“Get Ready for Lure Coursing!” contains excerpts and information from “The Definitive Guide To Lure Coursing,” and “Principles of Lure Coursing, Certification Training for Lure Event Operators,” both by Pat Bennett.
Lure Coursing is a wild and crazy sport consisting almost entirely of a dog chasing a bag on a string; it is one of the most exciting and beneficial activities that you and your dog can participate in. Defined as a “fun dog chase sport,” lure coursing taps into your dog’s prey drive to release his or her inner beast—they chase, run down, and catch the lure (prey), in most cases a plastic bag. Once the line and lure start moving, both humans and dogs become fully engaged—the dogs completely consumed by their biological imperative to hunt, and the humans by their naturally competitive nature and rallying their dog to “win.” From the most extensively groomed conformation show dog to the shaggiest mongrel of “doubtful” pedigree, all dogs can, and most dogs will, run the lure.
There are many kinds of coursing events: AKC/UKC/CKC/ASFA performance events such as Lure Coursing for Junior, Qualified, and Senior Coursers, Coursing Ability Tests, and FastCAT (100-yard dash) where the dogs with the best time, “follow,” agility, and endurance are awarded titles. Some events are limited to sighthound breeds only, but there are all-breed events where any dog can participate regardless of lineage.
All athletic events have the potential for injury to the athletes, whether dog or human, but lure coursing is safe for most dogs and there are usually either no injuries or extremely minor injuries at most events. However, because things do come up, it’s good to know what can happen on the field so that you can stay aware. This knowledge will enable you to determine how to condition your dog ahead of time, if possible, in order to avoid damage and get the most out of the event. You should also have a basic first aid kit in your car in case something comes up, not only at a coursing event but whenever your dog is with you.
In general, keeping your dog in good physical condition will go a long way toward avoiding most injuries and/or minimizing the extent or degree of damage from an injury. That means:
- Walking more than ½ mile every day;
- Feeding a premium diet;
- Brushing your dog’s teeth daily; and
- Keeping your dog well-groomed.
Walking is basic to your dog’s well-being, both mentally and physically. Dogs are wanderers by nature; daily walks satisfy their urge to roam as well as keep their minds engaged by encountering new sights and smells, even if you take the same route every day. Likewise, a brisk walk supports good muscle tone and stamina, and takes the edge off all that energy. Walking is great for integrating training exercises (heel, sit-stay, front, etc.) and is also very bonding. Having a good recall at the field will be greatly appreciated by the lure operator, and this is something you can work on during your walks.
Feeding a Premium Diet
Feeding a premium diet means choosing food that has no fillers, no by-products, is pesticide- and GMO-free, and contains human-grade ingredients including at least 10-15% vegetables (preferably organic), and humanely raised meat with no hormones or antibiotics. You can also supplement with extra portions of clean protein sources, including chicken, fish, etc. A premium diet is not inexpensive, but it will save you on vet bills over the life of your dog. It will also support robust condition in your dog, which will lead to safe sport activities such as coursing. Just imagine if you ate junk food every day your entire life… you wouldn’t be in very good shape and it would take its toll in health issues down the line.
Brushing Teeth Daily
Brushing teeth daily is something that a lot of people laugh at; they think bad breath is just a part of having a dog. It is not, but it is a symptom of potentially serious problems. Poor dental care manifests itself in some pretty awful consequences—septicemia, kidney and other organ damage, disease and failure, loss of teeth and underlying bone structures, infections and abscesses, not to mention the horrible breath. It takes literally 30-40 seconds to brush a dog’s teeth every night before bedtime and, as with feeding a premium diet, it eliminates many health issues throughout the life of your dog. Daily dental care is a simple thing that you can do to keep your dog in top physical condition for running the lure.
Grooming is extremely important to your dog’s health and well-being, and this includes keeping toenails trimmed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had dogs step up to the start point with grossly overgrown toenails. Running a dog with long nails is a recipe for disaster and can lead to several of the more serious injuries discussed below.
Lure Coursing: Common Injuries
At lure coursing events, you should always walk your dog prior to each run and include a cool-down walk immediately after a run. This will keep the muscles warmed and toned throughout the day.
