Lure coursing is a sport (or simply a fun activity) for the dog that likes to chase things. As sighthounds, Italian Greyhounds are natural chasers. They love to run after things that are moving quickly. The basics of lure coursing involve a dog chasing a lure (usually a plastic bag or furry rabbit skin) tied to a moving line. The line is looped around pulleys anchored to the ground and run by a motor. If your dog catches on to the idea of chasing that bag, lure coursing can be a great way to allow your IG to get back to his sighthound roots.
“So what’s all the excitement and why would my dog chase a plastic bag around a field?”, you might ask. Lure Coursing stimulates a dog’s natural instinct to chase. If your dog had to hunt for his food like his progenitors did, that instinct would lead him to chase and catch small prey. Our companion dogs still have that instinct, and for sighthounds, it has been finely honed through breeding. A quote from Wikipedia’s Sighthound page: “Although today most sighthounds are kept primarily as pets, they have been bred for thousands of years to detect movement, chase, capture, and kill prey primarily by speed. They thrive on physical activity. Some have mellow personalities, others are watchful or even hostile towards strangers, but the instinct to chase running animals remains strong.” As you look at your little Sighthound resting in the warm summer sun, you might think your little sweetums could never harm another living animal, but there are Italian Greyhound owners who have witnessed their IG not only chasing, but catching–and even killing–rabbits and birds.
It is because of this instinct, and selective breeding, to chase small prey that Italian Greyhounds should never be allowed off leash. It only takes one rabbit or squirrel in the distance to kick their natural chase instinct into high gear, and your Italian Greyhound could be off having the time of his life until he can’t find his way home or gets hit by a car.
However, lure coursing in a fenced-in field is a great way to allow your Italian Greyhound to be the dog he was bred to be without worrying if he will make it back to you. Not all dogs, even sighthounds, will automatically decide that a plastic bag or rabbit skin tied to a string is something they should chase.
You may be able to find an event like a pet expo during the summer that has a small lure coursing field for your dog to try. Sometimes a dog will get very excited watching other dogs run and have the whole thing figured out by watching others. If your dog pulls and barks while other dogs run, you probably have a natural lure courser.
Other dogs might need a little practice. You can use the following technique on any dog at home, whether you end up lure coursing them or not. Start with a stuffed animal skin tied to a 4 to 5 foot string. First you will want to get your dog excited to play. If your dog is taking his afternoon nap, you’ll get better results if you wait until he is in play mode. Holding an end of the string, pull the toy along the ground and use quick words, like “get it!”, to encourage your dog. If they jump for the toy, praise them. Get your dog worked up a bit and see if you can get them to run around you in circles as you pull the toy along the ground. Make sure you clear any furniture so you don’t have to worry about them running into anything.
If you have a fenced in yard, you can extend this idea by using a lunge whip instead of string. A lunge whip usually has a 6 foot handled shaft and a 6 foot lash, giving you around 12 feet to attach a stuffed animal skin to and drag around your yard. I crouch down and twirl the whip around my head so I don’t have to turn in circles. The shaft gives you more control than you would have with a 12 foot long string. However, you need to have room to do this in your yard. You don’t want your dog running full speed into a tree, deck or fence while he is chasing the toy.
Lure Coursing Risks
Lure Coursing does have risks. The string the lure is tied to runs very fast (depending on how fast your dog runs) and rope burns are common. Usually, my IGs have a red mark or two on their legs after they run, but they clear up in a couple days. Most accidents happen at the turns where a dog can break a toe on the corner pulley or even a leg if they torque too much to make a corner. Again, a skilled lure operator will keep the lure far enough ahead of the dog to lead them into the turns. You must be prepared to pay for any injury incurred by your dog when they lure course, just as you would if your child was injured playing a sport. Also, if your IG is tiny and more prone to leg breaks or totally out of shape, lure coursing is probably not a good idea.
If you get the lure coursing bug and want to do more than just lure course your dog for fun, Italian Greyhounds are a breed recognized by the two main two main sanctioning bodies in the US (ASFA and AKC) to compete. You can register any full breed Italian Greyhound through AKC for an Indefinite Listing Privilege which says you’ve submitted a photo of your dog and the AKC agrees it looks like an Italian Greyhound. Once your dog is registered, you can look up events online where you can start competing with your dog.