Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 25, 2014

Trying something entirely new (and fun!)

Posted at 04:34PM - Comments: (6)

I virtually “met” Sandi Pensinger a few years ago, when WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller wrote an article for the April 2011 issue about the sport of Treibball – it’s a herding-type sport played with large exercise balls on a large grass field; you direct your dog into herding (pushing) them into soccer goals. Sandi is a dog trainer from Capitola, California (next door to Santa Cruz); her business, Living With Dogs, offers group and private classes for puppy and dog training, and lots of fun dog sports, including Treibball. (She also produced a series of instructional DVDs about the Treibball, available from Dogwise.com.) Sandi provided a lot of photos of dogs of various sizes playing Treibball for our article (whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_4/features/Treibball-Canine-Sport_20234-1.html).

I recently became aware that Sandi was offering classes -- and more significantly for me, someone who lives about four hours away from her training location -- monthly “fun” practices for another canine sport, lure coursing.

We also ran an article about lure coursing some years ago (whole-dog-journal.com/issues/12_9/features/Recreational-Dog-Racing-Lure-Coursing_16159-1.html) and I’ve been intrigued and interested in seeing a lure coursing event ever since. I still haven’t seen the real deal, but I did attend Sandi’s most recent fun practice event with Otto – and we had a blast!

“Real” lure coursing is different from our practice event in a number of ways; the fun practice is mainly meant to introduce people and dogs to the basic premise: a fleece or plastic bag lure is fastened to a small cable and is whisked around a course in an open field; dogs chase the lure as fast as they can. In the official version, dogs are scored for speed, agility, endurance, enthusiasm, and “following” (as opposed to taking short cuts across the field). There is also a time limit for the handler to get control of his dog at the end of the course.

Owners attended the “just for fun” practice event I went to for a number of reasons. Some, like me, seemed to be there just to see whether their dogs would chase the lure at all – and a few dogs didn’t! One little Labradoodle could not be less interested in the lure, but seemed to enjoy just walking around the field with her owners. Other people brought their dogs for the exercise. One German Wirehaired Pointer ran the course beautifully for one lap, and when the lure was stopped, just kept running and performed a second lap with no lure at all (he eventually had to be tackled to a halt, though). There was a young black Lab who wiggled and whined and was generally a bit inattentive and rowdy while waiting her turn, until her owner brought her out to the lure course. THEN she focused and ran like the wind after it! Her owner told me, “We’re hoping she learns to behave that appropriately in other settings in time, but for now, she loves this and sleeps well for a few days afterward, so . . .”

My dog Otto loves to chase rabbits and squirrels when he gets a chance, so I thought he might chase the lure; I was thrilled when he did on the very first try. I told the lure operator (Sandi’s husband) that Otto had never seen this before, so he kept the lure close enough to Otto to keep him interested all the way around the field – which, by the way, was fenced off so dogs who were entirely new to the sport couldn’t “shortcut” across the course; they had to follow the lure. On the first try, Otto sort of bounced and pounced toward the lure all the way around the course, trying to figure out what it was; he didn’t run flat out, because he could see it wasn’t a rabbit or other potential prey, but it was intriguing (and I was yelling “Get it! Get it!”). He was confused but game.

On our second turn, he took off faster, but when he started to take the first turn, I think the change in direction caused him to hear me yelling for the first time and, since we work on long-distance recalls, I think he thought I was calling him to come back. He looked over his shoulder toward me, back toward the lure, and then came running back to me. The operator reversed the lure so that as Otto sped toward me, the lure passed him, and as he approached me, I yelled, “Get it! Get it! Get it!” and he obligingly ran past me in pursuit of the lure in the new direction and ran that lap faster than the first.

A friend came with me and brought her iPad, so I have video of some of this. The video posted here is our third try. By now, Otto was figuring it out, and I told the operator to let Otto go for two laps if he was running well (so Otto wouldn’t think he was always supposed to just run one lap and then stop). He maintained his enthusiasm for both laps, although he did look a little wobbly legged for a minute after the anaerobic effort.

