The American Lurcher
The “underdog of underground racing”, the Midwest American Lurcher is a by-product of the oval racing industry, typically 7/8 Greyhound and essentially like a Grey. Since the late 1940’s, they have been bred for wagered sporting events – field trial races on rough tracks or swim races – held on private lands, sportsman clubs, or on state lands.
These closest relatives to the NGA Greyhound may look and behave like extended family members, but the Lurcher’s working life is different. Instead of racing once or twice a week, a Midwest American Lurcher will race a series of heats over one or two days, usually on weekends. The winning dog will have participated and won multiple races in this time. Their training consists of “roading”, the practice of running a leashed dog from a moving vehicle. Typically, Lurchers are not crated indoors but live outside, yearlong, chained to doghouses. Unless they are rescued, most will never see toys or treats or know the luxury of sleeping inside on a comfy roaching-bed. They will have no reason to brandish that goofy Lurcher (or would that be a Greyhound?) smile.
Yet without an NGA tattoo, with the addition of hunting dog bloodlines (usually 1/8 coonhound or Whippet in the Midwest, though swim dogs may be half coonhound), and with their own special story still generally unknown, these sweet deserving dogs have – until recently – been left unconnected to loving families when they are no longer fast enough. Most racing Lurchers do not make it to adoption. While some owners are more responsible and find places in their community for their retired Lurchers, more often than not, the dogs that are no longer performing to their owners’ satisfaction are disposed of.
The American Lurcher Rescue Project
Like the Greyhound Project Inc., the American Lurcher Rescue Project raises awareness about the dogs’ plight and promotes their post-career adoption. The American Lurcher Project is not yet an adoption group, but rescues Lurchers who have been abandoned, are no longer wanted, or are in immediate danger, and provides basic and sometimes more extensive medical care if needed (e.g. vaccinations, Capstar treatment, Frontline and Heartworm test). The hardworking team of volunteers finds loving forever homes for these dogs by transporting them to responsible adoption groups throughout the United States and Canada.
The Lurcher as a pet
Lurchers make excellent pets. Like Greyhounds, they are social, smart and have a sense of humor. Depending on their age (they can live 12-14 years) and type of breed they are mixed with, Lurchers may be more energetic than Greyhounds. Their size and weight are within the greyhound range. Coming to their forever home from an outside environment, their coats (available in any of the greyhound colors) may be fluffier or thicker but, within a few months of indoor living, they lose their farm coat and become sleeker.
The usual “greyhound rules” apply to Lurchers. They must live indoors. They have low body fat and are not tolerant of extreme temperatures. When outside, they should be leashed or supervised in a fenced yard (invisible/underground fencing is not an acceptable containment system for Lurchers). They are chemical sensitive like the Greyhound. Precautions must be taken for the use of pesticides for flea/tick prevention and for lawn and garden care. Lurchers should be tested for their compatibility with cats, which may vary with the particular feline and circumstance. They normally come well socialized with other dogs, including small dogs. Their high-prey drive may be a challenge to the rabbits, squirrels and birds they encounter.
Also like Greyhounds, newly retired Lurchers will not have had home experience so they must be taught the rules of the house. They are easily housebroken and must learn about windows, mirrors, stairs and hardwood floors. They may benefit from basic obedience classes as long as the training is positive.
A real plus for the Lurchers is that the majority love children and adore being around kids of all ages. They will want to join in the activities of their family, including play with stuffed toys. Unlike most NGA Greyhounds, Lurchers will enjoy a game of fetch. They also love to sleep and roach.
They deserve the right to be champion coach potatoes.
American Lurcher Field Trials
Lurcher field trials developed in the United States nearly a century ago. Owners of hunting coonhounds would gather to test how well and how fast their coonhounds could track a raccoon and tree it. This is known as a coonhound field trial. This tradition continues today and is sanctioned by the United Kennel Club (UKC). It appears that in the early 20th century some owners bred just a little bit of greyhound into their coonhounds to try to make the dog a bit faster at tracking and treeing a raccoon. Over the years, more and more greyhound was bred into the dogs to the point that the sport evolved into lurcher field trials. Since lurchers are, by definition, a mixed breed dog, these field trials are not sanctioned by the UKC or the AKC.
Currently the lurchers used in American Lurcher Field Trials fall into two broad types: running dogs and swimming dogs. Running dogs typically are anywhere from ¾ greyhound to nearly pure greyhound. Swimming dogs tend to be about ½ greyhound. The sighthound portion of the dogs appear to be mostly greyhound although there may be a little bit of whippet in the dogs. The non sighthound part of the dogs is typically some type of coonhound.
Running dogs are primarily used for treeing field trials, although we have heard of them being used as pure racing dogs. Swimming dogs are used in swimming field trials.
TREEING FIELD TRIALS:
The course: Typically a path is mown though a field, ending in a tree or large pole. There may be some naturally occurring obstacles such as bushes or other trees. Snow fencing is often used at curves to help keep the dogs on the path. A raccoon in a cage is placed in the tree at the end of the course. A line is drawn around the tree/pole.
The event: The owners hold the dogs at the beginning of the course. The order is given to release the dogs and they race to the tree. Unlike National Greyhound Association (NGA) racing, bumping or otherwise impeding the other dogs is encouraged. The first dog that crosses the line drawn around the tree wins First Line. The first dog that reaches the tree, puts his paws on the tree and barks, wins First Tree.
There are various levels of competition, indicated by a dollar amount. A given dog has more chance of winning a lower level race (for example a $100 field trial) than a higher level (for example a $600 field trial). Typically, an owner would not risk a high quality dog by entering it into the lower level field trials where it might get injured. But unlike NGA greyhound racing, there are no regulations as to which dogs can compete at which levels.
The winning dog wins a purse for their owner. There is a purse for First Line and another purse for First Tree.
The events take place in heats over the course of 1 or 2 days. The dog that wins the finals will have won multiple races just to reach the finals.
There are also Claiming Races. For these events, you can buy a ticket for each dog. If you hold a ticket for the winning dog, you are entered into a lottery for the chance to purchase the dog for a predetermined price. If your ticket is pulled, the owner of the dog must sell it to you for that predetermined amount of money.
SWIMMING FIELD TRIALS
The course: A starting box is placed on one side of a pond. A tree or large pole is placed on the other side of the pond. A line is drawn around the tree/pole. The raccoon is placed in a cage on a small float in the pond. A line is attached to the float to pull the raccoon across the pond. Alternatively, the raccoon may be placed in a cage attached to a zip line that is just over the dogs’ heads. A line is attached to the cage to pull it across the pond.
The event: The dogs are released from the starting box and the raccoon is pulled across the water with the dogs swimming after it. The first dog that crosses the line drawn around the tree wins First Line. The first dog that reaches the tree, puts his paws on the tree and barks, wins First Tree.
As in the treeing event, the dogs are encouraged to do whatever it takes to win. Also like the treeing event, there are different levels of competition, the competition involves multiple heats, courses are won, and there are claiming races.
Let these dogs lurch into your heart
Those of you smitten by retired NGA Greyhounds (and who among us isn’t?) – by their beauty, intelligence, gentle impish nature, athleticism and unique working background – will love their sibling-cousin, the American racing Lurcher. There are over 5,000 of these hounds throughout the Midwest, from Iowa to Connecticut and, each month, dozens of Lurchers need new forever homes.