Do you have the fastest dog on the block? Maybe on the planet? Then you both need to race to your closest Fast CAT competition!

Fast CAT is the fastest growing AKC sport. The CAT stands for Coursing Ability Test, and the “fast” stands for, well, fast! One glance at the dogs in line for their run, and you’ll see them leaping, barking, and plotting how to catch the object of every dog’s attention. That object? A white plastic garbage bag.

But this is no ordinary garbage bag. It’s attached to a string on a pulley system, and it can race down a 100-yard straightway at speeds up to 50 miles per hour! It may not be a real bunny, but most dogs have no problem pretending!

Are you ready to give a try? Because chances are, your dog is.

How Fast is Fast?

You may wonder how a French Bulldog could compete against dogs like Greyhounds and Whippets. On the first run, every dog runs alone, so no one’s directly competing with one another. Each dog is timed to the nearest 1/100th of a second using electronic timers during their run.

The Fast CAT times are converted to miles per hour (mph). A dog that runs the course in 10 seconds would be running at 20.46 mph. Is that fast? It’s probably faster than you can run: the average human sprint speed is just under 20 mph.

The AKC maintains a list of the fastest dogs in each breed based on their average from their best three runs. Every year, the top five fastest dogs in each breed are invited to compete at the following year’s Fast CAT Invitational.

Fast CAT Titles and Points

Your dog can also get Fast CAT titles based on their speed. To make things more fair between breeds, a handicap system is used based on the dog’s height at the withers, the highest point of their shoulder blades. Each dog’s speed in miles per hour is multiplied by its handicap to determine points, as follows:

· 18″ and above: handicap = 1.0

· 12″ up to 18″: handicap = 1.5

· Below 12″: handicap = 2.0

A dog that is 18″ at the withers with a speed of 23 mph earns 23 points. A dog that is 12″ at the withers with a speed of 18 mph earns 27 points. And a dog that is 11″ at the withers and runs 10 mph earns 20 points.

Dogs accumulate points by qualifying at multiple trials. Once they earn 150 points they are awarded the title of BCAT; once they earn 500 points they are awarded the title of DCAT, and once they earn 1000 points they are awarded the title of FCAT. Then for every additional 500 points, they get a number added after FCAT, such as FCAT2 for earning 500 more points.

How Can My Dog Participate?

Your dog doesn’t have to be a purebred to blaze down a Fast Cat track. Dogs have to be at least 12 months old, and registered with the AKC. They can’t be in season or lame. The best way to find a Fast CAT event is to go the AKC events site. In many cases, you can just show up at the event and enter once there, but be sure the premium list states that you can sign up on site. You may also find out about events by contacting a local kennel club or even better yet, a local coursing club. Many Fast CAT events are also held in conjunction with conformation shows.

How Do I Get My Dog to Chase the Lure?

Some dogs naturally want to chase the lure, and some don’t. You can test at home by taking a white plastic kitchen garbage bag, tying a string about 5 feet long around it, and tying the other end of the string to a pole of about the same length. Run around zipping it back and forth while encouraging your dog to chase it. Puppies are often more interested if you “tease” them with the lure by running it back and forth along a fence line with them on the other side, occasionally letting it pop into their yard for them to tug. You can even add a rag or a piece of fur to give your dog something to grab and tug on. Always stop before your dog tires of the game to keep him wanting more!

But not all dogs chase the lure. Many dogs with intense prey drive are just not interested in chasing plastic. In fact, it could be that the tendency to chase a lure is related more to a dog’s play-drive than to its prey-drive. By the way, learning to chase the lure does not awaken any sort of prey-drive in your dog. Dogs don’t mistake plastic for prey.

Some people have had success wrapping meat treats inside the baggie and letting the dog rip the bag apart to get the treats, gradually requiring the dog to chase and catch the bag first. The dog may catch on that chasing the lure is fun, or may learn to at least run after it for the treats!

How Do I Prepare?

Fast CAT is one of the easiest sports to participate in because it doesn’t take much preparation. You won’t need any specialized equipment, but you should make sure your dog’s collar has no dangling tags or tabs that could be caught in the line, or be a trip hazard. You will need an extra leash for your catcher to use at the end of the run.

