I've been asked by several different people now about how to get into Lure Coursing. And while this blog post will largely address the sighthound sport specifically called Lure Coursing, I will also talk about the all breed sports of Fast Coursing Ability Tests (FCAT) and Coursing Ability Tests (CAT).
I also want to clarify first thing that I love that people are getting out and doing coursing ability tests with their dogs but watching sighthounds lure course is nothing short of breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
AKC relatively recently added Coursing Ability Tests (CATs) and Fast Coursing Ability Tests (Fast CAT/FCATs) to their list of all breed performance sports.
Coursing Ability Tests the course set up is 600 yards with no turns more acute than 90 degrees. The dog should chase a plastic bag pulled through a system of pulleys continuously and if they do, they pass. A number of passing scores earns you titles (CA, CAA, CAX).
Fast CATs are similar but more simplistic. They are a straight 100 yard course. Again, if the dog
classes the bag from start to finish, they get a pass and their score (MPH for dogs over 18", 1.5xMPH for dogs 12-18", 2xMPH for dogs under 12"). That score accumulates to earn titles (BCAT, DCAT, FCAT)
But what I really want to talk about is Lure Coursing. This is a sport specifically designed for sighthounds. I feel AKC did sighthound people a bit of a disservice in naming their coursing ability test. CATs and Fast CATs often get referred to colloquially as "lure coursing", but the sports truly are an order of magnitude different from Lure Coursing.
In AKC Lure Coursing sighthounds run against competition, though there are also junior solo stakes for green dogs as well as Singles stakes for those that some run well with competition. At the beginning of the day dogs are drawn together. They are divided initially by breed with up to three dogs in each heat, and run in three classes Open, Specials, Veterans (dogs under 7 and without a field championship, field champions, and dogs 7 and over). The dogs are blanketed yellow, pink, or blue so that the two judges can tell the sighthounds apart. The dogs run a course 6000-1000 yards in length. The judges grade them on overall ability, follow, speed, agility, and endurance for ten points each, fifty points total per judge. The judges' scores are then combined for a score out of 100 total. They then run this course a second time after resting. The American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA), which significantly out dates AKC Lure Coursing, is another governing body that sanctions their own lure coursing events. Scoring is similar with slight differences.
After that there are breed run offs. If there is a tie within a class, the dogs run the course again. The winners of each class then run off between each other. All of this determines points towards the dogs' field championship. Once all breeds have determined a Best of Breed, those dogs are eligible to run Best in Field. The people who elect to do so are drawn into courses of two dogs minimum and three dogs max. They then run the course (reversed in direction) a final time. The dog that scores the highest takes BIF for that day. If there's a tie, the tied dogs would run the course again.
There is the possibility for dogs to run a minimum 600 yard course six times in one day. Most owners would pull their dogs before allowing them to run that many times, but this is one of the reasons Lure Coursing is considered much more challenging than CATs
Watching a BIF run is honestly often the highlights of my month. Watching my friend's Borzoi course with a Basenji and Italian Greyhound and having the Iggy take BIF is incredible.
Seeing the different coursing styles is thrilling. If you ever get a chance to watch sighthounds Lure Course, take it, because honestly there's nothing like it. Getting started in Lure Coursing is pretty straightforward. I absolutely encourage anyone who is interested in the sport to attend a coursing trial and see what they're all about. Everyone I've ever met has been incredibly welcoming and happy to explain the sport to new comers.
Once you've seen a trial, everything will click into place. But a typical day runs something like this:
Enter as a pre-entry by mailing or emailing your entry to the Field Trial Secretary. If you are planning on certifying your dog to run with competition (instead of running in Junior Coursers or Singles) arrange for a by-dog of the same breed or a similar running style for your dog.
You arrive at the time specified in the Premium for roll call. Check in and have your dogs inspected. For inspection, they will ask you to trot your dog straight out and then straight out from the person doing the inspections. That person is checking your dog for overall soundness and any lameness. If your dog does turn up lame most clubs will refund your entry fee.
Qualification (Certification in ASFA) and Junior Courser runs generally happen first thing. So if you're certifying your dog, change them into a coursing blanket/jacket. If you haven't yet purchased these, you almost always can borrow one from some on else. Make sure your dog isn't wearing a collar and I highly recommend utilizing a coursing slip lead to get your dog to the line and then release them.
At the line, the Huntmaster checks to see if you're ready (this is true of FCAT and CATs as well). Once they've checked that your equipment is set they will check in with the judges, lure operator, and then you again. The lure will start, hang on tight, then on the T of the Huntmaster's "Tally-ho!" let your dog go and they'll run their course.
After Qualification runs the Trial begins. Each breed runs Open, Veterans, Specials (field champions) with a maximum of three dogs per each flight (if there are twelve dogs entered in Open, there will be 4 flights). Each flight will have a dog in yellow, pink, and blue. If there is only one of a breed entered, they will wear yellow. If there are only two of a breed entered or an uneven number of total entries the two dogs will wear yellow and pink. Each breed will do their first run.
After the first run, they will begin with each breed's second run.