A good lure operator can avoid many common injuries by running the dogs in a safe manner, but even someone with years of experience can’t avoid issues 100 percent of the time. There are several common injuries your dog might experience on the field. These range from very simple to more serious; some you can prepare or condition for and some you can’t. Before taking your dog to an event, ask if there will be a first aid kit on-site and if they have experience using it. You can also ask how often they have injuries. If there are injuries at every event, you might not want to take your dog there.
Here are the most frequent injuries:
- String Burn
- Bee Stings
- Falls or Tumbles
String Burn is not something you can control or prepare for, but it’s something a good lure operator can usually avoid. String burn or line cuts occur when the dog comes into direct contact with the line while running. When the dog cuts a corner or when s/he stumbles or trips and runs into the line at an angle or when the dog and the line are running at two different speeds, a string burn or cut can occur. Between turns on the course, the dog and the string are usually running at the same speed, so even if the dog touches the line it generally won’t cause an injury. However, running into the line at an angle can reduce or increase the speed the dog is going, creating an opportunity for a cut.
Bee Stings can happen at any time and during any season. There’s less chance of a bee sting in cold or wet weather depending on where in the country you live, but overall, when bees are active you’re likely to get a sting or two. Grass fields that have a lot of clover in them are very attractive to bees and you’ll see them out working the flowers, especially in late spring and all summer long. Again, not something you can do anything about prior to the event, but you can ask the lure operator or club manager if they have a bee sting kit in their first aid supplies.
Falls/Tumbles are another instance that might create an injury. Dogs are very resilient and can bounce without damage, but they’re also masters at concealing injuries and you may not know they’re hurt until later that day or even the following day. If your dog takes a fall on the field, do a quick physical examination, then keep an eye out for soreness, limping, quiet demeanor, and other symptoms of injury. If the fall is spectacular enough, the lure operator should stop the run and both of you should go over the dog right then.
Here are a few injuries that occasionally come up and are more serious:
- Torn Nail/Nailbed Injury
- Slipped Pads/Pad Laceration
- Heat Stroke
- Dislocated Toe
Torn Nail/Nailbed Injuries and Dislocated Toes are usually a result of nails that are too long, although dislocated toes are much more prevalent in Greyhounds and Whippets due to their physical structure and “hare feet” as well as the exaggerated muscle mass at the top of the back leg and their extreme speed and turning radius. Nailbed injuries are often a direct result of overly long nails. Long nails can get caught in weeds, grass, small holes in the ground, debris, and anything else they’re likely to catch them on. The nail itself can get broken or torn completely off, or the bed of the nail can get cut, damaged, or bruised. Long nails are, in general, very uncomfortable for the dog and can cause other foot and walking problems. Again, regular grooming and keeping the nails short will eliminate most of
Slipped Pads is an injury in which the thick pad on a dog’s feet become detached from the underlying tissue in the foot, either partially or completely. Slipped pads (see photo) usually happen in “rough” fields that don’t have enough grass or those that have a lot of gravel. Hard-packed soil can also cause slipped pads, but they can also occur in a grass field.
Pad lacerations (see photo) can occur at any time; both types of injuries are very painful and require immediate veterinary care. The only way to pre-condition for this is to get your dog out walking on different surfaces. A dog that doesn’t get out much will have softer pads that are more prone to injury as opposed to a dog that regularly goes out for walks and runs.
Heat Stroke can happen at any time, but more often on hot days with dogs that are not in top condition. Even if a dog looks like s/he’s in great shape, if they’re not used to regular, intense exercise they can suffer heat stroke at the field. In fact, any dog can succumb to heat stroke in very hot weather, so be aware of this possibility and cool your dog down in a “cool pool” or with a cool jacket both before and after a run.
The bottom line is, preparing your dog for safe lure coursing includes regular care and maintenance as well as making yourself knowledgeable and informed about the types of injuries that can occur. You may not be able to prevent all injuries from happening, but you can eliminate many of them simply by staying aware and understanding that these dogs are athletes and their safety depends on their human counterparts for proper conditioning and preparation for all these events.
*Featured photo: Pat Bennett with her dog, ‘Lucy.’ Photo courtesy of Jen Petit Photography.