The Oldest of Dog Sports

A Lure Coursing test is a non-competitive event at which instinct tests and qualifying tests are run for eligible sighthound breeds. These are pass/fail events and are conducted by a club that’s a member of, or licensed by, the AKC.

The AKC Coursing Ability Test (CAT) is an introductory event fashioned after lure coursing, and it’s open to all breeds. It tests a dog’s basic coursing instinct or hunting-by-sight ability, and dogs love it.  Before we get to some interesting coursing history, watch the video below to get an idea of these events:

Coursing is probably the oldest of all sports done with a dog, and it was popular with both the ancient Greeks and Romans. By the Middle Ages, however, ownership of sighthounds in most countries was prohibited by law for all but the aristocracy. In fact, England’s King Canute passed a law that said Greyhounds couldn’t be owned by any person inferior to a gentleman in rank.

By the reign of Elizabeth I, it was still popular, and it was Elizabeth who directed her Earl Marshal to draw up the first rules of coursing. Named The Laws of the Leash, this book of rules laid out how gazehounds should be handled on the course, and how to judge which dog won the match.

Fast forward to the reign of George III, and coursing was still popular, but it was primarily a private sport conducted on the great estates of royalty and aristocracy. As the sport gained popularity, however, more gentlemen got interested in matching their hounds against others (for a wager, of course). In 1776, the Earl of Orford founded the first English coursing club, and other coursing clubs followed.

The rules for membership in all of these coursing clubs was based on the rules Lord Orford had established for his Swaffham Coursing Society. Membership was only open to gentlemen, and was limited to twenty-six members at any time because there were only twenty-six letters in the alphabet. Usually, the most prestigious or powerful members took the initial letter of their name or title, and everyone else (read: those of a lesser rank) was stuck with the letters no one else wanted. The choice of letter was important because each member had to name all of his dogs with names beginning with the letter allocated to them. All of the Earl of Sefton’s Greyhounds, for example, had to have names that began with “S.”  Club membership, in many cases, was handed down from one generation to the next, so even the death of a member might not free up a particular letter in that club for many generations.

Horse racing may have been the sport of English kings, but for most of its history, coursing was a sport reserved by law for English gentlemen, and rank had its privileges.

For more on these AKC tests, click here.

Image: Photo credit: Dogman08 DSC05730 via photopin (license)

2 thoughts on “The Oldest of Dog Sports”

  1. Sighthounds, in this case a young Borzoi bitch, love to chase and catch plastic bags!!

    • Fabulous picture, Leigh, thanks for sharing it! How old is this little lady? Is there an appropriate age to start a dog out on coursing?

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