How did it go?

One of the questions that has bothered me enough to write about is from the lure coursing competition I worked in some weeks ago. The question was from a new lure coursing dog owner, who was in his first competition ever. The question was, how can he see if the dog runs well or not. In short “How did the coursing go?”

What it all comes down to is -like in all hobbies- that you learn by doing and seeing. What helps you to pay attention to the correct things in the dogs performance is the list of the traits the judges are rating. In FCI competition (that is, in Europe) the list is simply:

  1. Speed
  2. Enthusiasm
  3. Intelligence
  4. Agility
  5. Endurance

I have earlier gone through these from the competition evaluation side, but lets look at these from the competitor side for a change.

1. Speed

Dog breeds have very breed specific way of running, from the fast ticking pace of the Italian Sighthounds, Greyhounds and Whippets to the wide and extended paces of the Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and Borzois. The speed doesn’t actually mean which one catches the lure first, which seems to be the misconception of some competitors: instead, it is the measure of the dogs ability to run in a breed specific way and speed, when compared to the other dog competing. The more you see your dog run, the better you know what the typical speed and style of movement is particular to the breed.

2. Enthusiasm

The look. The stare. The total devotion to the prey or lure. This is what enthusiasm is in the best possible way. It also shows when the dog is competing for the lure with another dog in the way it tries to cut the corners to gain advantage, how eagerly the dog follows the lure through visible obstacles and how eagerly the dog tries to find the lure if she loses the sight of it. Enthusiasm just is, and it’s very easy to see in your dog’s performance. Lack of enthusiasm also shows in the dog as disturbing the competitor, or even in attacking the competitor instead of chasing the lure.

3. Intelligence

Some say that the lure coursing dog becomes so intelligent that it can predict where the lure is going to turn: My opinion is still that this only tells that the dog has been lure coursing too much on an open field. Sure, its intelligence in the sense that the dog inherently knows that the lure will not dart into the woods all of a sudden (even though the living prey would), but it’s not real ‘hunting intelligence’. The intelligence comes into play in the sense of co-operation and driving the prey with the companion instead of against her. It’s also seen in the way the dogs use the terrain to their advantage and how the slower one cuts the corners to cut the way of the lure/prey.

4. Agility

Probably the most important physical characteristic of a good lure courser – naturally in addition to excellent physical fitness –  agility can be seen as the capability of the dog to take turns and follow the lure tightly at the heel of it. The turns and their tightness is breed specific, where the smaller breeds can cut a tighter corner than the larger ones: however, the lure coursing tracks are always compromises and are regulated by the rules themself.

5. Endurance

The ability to keep up with the lure without breaking the sweat: the overall measure of the physical fitness of the dog. For the smaller ones up to Greyhound this is all that is needed for a full track: however, for the larger breeds like Borzois and Irish Wolfhounds, the track ought to be much longer for this to be seen as a limiting factor. There are some tracks with natural height differences, which really strain the dog’s endurance, but in competition this measures the dogs ability to maintain the speed and agility long enough to make a complete trial.

What this all comes down to? Go to see as many competitions as possible, not as a competitor but as a spectator. Better still, go to a competition to work in there, and see how different competitors warm up and cool down their dogs, how they handle their over excited dogs before the trials and how the dogs perform and how they differ from breed to breed.

Like I said in the beginning: it all comes from the experience. As you have seen dogs run and perform at different levels, you have to take a step back and observe your own dog’s performance as objectively as possible, without trying to analyze anything, to really see how she performs.

You might be surprised how difficult this is, and how much it helps while you are ‘training’ your dog for the next important competition.

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Learning experience

Last weekend was the first competition I was working in: for two days (and 200 dogs) I was either cheking the identities of the dogs before start or starting the lure coursing pairs on track. What a terrific learning experience as whole! About 200 starts of dogs, qualifiers and finals combined, with all the variety from a clean start to several starts on a trial.

If you really want to learn about lure coursing and how the gear should be, the muzzles and mantles set and how to avoid the common mistakes, go and join your local sighthound club and volunteer for the next coursing event. It’s such a learning experience that you will thank yourself for a long time after that.

What you will see: nervous handlers with patient and focused dogs, anxious dogs with trembling newcomers, excited dogs with very relaxed handlers and all the possible mixes and variations of these! You’ll see excellently fitting muzzles, adequately or poorly fitting ones (which have to be fixed before the start) and speedy changes of muzzles from one dog to another withing the few minutes the returning of the lure takes. 

And the best of it all. You will see some fantastic and spectacular performances of the lure coursing dogs of different breeds and for certainly you will learn what is the difference between a mediocre performance and a superb one. And you will most certainly begin to appreciate the variety and difference of the multitude sighthound breeds, and their capabilities in dealing with the chase and the kill. I admit, that this experience has opened my eyes to the whole lure coursing the way I had never expected.

Highly recommended experience. Just remember to take it easy, give ample guidance to the competitors and remain calm when the competitors feel they have been treated wrong – sorry, when they feel that their dog has been treated wrong. That is the job of the judges to take care of, within the rules and such.

And the best part?

You can be of help without having your dog in the competition, so your dogs may rest the day in peace while you enjoy the show. And you will appreciate the people working in the next competition way more than before, making their work as easy as possible, thus speeding up the whole competition on your part!

Off you go!

Evaluation of coursing

Several times, when I have told people about our dog’s competing in lure-coursing, the response has been a bit confusing to me. They are running after a lure, right, but not on a track. Not like the one you can see greyhounds running, or whippets, around the world. The most common response has been that the dogs must be very fast, as people usually think that the fastest runner wins. However, that is not the whole truth, as the dogs are evaluated in five categories and the combined points are calculated to gain the final score of a trial. So the fastes dog doesn’t necessarily win, but the best in all categories.

The categories are:  Speed, Enthusiasm, Intelligence, Agility and Endurance. 

  1.  Speed: The speed necessary to catch the prey. Naturally this means that the dog has to adjust it’s speed according to the speed of the prey and try to catch the lure. The breeds that hunt alone (greyhounds and whippets for example) will try to catch the lure by themself, but the breeds who drive the prey as pack will take their pair as an asset. This will lead to situation in which the fastest dog will not necessarily even kill the prey, but secure it.
  2. Enthusiasm: “Enthusiasm in the pursuit whatever the conditions of the ground (rough or with obstacles) and whatever incidents occur such as overshooting the turns, falling and losing sight of the lure.” This usually can be seen in situations in which the dog loses the sight of the lure, but still continues to pursue it at the direction it disappeared: some dogs just quit.
  3. Intelligence: The ability to read the track, terrain and the position of the other competitor and gain the best possible route to the lure. Especially with Irish Wolfhounds this leads eventually to the situation in which the dog ‘predicts’ the track just by seeing the terrain and guesses where the lure will turn. Usually dogs who have competed -or have been trained- too much in one season are prone to do this. Also working as a team is considered to be intelligent: there is nothing more enthralling than to see a well working pair to switch their lanes to keep the prey from getting away.
  4. Agility: Sighthound’s agility is shown in it’s rapid turning according to the turns of the lure, clearing obstacles and the final ‘kill’, sliding to the lure. Irish Wolfhound, being so big and heavy, this causes some problems as the tracks are usually designed for all breeds from Italian Sighthound to Irish Wolfhound: the turns and twists are pretty steep from time to time for this gentle giant.
  5. Endurance: “Endurance is the ability of a Sighthound to finish its course in good physical condition. It is the end sum of its physical and mental abilities.” Taken into account the fact that Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and Borzois (Russian Sighthounds) have been bred to hunt big game, namely deer, elks, moose and wolves, the track can only be seen as the final stretch of the lengthy hunting trip. 

The quotations are directly from the FCI Lure-Coursing rules, all else is from my personal thoughts about the rules. As I have stated above, the rules are very general and the competitions are a sum of several compromises due to the fact that they usually accomodate several, very different breeds which have very different needs to be rated by their hunting performance.

Currently the lure-coursing track is 500-1000 meters long, usually around 700-900 in International competitions. However, that track is devised so that it can be used for all breeds and thus the amount and cornering of the track is compromise to all except maybe the mid-sized breeds. For smaller ones the straight parts may be too long, and they may well get too much speed for the next corner. For larger breeds, the corners may be too tight and they will overshoot them, maybe even break themselves while trying to follow the lure.

About the ruling, still: there are three judges giving 20 points for each category in each trial. In a competition there are two trials: qualifiers and finals, to which the best of the qualifiers are entered. Usually the dogs who have received over half of the maximum points from the qualifiers are entered to the finals: this means 150 points from the qualifiers. In the end, the qualifier and final points are added together to get the results. Usually the points for the dogs completing both trials range from 350 to 500, with some exceptions, even though the maximum is 600.

As you can see, it’s not easy to explain the competition to a person who knows nothing about it: alone the evaluation of the performance is pretty difficult, and we haven’t even entered the competition yet.

And all this is to evaluate the ability of a sighthound to hunt in a manner typical for the breed.

Go figure.