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Lure Coursing and the Racing Greyhound

The first time you see your newly retired greyhound the main thing you will notice is the muscle. The massive thighs and bulging shoulders, necessary for success on the track, give greyhounds the appearance that they are ready to run like the wind, and can go for days. The first time you go for a walk you will notice that your greyhound is panting, and dragging behind you after a couple of blocks. You might also notice that they pick their way across gravel parking lots.

The truth is that your racing greyhound lived a pretty sheltered life, only working 30+ seconds a few times a week, and that on a carefully groomed sand track that has long gently banked curves. The training your dog received was so specialized that he or she ran turning only to the left. Walking was not even a regular part of the daily routine. Your greyhound was turned out in an exercise yard four or five times a day, again on groomed sand, and as much for bathroom breaks as for exercise. Walking is used for exercise and for injury rehabilitation in England and Australia, but only to limited extent in the U.S.

Greyhounds can run fast, up to 70km per hour. They can reach that speed in a couple of strides, but not for long. The newly retired greyhound’s level of aerobic fitness is not up to walking a mile at human pace. They have never had to cope with uneven ground or obstacles like trees and bushes. The pads on their feet are too soft to handle gravel in parking lots, concrete sidewalks, or hot pavement. They have never even made a turn to the right at the intensity required in a race. A racing greyhound is an impressive athlete, but not an all round athlete, and definitely not ready to lure course.

Lure coursing is a flat out dash covering 600 to 900 yards turning sharp lefts and rights over irregular ground, mimicking a pack of hounds chasing a rabbit. Dogs are loosed three in a brace to chase plastic bags tied to a string propelled by a remote controlled motor at speeds up to 80km per hour. Coursing is a fast, exciting sport, and one of the most demanding of all activities undertaken by dogs and their humans on this continent. It is, however, a far cry from a track race, and requires a level of physical conditioning well beyond a newly retired track dog.

Retired racing greyhounds can compete in coursing and win, but, and this is a big BUT, they need a lot of help to develop the fitness necessary to compete without risking injury. Rink runs with a couple of other greyhounds once a week will just not be enough. It can take up to a year of carefully managed training to toughen the pads on the feet, and build the aerobic fitness necessary to run the distance. The issue of turning to the right is more difficult to cope with. Your dog has run in circles all his or her life but only to the left, and has never had to develop the tendon strength to make the hard right turns that are a regular part of any course. Without extensive training in an activity that requires the hard turns of a coursing event, there is a very real chance that your greyhound will either dislocate or break a toe or two, and in a worst case, break a leg.
Like any good athlete in training, a work out every other day or so is only one of the requirements. Their diet should be adjusted to compensate for the energy requirements, and their weight should be carefully monitored to avoid running an over or under weight dog. Daily fitness checks should also be a part of the routine to catch minor injuries, before they become major problems.

There really is no experience like standing on the start line when Tally Ho is called and three hounds dig in and sprint into the first turn. Your retired racing greyhound wants to run, his or her every instinct is to lose all thoughts but one and pursue that lure. They will run in any weather, over any ground, ignoring pain and exhaustion in the pursuit of those little plastic bags. Their reward is the chance to tear at the bags in a reenactment of an age old rite of the hunt. Lure coursing is the sport that brings a greyhound closest to his true nature. It also carries the potential for a life altering injury and some major vet bills. Given proper training and conditioning the thrill of the hunt can be enjoyed by your hound and you. Only bring a fit hound to the coursing meet, and always remember that his future health and well-being is your responsibility alone.

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