A dear friend requested that I write an article on Lure Coursing and Whippets for the Sports Edition of SHOWSIGHT. I know there are those who are far more experienced than I on the topics that I will try to cover here. I am by no means a writer, but will give it my best shot and, if nothing else, make you laugh.
One of the questions to help author this article was, “What makes Whippets ideal for Lure Coursing?” This is one of the hardest questions I have ever tried to answer. What does make Whippets ideal for coursing? I cannot honestly say that there is any one thing that makes them ideal. Rather, it is a combination thereof.
Breeding, I believe, is an important part to maintain a proper structure and balance so that they caneasily traverse any type of terrain, whether flat or very contoured, and to determine the length of the course (from a minimum of 600 yards or a national event with 1,000 yards-plus) that is chosen to run on and still maintain stamina, speed, and agility.
The Breed Standard allows the breeders leeway in what type of dog they would like to breed, believing that more bone/more muscle creates a better Lure Coursing Whippet, which, in turn, may sacrifice speed and agility due to the extra mass of the animal. Where others believe the smaller-boned, more petite (or race-bred) dogs allow for more speed and agility, I have seen the reverse effect with the loss of endurance, and due to the speed, their agility may also be compromised. Personally, I prefer a medium- to lighter-framed animal that is still conformation worthy, and I prefer to run and judge courses between 700 and 800 yards, thus, trying to draw the full potential of the breed into context.
Prey drive is another important part of Lure Coursing. The term “prey drive” is used to describe and analyze habits in dog training, but what is prey drive? It is the instinct and inclination of a carnivore to find, pursue, and capture prey. In other breeds of dog, prey drive is so strong that the chance to satisfy the drive is its own reward, and external reinforcers, such as commands from a human, are not needed to compel the dog to perform the behavior.
Not all Whippets have a prey drive. (I have one that the prey could run right over him and he would not move, whereas my others will pull your arm off if they see a bunny or a squirrel.) And being descendants of the Greyhound, a certain amount of prey drive is typically instilled in the Whippet’s genetic makeup; unlike the Irish Wolfhound where the prey drive has largely been bred out of the breed.
Then the last thing the Whippet needs is the desire to play the game—to chase plastic around a predetermined course that he knows he is going to catch at the end. Two of my Whippets have a great prey drive but have no desire to chase the plastic bunny; therefore, they do not play the game. Others I have had over the years have taken right to chasing both plastic and live game. I have always tried to get the puppies out and play with them with a flirt pole, which is a lunge whip with a bag tied to the end of it, to try to enhance the game-playing aspect of Coursing.
As with any Performance event, whether it is Conformation, Lure Coursing, or Dock Diving, physical conditioning is extremely important. A coursing hound, depending on the length of the course, may run up to at least four times: a preliminary run, finals run, any ties, a breed run-off, and then a Best in Field. That’s up to three thousand yards or more! I have four Whippets ranging from ages three to nine years, and with the small backyard we have, they self-exercise up to a point.
An additional three miles of walking in the park on our local walking trails helps to keep me in shape as well, especially if we’ve had a long, hot summer or a cold winter where we didn’t get out and get as much exercise as we should. I have also been known to bicycle my dogs weeks in advance of a national like the National Lure Coursing event (NLCC).
Prior to each run, we do warm up stretching as any athlete should. These consist of a full-body stretch, stretching of each leg both bent and full stretch, and also stretching the neck to either side where the muzzle touches the shoulder to the left and to the right. Then after each run, we do a cool-down walk to help prevent any injuries due to pulled muscles, the occasional torn pad on a foot, or a puncture wound that is possible depending on the type of terrain and turf that we may be running on. During Coursing, we bring a simple first aid kit with antibiotics and any type of bandage that we might need. And we try to prepare for the unexpected by knowing where the nearest emergency vet clinic is located (though we hope we never have to use one).
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