Is the "Sport" Good for Dogs?
By H.V. Lloyd
With the introduction of the mechanical "hare" into the field of "coursing" the thoughts of thinking men and women will doubtless be turned towards the advantages or disadvantages, as the case may be, to the canine race arising therefrom. The particular species of dog in question is, of course, the Greyhound, a breed whose origin is shrouded in the dim ages of the past. The prototypes of the Greyhound can be traced back some four or five thousand years and there is every evidence that the hounds of that time very much the same as our present day dogs were used for the running down of swift game. It was in 1776 that the first Coursing Club was established, followed by others at various intervals, and among those of note, the Waterloo Cup, 1836, is perhaps the best known of them all. The National Coursing Club, formed in 1858, is now the governing body in all matters relating to Coursing.
This brief history is given with the purpose of illustrating that the Greyhound is not mechanically inclined, either by Nature, instinct, or training. His role has been "the chase", and the hunting of the living quarry. What then will be the ultimate result of introducing the "mock course" to an animal whose characteristics are so essentially attuned to the real thing!
The solving of the problem, at the present stage of events, can only be one of conjecture, but it is not outside the realms of possibility that the theorizing of the moment might materialize into concrete facts with the passing of time. Let it be hoped that such will not be the case in this instance.
To put it bluntly, the Greyhound is being badly "had" by inciting him to give of his best efforts, in return for which he does not even have the "animal" satisfaction of making a "kill". The Press comments of the recent meeting held in Manchester specially emphasize the very apparent amazement of the dogs when the "hare" suddenly disappeared from view. It is not unreasonable to assume that this amazement was both justified and real. Furthermore, that their minds and no-one will deny that dogs have minds and the power to think must have been more than a little troubled.
It will doubtless be argued that even at a genuine "course" the hare is not always laid by the heels. True, but the dog sees its quarry disappear under normal conditions and must at least feel that he has had a genuine "run" for his money! How long will it be before the Greyhound, in the new state of things, realizes that there is something lacking? How long will it be before he feels it is no use "trying" because he knows before he starts that the "hare" will escape?
A dog is not a machine. He is, therefore, "out of tune" or will be in time with mechanical hares and all things unnatural. It may so happen that a new breed of racing greyhounds will be evolved: a hound who from puppyhood days knows no other quarry than the "machine". It needs but little imagination to visualize this dog of the future a dog whose only object in life is to cater for the betting propensities of their owners and the public. Heaven forbid.
Every dog, no matter whether it be a greyhound or a fox terrier, possesses the joy of life and living coursing through his veins. That fact alone is one of the strongest links between the animals, human and canine. The spirit of the chase likewise is instinctive in both. Let us apply the practice of mechanical coursing to other sporting pastimes! Put the question to the huntsman those who chase the fox under conditions that give the quarry a sporting chance to escape. Ask him how he would like to habitually "ride to hounds" with a mechanical fox as the incentive and never a "kill" at the end of a day's run! If the foxhound could express his opinion, what would he say? Here again, it may be argued that the two phases of sport are not on a parallel basis. It will be claimed that "scent" plays the important part in fox hunting, whereas in coursing it is "sight" that matters most. Maybe, but the scenting instinct of the greyhound is second to none, and who will say that "scent" is not a predominating factor in the coursing of a live hare?
Is the mechanical hare gifted with the "aroma" of the hedgerows and the field? Is it gifted with the tactics of self-defence, such as changing its course when in full flight, as in the case of a live hare being chased or coursed. It is the unnatural running of "the machine" that must in due course develop unnatural running in the dog. Time will tell!
In any case, there would appear to be sound grounds for doubting the wisdom of developing greyhound racing stock on race-track lines.
Dealing with the case on a psychological aspect, a great deal depends on how one views a dog's mentality. It may or may not be accepted that a dog is almost human in its brain power. The fact remains that to ignore its normal animal instincts, of which the power to think and act are among the foremost, is to undermine and unbalance a dog's mentality altogether.
Take the matter of feeding, for example. The dog is a carnivorous animal and this fundamental fact is recognized both by the breeder and the manufacturer of dog foods, in the origination of a dog's diet. To attempt and the experiment has often been made to feed a dog on a farinaceous diet entirely is but to court trouble at the outset. Meat is a necessity; hence the inclusion of an adequate quantity of meat in an ordinary dog biscuit. To carry the argument to its logical conclusion, dog biscuit, whether it be the square variety or the broken, commonly known as hound or terrier meal, is a diet which appeals to a dog's sense of taste, satisfies his hunger and at the same time provides his digestive organs with a type of fuel (and food is bodily fuel) which is easily and naturally assimilated into the system.
Even breeders of Greyhounds will be among the first to extol the merits of dog biscuits. No one would dream of offering a dog an imitation dog biscuit. You may, perhaps, "have" a dog once in that way but the second and subsequent times he would "fight shy". The chances are that he would in future turn from the thing that was good for him and take to scavenging.
Likewise the imitation "hare".
For a time the Greyhound will chase it under the illusion that it is a genuine performance. But will he be such a fool remembering that he has behind him many centuries of "love of the chase" to continue with the same degree of enthusiasm and zest when he finds out, as he will sooner or later, that the hare is a myth and uncatchable? To catch a hare, to fasten his teeth and make his "kill" is the instinctive driving force of the coursing dog. Eliminate the accomplishment of sustained effort, either of a man or beast and substitute the unattainable, there can be but one finale.
Once again Greyhounds are not mechanically minded neither are they lovers of false virtues. There is a good moral to be learnt from the example of the imitation dog biscuit and the imitation hare.
The KENNEL GAZETTE, May 1927
Some wolfhounds do lose interest in lure coursing once they catch the "hare" but most seem to simply enjoy the chance to chase something that moves - the fast move away from them setting off their hunting instinct which is strengthened by there being at least one other dog involved which has to be beaten to the prey.
Interestingly, the artist Cecil Aldin tried out a rather limited version of a lure course [all the dogs being held on leash] in 1927, following what we would now think of as a Limited Show, and which was - luckily - filmed by British Pathé under the title of "Bonzo's Beano" and can be viewed here http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=15626. The winner of the course was Cecil Aldin and his wolfhound Mick.
Lure coursing is nowadays the most common form of the sport, despite H.V. Lloyd's belief that dogs would quickly lose interest. A video of a lure coursing session can be seen on youTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTkMehy645M.
|http://www.iwadv.org/coursing.htm||The Irish Wolfhound Association of the Delaware Valley (USA)|
|http://www.asfa.org/||The American Sighthound Field Association|
|http://www.iwclubofamerica.org/trainingcoursing||The Irish Wolfhound Club of America page on training for lure coursing|
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