Dogsavers: Good Course Plans

PATRICIA GAIL BURNHAM

Views about course plans vary from one part of the country to another.

Here it is at last, show and tell time. After three issues of discussion about course plans, it is time to look at the real thing. First, I would like to thank John and Beth Anne Gordon, who were responsible for this series. They were providing great hospitality while I was judging the International, When I discussed course plan theory enough, Mrs. Gordon suggested that I devote an article to it. When I protested that what we had been talking about was common knowledge, she said, "It may be common knowledge where you come from, but it is not common knowledge here." She was correct. Views about course plans vary from one part of the country to another. Even worse, these ideas were common knowledge in California eight years ago among people who ran both lure and open field. Every five years, in any dog sport, 80% of the people are replaced with new ones. You lose information along with those people, until what was once common knowledge becomes rare. That can have very serious effects on the dogs themselves, for reasons that I will post-pone until the end of this article. First, the course plans . . . and a little history.

When lure coursing was first started there were only two possible course plans. You either ran on course plan "A" or course plan "B." Most of the stakes were mixed. That is, Greyhounds, Whippets, Afghans and Salukis all ran against each other in trios. A club could hold a breed stake for its own breed, but that was the exception. Generally, in large mixed stakes, the Whippets and Greyhounds dominated the placements. That made owners of the other breeds unhappy, and gave them the incentive to hold breed stakes where they only had to run against their own breed. By the time I started lure coursing in 1975, any breed with an entry of four would only run against others of its breed. Clubs had more freedom to design their own course plans. There were three sample course plans and two rules: First, no angle at a pulley could exceed 90 degrees, and second, a 90 degree turn had to be followed by a straight at least 100 yards long.

They were designed for drag lure, but can be modified for continuous loop. They are perfectly legal course plans that can be used successfully today. (The first one would need to have distance added to it to raise the total to that currently recommended.) Take a look at them. Each of them contains at least one straight longer than 100 yards, for judging speed. They also contain a series of turns in which each turn is less than 90 degrees. When all of the turns are added together they total less than 400 degrees. These courses are what the folks who invented lure coursing thought was a reasonable course on which to judge a dog; it is a good idea to remember this when you evaluate other course plans, especially those in the bad example section (coming in the next installment).

The three sample course plans are shown here.
(Figures #1, #2 and #3)

A note on cumulative turn totals: Adding up the total changes of direction that a dog goes through in a course is a good way to determine how realistic is a course plan. Real rabbit courses generally involve fairly long courses where the cumulative total of the turns will be less than 400 degrees. Rabbits prefer to turn about 45 degrees and never make a running turn of more than 90 degrees, since that would mean heading back towards the dogs. Rabbits are not stupid. They will occasionally drop to the ground, let the dogs overrun them, and head back the way they have come in a full reversal. This is a rare event, and when it happens, everything comes to a brief stop, then everyone gets underway again. That is nothing to base course design on unless you are prepared to halt the lure at the pulley for each turn greater than 90 degrees. The LCM dogs would love that!

Plan #4 is a longer version of plan #1, modified for continuous lure. It has less than 360 degrees of total turns and has initial straights of at least 100 yards in both directions. Folks who are used to more complex plans may wonder whether this plan will give a cutting dog a chance to reveal himself. A few months ago I judged on this course in Seattle and enjoyed it thoroughly. The cutting dogs would cut in the middle of the 175 yard straight. They could not believe a lure could go that far without turning. It really let them give themselves away. Cutting on the straight gave them a disadvantage, instead of the advantage in a turn that a cutter usually gains over a true-running dog.

I really admire the simplicity of plan #5. The total turns are 360 degrees. There are three nice long straights. None of the turns exceed 90 degrees, with most of them much less. Because the turns are all in the same direction, you have to reverse this course for the finals. Otherwise, you will not be able to tell if the dogs can turn equally well in both directions. There are a few racing Greyhounds who turn great to the left, which is the direction they turn on the track, but have a problem with right turns. A dog fresh off the track may never have seen a right turn, and may keep running straight at the corner. A little practice usually takes care of that. A good grade A racer who runs until his retirement at age five may never turn as well to the right as to the left.

Plan #6 is getting tighter. It still has decent straights off the start in both directions. Four of the turns are close to 90 degrees, and there is only 50 to 75 yards after them, instead of 100. The turn total is still less than 400 degrees, and this is a far better course than some that will be shown in the bad course installment.

Again, in course plan #7, the turn is less than 400 degrees with some substantial straights. This course will run better in the direction shown than it will when it is reversed. In this direction the dogs will have 600 yards to burn off their early speed before they handle the 75-yard sections and turns. On the reversal they will start right off into the turns and will be trying to handle them at higher speeds.

