When I mention to friends that I’ve been “photographing the lure coursing”, I am usually met with a blank stare. This isn’t exactly surprising…despite being involved in the dog world for most of my life, I’ve only become aware of the sport in the last few months. While it’s not exactly common, lure coursing is experiencing considerable growth. There are two thriving clubs in my city of Brisbane alone and these clubs attract about 100 entrants each month to competitions.
In ancient times and right up to modern day, dogs have been used to chase down game, including hares, rabbits, foxes and deer etc. This activity is known as “coursing”. Modern lure coursing was developed in the 1970’s to continue and advance the ancient tradition of coursing. New genetic research shows that canines may have developed a relationship with humans well before the agricultural age (or Neolithic revolution; approx 12,000BC) which was the previous marker for the dog-human relationship. This means that using dogs to course may well have been a major factor in the relationship between canines and humans.
Sighthounds have been specifically bred over centuries, if not millennia, for coursing and they hold a special place in the sport, but dogs of all breeds can participate. Modern lure coursing enables dogs and their owners to enjoy the ancient bond of the thrill of the chase in a safe environment that doesn’t involve the killing of a living creature and limits the risk of injury to the dog.
In lure coursing the dog chases a lure, usually plastic bags or canvas, around a course that is usually 600-800m in length. A large, level space is required and the lure is attached to a line which is run around a series of pullies to create straight runs and corners. The line is powered by a motor which may be anything from a converted motorbike to a purpose-built machine. The motor is hand controlled and allows for adjustment of speed, many now also have a reverse gear. There is usually a small entry fee per run which helps the club to purchase and maintain equipment etc.
During the run the dogs are judged on five categories:
Enthusiasm – Is the dog having fun? Yes = points
Speed – How fast! For whippets and salukis…very fast, cockers…not so much, but the follow…!
Follow – The ability to stay and focus on the lure. I haven’t seen a cocker lose focus yet!
Agility – The ability to turn and pivot closely to the lure.
Endurance – Stamina…the less a dog fades during the course, the more points it is awarded.
What is immediately apparent to anyone exposed to the world of lure coursing for the first time is that the sport is primarily concerned with dogs having fun, by appealing to their basic canine instincts and emotions. There’s not much you can do to prepare your dog so there’s no real training involved…it’s all about letting your dog exercise its hunting drive in a way that is safe and accessible. For any dog-lover the spectacle of dogs racing at top speed around an open field is mesmerising and the social side of lure coursing is delightful. Most people who are involved in lure coursing just love seeing their dogs run and have the time of their lives.
It’s a thrill to watch these canines at work and doing what comes naturally…the stately, bounding Borzois, the steady, focussed Cocker Spaniels, the fast and nimble Whippets or the Pomeranian barking his way around the course, demonstrating a surprising turn of speed and exhibiting a belief that he’s been transported to canine heaven. Even if you aren’t actively participating on the day you can take along a picnic blanket and a thermos of tea or bottle of wine and immerse yourself in the canine vibe. There are constantly dogs of all shapes and sizes passing by and most owners are delighted to have you enquire about their animal.
You may well see uncommon breeds that you didn’t even know existed. At the few meets that I’ve attended in the last few months I’ve been exposed to Azawakhs, Ibizan and Pharoah Hounds as well as Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retrievers and Borzois. In addition to the exotic breeds there are representatives from all elements of the canine world…American Staffies, Pomeranians, Alsatians and eclectic Hybrids. While not common on your average street, Salukis, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds are a dime a dozen at these events and it’s a wonderful experience to be able to interact with them up close and witness the tremendous grace and speed they exhibit on the course. If your impression of an Italian greyhound is a nervous looking hound shivering in a handbag, witnessing them on the course will be a revelation…they are a study in speed, agility and deadly intent.
Of course, the fact that points are awarded means that there is a competitive element to lure coursing. In Australia titles can be earned in three classes; Junior Coursing Tests (JCT), Coursing Ability Test (CAT) and Lure Coursing Trials (LCT). The JCT is a qualification to enter the CAT or LCT events. LCT titles may only be earned by eligible sighthound breeds while CAT titles are available to all registered breeds. For more in depth and technical details you can view the official ANKC rules here. Note that betting is strictly prohibited!
As I’ve alluded to above…you do not need to get involved in the competitive side of the sport to enjoy lure coursing but be warned you may, at the very least, find yourself experiencing considerable pride when your dog achieves a good score. Also, if you are anything like me you may find it hard to explain to your friends just why your hound is the pinnacle of canine perfection and an official title may be one tangible way to justify your devotion…after all there are five categories to which you can apply a selective and justifiable bias. Even if your dog doesn’t get out of the starting pen on the first try you can always fall back on the “oh he’s just too smart to chase this lure, there’s no fooling my boy/girl!” defence…you probably won’t even have to fake the prideful note required to pull this strategy off!
If you are a dog-lover, get along to a lure coursing event in your area and have a look. Whether you are interested in competing or not, it makes a great day out. For those of you residing in Brisbane and surrounds, we are lucky enough to have a couple of the best clubs in the world in terms of organisation and equipment. Here are the details:
Queensland Sighthound Association
(Your dog doesn’t need to be a sighthound to participate in the lure coursing events run by the club)