Lure coursing: Quite the sight

Local lure coursing enthusiasts will get an intimate insider view of one of the dog world’s fastest sports at a sighthound trials this Saturday. On Jan. 4, the American Sighthound Field Association and champion sighthound breeders Scott and Ceil Dove will host a trial at the Dove’s Foxcliffe near Flint Hill.

Sighthounds of at least a dozen pure specialty breeds ranging from sleek Greyhounds to diminutive Whippets, as well as an array of sniffers, herders, retrievers, chasers, visiting farm dogs and an assortment of mutts are expected at the event.

“It’s a fun trials, more of a practice than a serious competition. We open it up to everybody, real sighthounds and just neighborhood pets,” explained Gainesville veterinarian and trial host Scott Dove. He explained that he sets a quarter-mile course that loops around a big hayfield. A mechanical lure – white plastic bags, really – move along on a string that whips around bends and turns in order to attract the dogs’ keen eyesight.

Unlike other hunting breeds that rely on their sense of smell, “a sighthound courses with their sense of sight,” explained Whippet competitor Cynthia Daily of Middleburg. “They ‘fall back’ to hunting by scent if they lose sight of the (lure, or quarry), but they hunt best with their eyes.

“They follow their instinct,” Daily said.

Dove said practice trials are aimed at channeling championship performance in young dogs, and providing a fun way for dog lovers unfamiliar with sighthound coursing a hands-on introduction. “At a ‘real’ competition, they don’t slow down the lure or help you out or anything,” he said. “If your dog loses the course, you just don’t get a score.”

Dove knows from experience: with wife Ceil, he bred, raised and campaigned 2011 Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show Foxcliffe Hickory Wind — the first Scottish Deerhound to win the prestigious honor.

“It’s a chance to ‘show’ without any pressure” like dogs and handlers both undergo at big events like Westminster, and larger coursing events like an upcoming sanctioned sighthound trials in Pennsylvania, champion dog handler Angela Lloyd said. “These low-key trials bring a lot of people together for a common interest.

“Plus, it’s fun.”

More information is available on the American Sighthound Field Association Web site at www.ASFA.org or by calling the Doves at (540) 364-1762.