Course plan #8 was affectionately known as the "ice cream cone." It was used for several of the Greyhound specialty courses that were held at the Santa Barbara Kennel Club shows, from 1976 through 1980. Again, the total turns are less than 400 degrees, and all of the turns are less than 90 degrees. There are 200 yard straights off the start and finish to test run-up speed and endurance, and the course runs the same in both directions. This field was the size of a polo field four soccer fields laid side by side. For those who think that these turns are too gentle, and that dogs should be able to turn on a dime (or a pulley), let me point out that only slow dogs can do that. Fast dogs may need more room. With this course plan we put several track dogs through the spectators. The dogs would be zipping through the crowd, trying to turn right and peeking through knees to keep the lure in view. The spectators were fenced back from the course.

Bonnie Dalzell submitted plan #9 as a good example, and I like it. It is basically the ice cream cone flipped inside out. There are the same long start and finish straights. The difference is that instead of one full circle, the dogs have to make one and a half circles, increasing the turn total to 600 degrees. I am not sure what benefit the extra turns would be. Usually 400 degrees of total turn in a course is plenty to afford the judges to see if a dogs can turn well. None of the turns are greater than 90 degrees, and most are less. That, alone, would make this plan much better than most of the plans from its part of the country.

Plan #10 was sent with a "migawsh" written on it I presume it was intended as a poor example, but I think it has some good qualities. It is a free-way cloverleaf. All it requires a dog to do is lean to one side and keep turning in the direction shown. The dog just keeps looping to the right. On the reversal he keeps looping to the left. There are four 100-yard or better straights, and no turns greater than 90 degrees. The only problem is that the turn total is close to 850 degrees, which is twice what is needed. There are worse things, though, as you will see later.

Plans #11 and #12 are both simple, open course plans that have less than 400 degrees of total turn and are easy to judge. The more complicated a course plan, the more confused and unpredictable the judging is likely to be. One of the benefits of simple course plans is that the exhibitors tend to agree with the judging.

Course plan #13, and #14 are beautiful in operation, but they require a nearly extinct type of lure machine the fully-reversible continuous loop. That is a machine which the direction of the drive wheel can be reversed at the push of a button. Bud Pine developed it and this first course plan is his. It was set on the Golden Gate Polo Field on a cold, foggy day. It was beautiful. The dogs only ran the part of the course shown by a solid line. The dotted parts indicate line on the field that is not part of the course. The dogs were slipped and ran out to R-1. The turn from the 175-yard straight to the 25-yard offset would pull them away from the lure line, and at R-1 the lure would be reversed. The dogs simply finished the turn they were already in, completing a small circle, and came back to the lure as it ran back down the long straight. Preliminaries and finals were run in the same direction. The difference was that the finals were longer, with two more reversals the second, at R-2, to take the dogs out another time, and the third, back at R-1, for the turn toward home. The preliminaries were 800 yards long, and the finals were 1400 yards. It was such a cold day that the dogs didn't seem to mind the distance, and the course ran beautifully.

I thought course plan #14 was so much fun that we used it at the Greyhound Specialty that year. The two 25-yard offsets are to pull the dogs into the turns and away from the lure line to clear the lure for reversal. The course is not reversed for the final; it always starts into the long straight. The finals are just a different number of laps than the preliminaries. The path the dogs run is like a dumbbell a long straight with a loop on each end.I lament the passing of the fully reversible lure machine. It not only is needed for several of my favorite course plans, but it was the best device ever invented for retraining lure-wise dogs. We would set up a plan like #14, and every time the dog cut away from the lure, the lure would be reversed. It was quite effective.

Course #15 is a course that one little change can fix. Twenty-five yards is an inadequate distance between two 90 degree turns. If we cross out that 25 and write in 100 this becomes a recommendable plan with a total of 450 degrees of turns and some worthwhile straights.

Plan #16 is another course that has some interesting qualities but needs a little help. The designer drew in rounded turns, and wrote that the turns would be rounded. This is a nice touch, but, again, 30 yards is not enough distance for a dog to completely reverse his direction and head back the other way. I am offering Plan #16A as the same plan with the turns widened. This plan does have 630 degrees of turn which is 50% more than it needed, but is still possible to run.

Before we take up the wretched course plan in general, I would like to compare the two course plans that were run in desert conditions.

Plan #17 is a nice little course that should be safe under desert conditions. The turns are all gentle. The legs are rather short, which is likely to lead an experienced dog to check his speed to be prepared for even more turns. The turn total is less than 400 degrees. Contrast this to the next one.

I thought I'd get plan #18 out of the way, since it is my all-time least favorite course plan. If it were run on grass it would merely be poor, instead of disastrous. It happens to be the course on which Tiger shattered his hock while running it in the loose sand. Two 90 degree pulleys with 30 yards between them in desert conditions is an invitation to finding a very good orthopaedic surgeon. This course plan also has 630 degrees of total turn, which is on the high side if it were grass, and is much too high for sand.

Now that this plan is out of the way, we can go on to the really wretched course plans . . . ones that are dreadful . . . even on grass . . . next issue.

This is the fourth installment of a series which was written in 1986 and originally appeared in The Windhound.

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