Dog sports photographer Jackie Phillips often brings her dogs with her on assignments for company – not for action. But a suggestion at a lure coursing event for sight hounds changed that and turned Phillips on to a new hobby with her mixed-breed companions. “After the event, they were having practices, and one of the people running the event suggested I bring out Dino and see if he would chase the lure. I had absolutely no idea what Dino would do so I brought him out and he chased the lure partially around the big field.”
Phillips began seeking opportunities to let her dogs experience lure coursing and found they all loved the activity. “Now each time Dino sees the lure and knows he is going to run, he is absolutely bonkers. He is barking up a storm and jumping around and extremely excited.” Phillips discovered what many other dog owners have also uncovered: their dogs’ natural prey drive gives them the love of chasing a lure – regardless of their breed or mix of breeds.
The American Kennel Club Coursing Ability Tests allow all dogs to discover the excitement of lure coursing. The Coursing Ability Test (CAT) is for any dog of any breed, including mixed-breeds, as long as it is at least 1 year old and registered with AKC. To pass the test, a dog running alone must pursue a lure, completing the course with enthusiasm and without interruption within a given time.
Dogs that pass the CAT three times will earn a Coursing Ability (CA) title. Ten passes and a dog earns a Coursing Ability Advanced (CAA) title, and 25 passes results in a Coursing Ability Excellent (CAX) title. Not only is coursing fun, it offers many other benefits ranging from exercise to a remedy for boredom.
“So many times, people get a dog as a cute fluffy puppy, play with him or her and then, as the dog gets older and stronger and more demanding of their time, the dog spends more and more time in the backyard. As the dog gets older, it starts to go nuts,” Phillips said. “Lure coursing gives these people and dogs an event where they can spend time together and have fun, and the dog can get the exercise it needs, all with very little training.” AKC Coursing Ability Tests do not require dogs to run as far as sight hounds are required to run in regular lure coursing trials. CAT competitors also do not have to execute extreme turns, with no turn being more acute than 90 degrees.
Dogs under 12-inches at the withers have a course of approximately 300 yards. Dogs more than 12 inches at the withers race approximately 600 yards. The 600-yard course must be completed within 2 minutes and the 300-yard course within 1½ minutes. Lure coursing often requires no training. Many dogs see the lure move and immediately want to chase it.
“Some dogs need some practice and some coaxing, but eventually, with repetition they will get it,” she said. “If your dog has already displayed a pretty strong prey drive by being attracted to squirrels or wild birds or other small animals, their chances of liking the lure are higher.”
For those of you who plan to give the test a try with your dog, here are some tips for having a successful event with your canine buddy:
- Make sure that your dog is physically healthy and in good shape to run a course. If you are not sure, make an appointment with a veterinarian to get an opinion.
- Take your dog to a practice to introduce your dog to the lure or make your own lure for practice. If you cannot get to a practice, you can try to play tug with your dog with a plastic bag or another type of lure pole. This is similar to what is used to play with a cat, but on a dog level. You can get a type of plastic lure and attach it to a springing pole and have your dog practice chasing it around your yard or a nearby park, on leash, or course.
- For the test, bring lots of fresh water; a strong, soft leash; and maybe a portable crate if the lure field is a long ways from the car.
- Handlers should wear comfortable shoes and be physically able to hold and release their dogs, as well as catch them.
- Teach your dog the command “come.” “If you don’t have control over the dog when it is just laying around the house and not fully aroused, you will have a heck of a time trying to catch them when they are super excited about the lure and running loose.”