Competition lures dogs through course

One of the mightier contestants in Saturday’s lure coursing, Gertie, a 2-year-old French bulldog with well developed hind quarters, surprised spectators at how quickly she finished the 300-yard course.

One of the mightier contestants in Saturday’s lure coursing, Gertie, a 2-year-old French bulldog with well developed hind quarters, surprised spectators at how quickly she finished the 300-yard course. Photo by Alfred Diaz.

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WALLA WALLA — Of the four main dog trial and judging events at this weekend’s Walla Walla Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show, conformation still greatly outnumbers the other three events.

Show Chairman John Kerns said of 590 dogs entered, probably 550 were seeking championships and winning best of breed in the ring, where judges and handlers are often dressed in semi-formal wear and dogs are groomed from head to tail.

The event, started in 1940, has drawn hundreds of dogs and their owners or handlers for decades, including Alvin Lee of Battle Ground, Wash.

Lee entered his first Walla Walla Kennel Club show in 1962, and even before that he was attending the yearly show with his father.

“It’s a nice show. And people like us we bring a lot of money to this town. It’s a pleasant town. And the people are always nice to us,” Lee said, with one regret. “I was coming here when the Pastime was open and that was the place to eat.”

Though conformation is still top dog at the show, there are other competitions that will take place this weekend at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds, including obedience, rally and lure coursing. Of these, rally coursing is the newest addition to the AKC, and last year the Walla Walla Kennel Club dog show had more rally dogs than lure or obedience entries.

This year, however, top dog goes to the newest addition to the local show.

Lure coursing was added just last year, but on Saturday morning it beat out rally dogs 35 to 32.

“We brought it in for the interest. There has been much of that already and we had people in the club that are into it,” Kerns said.

It isn’t so much that the people are into it, but the dogs seem to take to it like they would chasing after a rabbit.

“It’s in their blood. They will pick it right up. It might take a couple times where you will take them around the course,” Tina Campbell of Weston said, as she helped sign up dogs for either the 300-yard or 600-yard course.

Lure coursing is actually a centuries-old competition taken very seriously by some sight hound owners. Dogs are awarded points on speed, agility, endurance, ability to follow and overall ability.

This weekend’s lure coursing competition is sponsored by the Inland Gaze Hound Association, which uses some modern tools and materials to test dogs.

The course is made by stretching 600 yards of string in a loop across the ground; varying turns are added. This weekend, the association used the grassy field at Garrison Middle School.

The string is driven by an electric motor that can move the line faster than the dogs can run. Prior to starting the line in movement, three plastic grocery sacks are attached to the line and the dog is encouraged to chase them. The motor operator climbs up a ladder so he can get better perspective when he is looking 200 yards out. Then the sacks and dog are sent off with a “tally-ho.”

The motor operator keeps the bags just ahead of the dog until the very end. In very few cases did the dogs needs to be encouraged to remain on the course, but one black lab did.

The dog, a first timer, stopped chasing the bags in the middle of the race to say “hi” to the judge and then went back to the chase.

“‘Man’s best friend’ is what I think with black labs. She had to go say ‘hi’ to him (the judge). But she is learning. And she will learn more every time,” Campbell said.

A large number of the 35 dogs that took part in the Saturday morning lure coursing were first timers. And as Campbell noted, almost all the first timers finished the course like pros. And a few took a nip at the bags at the end.

One seasoned lure course trainer, who runs his French bulldog on the 300-yard course, had this to say about the dogs’ instincts to chase: “The dogs love this because they have the prey drive and they want to chase the bunny.”

In addition to being a very natural sport that requires little training by the owner, the event is also open to mixed breeds. And it is open to dog owners who want to give it a try today.

The cost per race is $25, but all dogs must be registered with the AKC, either as a pedigree or an AKC Pal; owners must provide their dog’s AKC number.

Owners can also sign up their dogs as AKC Pals today. Pal memberships cost a one-time fee of $19 and are open to mixed breeds.

The lure course starts today at 9 a.m. and owners must arrive before the racing starts to register for the event.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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