Those will be scored and the winner of each stake (Open, Veterans, Special) will then have a run off for Best of Breed. If there are ties within a stake, which has been known to happen, any tie breaking runs will happen first.
After all the Best of Breeds are determined, owners will be asked if they would like to run for Best in Field. An owner has no obligation to enter their dog. Some owners don't feel the need, they don't trust the other dogs, they don't like the course design, they feel their dog is over tired, they don't trust their dog in mixed breed competition, etc. Those who decide to run are drawn into flights and then Best in Field runs commense.
After Best in Field, ribbons and prizes are given out for each placing dog in their stake and breed and then the winner of Best in Field is announced.
Compared to many sports, equipment required for lure coursing (and FCAT/CAT) is relatively straightforward.
Coursing Slip Lead - this is typically a length of webbing with large rings on either side and lead attached to one side of the webbing. When threaded correctly, the lead can be put through the two rings and then one of the sides can be dropped, releasing the dog both safely and quickly (there is also quick release hardware that is becoming more popular).
Coursing Blankets - these come in sets of yellow, pink, and blue. There are two different styles of these. There are coursing blankets which look a bit like stretchy spandex horse blankets (see the picture of the Borzoi above). And there are also muscle shirts (like my Azawakh are wearing) which are essentially spandex tank tops. Both styles work great, it is largely a personal preference.
Muzzle - you do not have to course your dog in a muzzle (unlike racing). It is at an owner's discretion whether they choose to do so. However, they are the biggest tool that will keep dogs safe in the case of contact with another dog's mouth (whether incidental or otherwise). I don't course Anubi muzzled even in BIF. Ash and Amidi I course muzzled for BIF since it's against dogs they don't know. I trust them not to start fights, but they would likely retaliate if a dog went for them.
Vet Wrap - this is not necessary but if you own a dog that is a hard runner and tends to be hard on their pads (whippets and greyhounds typically) it can be helpful to wrap around your dog's stopper bad to make sure they don't burn it by skidding on the ground.
Elastikon - a special stretchy tape that can be wrapped around feet and pads to limit the number of pad injuries a dog sustains. This is most commonly used by greyhound owners. If you have a dog who you think might need this, greyhound owners are usually the ones to ask about how to wrap your dogs.
Musher's Secret - many people don't use this, but particularly when the ground is quite hard, I find my dogs (especially Anubi) are more prone to burning their pads or sustaining foot injuries. I apply this paw wax before runs and I have found my pad injuries go down exponentially.
Tuf Foot - this is a very smelly spray that can be applied to the pads before a trial. It helps toughen the pads and I have found it to be extremely effective.
One more thing I would be remiss not to mention. Lure coursing, like most physical dog sports does carry with it the risk for injury. I have seen some severe injuries by dogs getting caught up in the line. I have seen (very rarely) hounds get dismissed for aggression. I have seen skin tears happen from incidental contact when dogs weren't wearing muzzles. Foot joint, pad, and leg injuries simply from the strain of sharp corners and hard running are not terribly uncommon.
Don't course your dog that's out of shape. Their heart is going to want to run when their body isn't up for it yet. Be conscious of the course design. Lots of tight corners (there are regulations on how tight) can be hard on dogs' bodies. Be aware of what equipment is being used. Drag lures (the lure runs through a series of pullies and then is restrung after each run) make for a slower trial because the course needs to be restrung every time, but they are much safer in regard to preventing line injuries. Continuous loop (where the course is a closed loop around the pullies) make for a faster trial but the risk of a dog catching themselves on the line is much more likely. And though it's just a light weight cord, if that cord catches skin (yours or your dog's) then it's going to saw through it.
These are risks I go into these sports fully aware of. I can guarantee you that my dogs would tell you it's worth the risk. But I will always go in with my eyes wide open and there are certain clubs (especially for FCAT and CAT) I won't run with.
If you are interested in getting involved in any of the sports mentioned: Fast CAT, CAT, AKC Lure Coursing, or ASFA lure coursing, check out the event calendars. You will need to register with AKC (and ASFA) before entering an event.
AKC's calendar can be found here: https://webapps.akc.org/event-search/#/search
ASFA's calendar can be found here: http://www.asfa.org/event/index.htm
If you have a purebred pedigreed dog, talk with your breeder to ensure you have your registration number accessible.
If you have a purebred dog who doesn't have a pedigee and is altered, you can register with AKC through their Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL).
If you have a mixed breed that is altered and you want to run them, check out AKC's Canine Partners program.
To register with ASFA, you submit a copy of your dog's registration with one of the acceptable registries (these include FCI, AKC, AKC PAL, UKC, and NGA among others) the first time that you enter. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out.
ASFA Beginner's Guide: http://www.asfa.org/ASFABeginnersGuide06-03.pdf
AKC Lure Coursing: https://www.akc.org/sports/coursing/lure-coursing/
Coursing Ability Test: https://www.akc.org/sports/coursing/coursing-ability-test/
Greyhound Blogger on Lure Coursing: https://thegreyhoundsyarn.com/2017/01/05/amateur-running-sports-lure-coursing/