin. Me: When does lure coursing occur and how often? Shell: The lure coursing season generally runs from April to September/early October as it is too hot to run in the warmer months. The NSWLCA usually runs about 5 trials a year in Sydney and Southern NSW.

Me: What is the best equipment for lure coursing? Shell: In a trial, dogs must run “naked”, meaning that they’re not allowed to be wearing any kind of collar or harness when they run so there isn’t a lot of equipment needed for Lure Coursing. To compete, all you will need is a number holder and either a slip lead, or a lead that can be removed quickly so you don’t leave the judges/field team waiting while you mess around taking the gear off the dog if you want to do a naked release.

Photo: GingerNinja (AR) - Photo is Copyright of Pinnicle Photography Me: Are try outs and trials tend to be held in fenced areas? Shell: It can be difficult to find the kind of area required to hold a try out day or a trial in a fully fenced area, so the fencing for many of the NSWLCA grounds tends to be closer to farm style fencing, which a dog could get through if they really wanted to. We always recommend teaching your dog a solid recall before entering, and also learning how you can quickly restrain your dog when they come back from their run so they don’t have time to try and take off again. Me: I see that there are sighthound retrieval teams available at trials, tell me more about that and the techniques... Shell: Sighthounds aren’t always the easiest dogs to catch, especially when they are tearing around at the kinds of speeds they are able to reach which is why the NSWLCA has a group of people who are knowledgeable about the different breeds to help catch the dogs if they won’t recall. The Sighthound Retrieval Team are a group of mostly NSWLCA current and past committee members (many of whom are judges) who understand that grabbing a dog while running, particularly a Sighthound, can pose a bite risk, so they will generally gently herd the dog towards the fence or enclosed area without making it look too obvious to the dog that that’s what they’re doing and if possible, try to get it to stop moving before quietly reaching out to restrain it. Generally they will do this with broad contact to the dog (like gently holding it’s front) rather than holding onto something like the dog’s hair and do everything as calmly as possible so they don’t frighten the dog into taking off again.

Me: What dogs should not do lure coursing? Shell: Any dog who is carrying an injury, or who isn’t in appropriate condition to course should not be run obviously. I would also recommend caution with the longer backed, shorter legged dogs as their body type does not lend itself to be able to corner effectively, or run the distance required in a trial. Me: Do you need to be a Dogs NSW member or have a registered dog with Dogs NSW to Lure course? Shell: If you want to trial in the sport, both you and your dog will need to be registered with one of the state canine controlling bodies, so in NSW, this would be DogsNSW. Membership to the NSWLCA is also recommended as discounts are offered for members.

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