Am I going to take up the sport of lure coursing? No – but I’m definitely going to attend another fun practice session. It was a blast to try something completely different with my dog, particularly because I thought it was something he might enjoy, and to see how he would behave in a completely novel environment (surrounded by barking, excited, ramped-up dogs). He did great, and I was super proud of his focus on me and how well he listened and returned to me at the end – a great test of our relationship, which, of course, he passed with flying colors. I’m going to bring more friends and their dogs to the next practice session.

(If you live anywhere near the Central Coast of California, come check it out! livingwithdogs.us/#!lure-coursing/c1sps)

Comments (6)

LaurieR: Through conversations with some vets and greyhound owners, we decided to use an oval track because it is safer for the dogs. Most of the dogs we see at our play days are weekend warriors and any dramatic cornering in an already challenging sport is not in their best interest. Dogs can get hurt doing this sport, especially if they are not in shape and are overly aroused. Any turns should be about 100 feet apart, especially for the larger dogs. The bigger the field the better. The sighthound courses can be up to 5,000 yards. Our grassy field is quite a bit smaller - the size of a soccer field. We spent about $6,000 on our equipment. We have the motor, four deep cycle marine batteries (that weigh about 50 lbs each!), a variety of blocks, the low-stretch string, fencing, posts, etc. It takes us about 2.5 hours to set it up and about two hours to tear down. There is a learning curve for keeping the lure in front of the dog. If a dog catches it, someone has to go reset the course. We also have one person to man the registration desk, have people remove harnesses, choke chains, prong collars and keep people efficiently and safely in line with aroused dogs. If everything is ideal we have a photographer, someone to time the dogs and keep records and someone to use the pocket laser that measures their speed. Some dogs become quite obsessive about chasing things after having been lure coursing, so it is not the right choice for all dogs. All that said, it is quite fun and it is worth the effort to have tired, healthy dogs. -- Sandi Pensinger, Living with Dogs www.livingwithdogs.us

Posted by: sandi@livingwithdogs.us | August 27, 2014 12:45 AM    Report this comment

Laurie, you can find a lot of information by just googling "lure coursing."
From what I've seen, the equipment appears to take a fair amount of maintenance and an experienced operator. Because dogs get so excited when they run, only one dog at a time is usually allowed unless the dogs know each other or they are muzzled.
I have a Norwich Terrier, and twice a year a bunch of Norwich owners get together for a "Fun Day." There's a breeder in Washington who always comes down for these and runs a smaller lure course for our smaller dogs.
I found equipment and info at wickedcoursing.com (I don't know anything about this vendor).

Posted by: Mary Straus | August 26, 2014 4:47 PM    Report this comment

Sorry for the delay, The video has been posted as a hyperlink and can be viewed on YouTube! Click on the link in the text to see Otto go!

Posted by: WDJ Admin | August 26, 2014 3:14 PM    Report this comment

I have a rescued Boston Terrier and was with some friends at a Terrier Match field day (they had classes for non-terriers as well). After entering our dogs in what we thought they would enjoy we were on our way back to the first class for them and passed the area where they were doing the lure coursing. We were on a lane above and about 50 yards from the lure course. My BT caught sight of "run" and started tugging on the lead and screaming--"I want to do that!", he seemed to be saying. So I went back to the admin. tent and entered him. He loved it--though he had trouble on the turns as they were left handed and he is missing the eye on that side so he tended to lose sight of the lure and get distracted by spectators at the turns. On the second run, the operator slowed down the lure on the turns so Rocky could adjust to the change in direction and he caught on and actually got a ribbon in his size/breed type category. It was so much fun watching him have fun! Sometimes you never know what your dog might enjoy until you try it.

Posted by: PJKutscher | August 26, 2014 11:43 AM    Report this comment

This blog post reads, "The video posted here is our third try." But where is that video or the link to it?? I'd like to see it...

Posted by: EllenM | August 26, 2014 11:24 AM    Report this comment

Could you post some info on how a course is laid out, and how the lure is operated? Sounds like fun, and I'm wondering if it is something a community would benefit from as a community resource, like an agility course? Or, where can one find this kind of specific info? How big, what surface, angles of turns, mechanical parts for the lure, etc? Thanks!

Posted by: LaurieR | August 26, 2014 9:35 AM    Report this comment

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