More important is making sure your dog is in shape to compete. Fast CAT may be a sprint, but whenever a dog pushes itself to run fast, it subjects its body to stresses. A dog that is used to running is the least likely to be injured.

You can also prepare your dog mentally. Dogs run best if they aren’t worried about people and other dogs around them. They also are more likely to allow strangers to catch or release them. A well-socialized dog is a great advantage when it has to cope with other dogs barking and leaping close by.

Very often, you can request to run a practice run instead of an official run. Practice runs usually cost much less than entry fees, but they won’t be timed and won’t count toward a title no matter how fast your dog runs. The advantage is that you can run with your dog down the track and encourage him to chase the lure. It’s often a good idea for any first-time runner to do a practice run just so they understand the game and are more likely to turn in a blazing speed next time.

Dogs need to learn how to control their body in order to run their fastest. To run fast they need to learn to run with their head down during part of their stride, and sometimes they need practice to learn to do this. Dogs with a lot of experience lure coursing may run cautiously, expecting the lure to turn as it does in coursing, so may need practice just running full-out in a straight line. Don’t forget your own prep—be sure to read the rules!

What Happens at a Fast CAT Event?

Photo by MLBaer Photography

Once your dog is entered, you’ll report to the trial secretary. They’ll have somebody inspect your dog for lameness or for being in season. If either of these conditions are found, your dog can’t run, and you will get a refund.

You must have two people to participate: someone to release your dog at the start and another person to catch them at the end. You won’t be allowed to leave your dog at the start line, even with a person, and run down the track to the finish. Usually, you can get somebody to help.

You may want to let your dog see the lure as it returns to the start line for the next dog. But don’t stand too close when another dog is competing. You can let your dog get close enough to see it from a safe distance, but be respectful of the running dog and of the club’s requirements for you to stand back.

Hold on to your dog tightly, and use a strong, secure collar or harness, and a leash. Loose dogs can not only distract a running dog, but if one should get on the track while a dog is running, could cause an extremely dangerous collision.

Warm up your dog as you would any athlete by trotting them back and forth before their run. If it’s hot, be sure to stay in the shade. Consider also bringing a source of shade or some battery operated fans. You also won’t want to run your dog on a full stomach, as it can make them nauseous.

What Happens During the Run?

Once it’s your turn, a person called the “huntmaster” will call you and your dog to the starting area. They’ll do a final check of the dog and their collar. They make sure every dog gets a fair start, and show you where the start line and starting box limits are. You can start anywhere within the starting box area.

Once in place, the huntmaster will ask if you are ready. Make sure your dog is facing forward, with eyes toward the lure, which will be stationary about five feet in front of the start line. Reply to the Huntmaster verbally. Once you say “Yes,” the Huntmaster will signal the lure operator to start the lure. Don’t let go yet! The lure has to have a head start so your dog doesn’t catch it or slow down from getting too close. When it does, the Huntmaster will yell “Tallyho!” Let your dog go on the “T” of “Tally-ho.”

Now it’s up to your dog! You can’t run alongside them, or run ahead down or beside the course and call your dog to you. You can encourage them, but sometimes newer dogs will mistake your cheering and come back to you.

Trial workers will direct your catcher where to stand and when to get the dog at the end of the run. The lure will stop, and with luck, the dog will stop with it. But some dogs may head back to the start line, and others may wander around. The catcher should bring some treats or toys that the dog likes. Most Fast CAT courses are fenced, but if your dog is not reliable at returning when off-lead, be sure to read the premium list, which will state whether it’s fenced or not. Be sure your catcher also has a leash, as they will be leading the dog out of the catch area on lead while the next dog in line gets ready for their turn.

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What Happens After the Run?

Once your dog is caught and securely on lead, they can exit the catch area. Walk your dog out until their breathing returns to normal, and offer them sips of water. On a very hot day, some clubs have hoses or kiddy pools filled with water that your dog can cool off with.

Fast CAT is nonetheless considered a pass/fail sport. To pass, your dog must cross both the start and finish line on their own with enthusiasm, without stopping to meander about on the way—and certainly without relieving themselves.

Many clubs offer two trials a day, a morning one and an afternoon one. Use the time in between for your dog to rest and get rehydrated, and then do the whole thing over if they’re running in the afternoon run! But don’t overdo it. After all, they’ll be re-running it over and over in their dreams…where they’re always the fastest dog on earth!