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There are a number of activities designed to keep dogs active, mentally engaged, physically stimulated, and bonded with their guardian. Some dogs are best suited to use their noses, while others are perfectly content to have their needs met by socializing with other dogs at the park or joining their favorite people for a jaunt around the block. Other dogs, however, are extremely motivated by the thrill of the chase, be that a live squirrel in the woods or a mechanical toy around a track. Lure coursing, which involves the latter, is beloved by dogs with energy to burn, a knack for spotting movement, and a swiftness in their steps.
What is lure coursing?
Lure coursing, sometimes known as lure chasing or lure racing, is an activity for dogs to engage their natural prey drive instinct to hunt. Not the same as simply chasing a tennis ball across an open field, lure courses are established paths made of pulleys with a lure, usually a piece of plastic with a bag attached to it. The lure is then released, moving through the course, which the dogs chase to their heart’s delight. In many lure coursing trials, dogs are released into the field in teams of around three, with each dog outfitted with a different colored fitted blanket to tell them apart.
For dogs who are naturally drawn to chasing a moving object, lure coursing can provide countless benefits, both physical and mental. Physically, chasing items across a field will tire just about any dog out, and yields strong and fast canines who are generally in good health. Mentally, lure coursing is stimulating for dogs as it encourages focus, and it leaves them feeling more content and satisfied by allowing for their hard-wired, natural instincts to be indulged.
So, what makes lure coursing especially fun for dogs? When it comes to AKC lure coursing and other established organizations, the activity is so engaging because the lure is controlled by an operator, who moves it around the track while still following the established course. This erratic movement simulates the unpredictability that comes with chasing actual live prey in the wild, who don’t often just run in a straight line or around a smooth circle to get away from their predators. The moving target forces dogs to zig zag through fields in an attempt to capture their target, and requires constant focus and engagement, traits that coursing dogs are naturally prone to rely on.
Is my dog a fit for lure coursing?
While lure coursing is possibly the most fun and rewarding activity for some dogs, not all dogs are especially excited by it. Those that are adept at dog lure coursing are breeds that fall into the sighthound category. Sighthounds, which are sometimes called gazehounds, rely on their well-attuned sense of sight and their physical ability to run at high speeds to hunt prey. Sighthound breeds include:
- Afghan hounds
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Salukis, among others.
These dogs are most often born with a few common traits which equip them to spot a target and hunt it down with speed and proficiency, like pointed snouts, long legs, high hips, and slender waists.
Of course, any dog, regardless of their breed, size, and age can enjoy and excel at lure coursing for fun if they naturally enjoy the thrill of the hunt (although only eligible breeds are allowed to compete.) Not sure if your dog may be a coursing dog? One way to find out is to keep an eye on what grabs your dog’s attention on walks, at the park, or even while they’re looking out the window — if you have a canine who whips their head around at the slightest movement, or may pull you toward a bag blowing in the breeze, they may enjoy lure coursing as an exercise activity. You can also create your own DIY lures on a much smaller scale by attaching a bag or other bait to a pole, then moving it around to see if your dog takes an interest. It is not advised that anyone just learning about lure coursing attempt to set up their own course, however, as an improperly designed course could potentially injure a dog.
How to get started
If you’re interested in learning about lure coursing, there are a number of steps you can take to familiarize you and your dog with the sport.
- Attend a trial run. If you’d like to see if lure coursing is for your dog, it’s recommended that you attend a trial to see what it’s like. There, you can talk to people about their experiences with lure training, and possibly learn tips for how to get started. To find a lure coursing club in your area, you can check with the American Sighthound Field Association, or the American Kennel Club for ideas. The AKC offers coursing ability tests for dogs of any breed aged one year or older to introduce more people and dogs to the sport. Additionally, if you know other sighthound pet parents or can joins groups online, like this one on Facebook, they may have ideas for getting started as well, whatever your dog’s experience level may be.
- Try some basic tests at home. One easy way to frustrate your dog is to get them involved in an activity they aren’t naturally prone toward, or simply don’t enjoy. Not all dogs will enjoy lure coursing, but the one that do usually lend a few easy-to-read cues that you can look out for. Keep an eye on what your dog lends their attention toward, or try creating a lure at home and see if your dog goes after it.
- Try a lure coursing test. If your dog seems like they might enjoy lure coursing, look into instinct testing events in your area. Here, dogs are given the opportunity to chase a lure alone, without the distraction of other dogs, to see if they might be a fit for lure coursing. Although some dogs are naturally prone to chase, the focus and precision is usually practiced in a testing environment, which can keep things fun and safe for your dog and the dogs around them. Established lure coursing training complete with lure coursing equipment can teach your dog the basics of what to look out for, as well.
Many people start out with lure course testing as an informal way to offer their dog an outlet for exercise and mental stimulation. Eventually, some people may go on to participate in more formal, competitive events, although these are only attended by dogs who have experience with lure training. Informal activities are known as tests, while formal activities are referred to as trials. Dogs are ranked by a variety of lure coursing titles, ranging from Junior Courser (JC) to Dual Champion (DC). Titles are obtained by earning points during tests and trials, and judges measure a dog’s aptitude at speed, following, agility, and endurance.
Trainer that reviewed this article
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This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
AKC CGC Evaluator
Former board member and president of the Rainier Agility Team
Former board member and president of the Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation