Lure Coursing for Dogs

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified
By

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Updated Dec. 21, 2023
dog running through lure course

Is your pup full of energy? Lure coursing may be just the thing you need to keep them happy. What started as a hunting event using live game has evolved into the sport of lure coursing.

Participants, typically sighthounds, get to run at full speed in a field in an attempt to catch pretend prey. A lure course for these dogs provides an opportunity to express their superpower–hunting by sight (as opposed to scent) without the risk of being injured or injuring live prey animals.

What Is Lure Coursing for Dogs?

The sport of lure coursing is a considered a “mock hunt.”

In a competitive setting, a white bag attached to a line runs through a series of pulleys, and the bag is moved approximately 600 yards across a field of five to seven acres at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. The dogs are let off their leads to chase the lure in groups of three, each wearing a light blanket in a specific color, usually pink, yellow, and blue.

Because this sport uses natural prey drive, there is not much formal training to do.

There are both tests and trials. Tests are unscored just-for-fun runs, while trials are for points toward titling. The scoring is a total of points issued for overall performance, follow, speed, agility, and endurance. The “follow” is the dog’s ability to stay focused on the “prey” and not get distracted by the other dogs.

Competitive trials limit participants to purebred sighthounds. The recognized breed group for each organization is standard, with few exceptions.

Some commonly known sighthounds are the Greyhound, Afghan Hound, Whippet, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Italian Greyhound. The group also includes lesser-known hounds like the Saluki, Borzoi, Ibizan Hound, and Silken Windhound.

What Is the History of Lure Coursing for Dogs?

Before lure coursing became the sport it is today, sighthounds were let loose in fields to chase prey, mainly hares. Some of these fields were encircled with barbed wire, which often injured both dogs and hares.

In the early 1970s, Lyle Gillette and a team of sighthound enthusiasts recreated the hunting experience by using a plastic bag tied to a line that ran through a series of pulleys. In 1972, the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) was formed and the modern-day version of the sport began to gain popularity. Today, there are more than 100 AFSA member clubs.

Several tests and trials are happening almost every weekend across the country. The lure course machine pulley systems are fully motorized, as they have been since the ‘70s, and can move seamlessly over the fields. The only thing that changes is course design, and even that is governed by safety considerations.

Lure Coursing Titles

In the United States, the ASFA and the American Kennel Club (AKC) are the two largest organizations with titling structure for lure coursing. Each has its own set of title names and requirements. Both require a hound to be certified for competition. This involves a test run with another dog of a similar breed. Once completed, your dog can begin to compete, accumulate points, and collect titles. 

The ASFA has a list of suffix titles—those letters sometimes seen after a dog’s name—that are earned based on placement and points. For example, one title is field champion. The letters are FCH and are attained by accumulating 100 points in addition to coming in first at least twice. They can also qualify if they have finished first once and second twice. The titles build from there.

The AKC titles have different names and requirements but are similar in accomplishment. Dogs begin as a qualified courser (QC) and can continue to compete, collect points, and earn more suffix titles like master courser (MC) or field champion (FC).

Dog clubs, training facilities, and other groups will host competitions sponsored by one of these organizations, and participants work toward their respective titles.

Is Lure Coursing Right for Your Dog?

Dog species share many similarities, but sighthounds differ a bit from the average canine because they innately hunt by sight, not scent. It can be difficult for the average pet parent to find ways to allow these dogs to engage in this behavior safely.

 Lure coursing creates a structured outlet for natural behavior, keeps the dogs in optimal physical condition, and creates a community among handlers.

So how do you know if lure coursing is right for your dog?

First, all competitors must be free from reactive behaviors. They must show more interest in the visual hunt than in the other dogs. They also need to be in very good physical health.

Be sure to have a complete physical assessment with a vet, perhaps one that specializes in dog sports.

With any dog sport, there’s risk. Considerations include dogs behaving unpredictably, suffering physical injury, or exacerbating previously unknown health conditions.

If you are curious about the sport or interested in competing with your heavenly hound, visit the ASFA or the AKC websites for more information.

FAQs

What is the lure method for dog training?

Because this sport uses natural prey drive, there is not much formal training to do. The dogs are restrained at the start line to build their anticipation. They run the course by instinct.

Some dogs may need a little work on ignoring other dogs, since they race in trios. In some cases, a recall to get the dog safely back to the handler after the chase is helpful.

Is lure coursing good for dogs?

If you have a healthy sighthound with a need to chase—and they are free of aggressive behavior directed at other dogs or people—lure coursing could be very good for them. It provides an outlet for natural behaviors, a way to expend large amounts of energy, and enriches their lives.

Are there dog lure-coursing machines?

There are many lure coursing machines on the market today. They range from basic to competition level. The prices range as well. The differences are the quality of materials, top speeds, and durability.

If you want to create a lure course in your backyard, be careful. Too many turns with sharp angles can injure your dog. Be sure to research which machine and course design is best for you and your dog.

Featured Image: alekta/iStock via Getty Images Plus


Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

WRITTEN BY

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Professional Trainer


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