History of Lure Coursing

What is this sport that causes otherwise rational dogs and their owners to travel for hours through the pre-dawn gloom and stand around in fields miles from a source of hot coffee so the dogs may spend 45 seconds to 3 minutes running at full speed?

Lure coursing is a humane, modern sport based upon the ancient sport of live game coursing, or the pursuit of game by dogs that hunt by sight rather than scent. Coursing is one of the oldest of the hunting-dog sports; murals from 4,000-year-old Egyptian tombs illustrate coursing with long-legged hounds of two types, prick-eared and drop-eared. Wherever people have had access to horses, open grasslands and swift game, hunters have considered coursing an important sport. The sources of our modern sighthound breeds reflect this union of geography and horsemanship. In the Middle Ages, coursing was a sport reserved for royalty; for some time in England, commoners could not own a Greyhound.

Lure Coursing in America

In the United States, the spread of farming to the great grasslands of the West was accompanied by the coursing of jack rabbits and coyotes. Some of the earliest AKC-registered Borzoi were located in Kansas. In the late 1800s, coursing changed from hunting events to competitive coursing events using live game, which became very popular with the public. This sort of coursing, where sighthounds were let loose to chase live game in an enclosed area, was called "closed park coursing." It is no longer practiced in the United States by any organized sports groups.

In the 1920s, a mechanical system that ran along a racetrack rail replaced most live-game track coursing of Greyhounds and Whippets in the United States, Great Britain and Europe. While that system provides a great test of speed and is still in use, especially in Europe, the tracks eliminate the spectacular turns executed by a hound in pursuit of live game.

In the early 1970s, Lyle Gillette, a California breeder of Borzoi and Salukis, envisioned a coursing system that would be portable, could be set up in a five- to seven-acre open area and was not dependent on the availability of live prey. After much trial and error, he designed and perfected the mechanical lure, where the "prey" is a plastic bag or piece of artificial fur. Run by a lure operator, the mechanical lure consists of a string run through a set of pullies planted in a field to form a course of 600 to 1,000 yards. The arrangement of the pullies allows the path of the plastic lure to simulate the running and turning actions of live prey.

Hounds are brought by their owners to the starting line wearing coursing blankets (bright pink, yellow or blue) and slip leads (quick-release collars). The lure is started and, at the huntmaster's cry of "Tally-Ho!," the hounds are released and the chase begins. By 1973, Gillette and other California sighthound enthusiasts had organized lure coursing under the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA), but he hoped the AKC would eventually recognize this testing method and institute coursing events, complete with AKC certificates and titles.

In July 1991, his vision became a reality when the AKC Board of Directors voted to approve lure coursing regulations and sanction the sport.