Monday, September 30, 2013

Coursing Ability Test FAQs

Coursing Ability tests are quickly gaining popularity in the United States, and for good reason.  CAT tests are easy and fun, and your dog will most likely love it.  Getting started can be a bit confusing though, especially if you're not used to entering AKC events.  I've thrown together this FAQ for CAT tests in an effort to help everyone get started!

Q: What is a CAT test?
A: A CAT test is a pass/fail event based on the sport of competitive lure coursing.  Lure coursing itself is an event designed to mimic the pursuit of small game in an open field. All breeds and mixes can participate in CAT tests, while competitive Lure Coursing is limited to the sighthound breeds. Dogs run alone in CAT tests, and their courses are shorter and generally less challenging than sighthound courses.  

Yes, mixed breeds can participate in CAT tests!

Q: What is the lure?  What are the mechanics of this sport?
A: The lure consists of three plastic bags.  The course is designed to contain several changes of direction and turns.  The bags are affixed to a line, which runs through a series of pulleys and powered by a motor.  The speed of the lure is controlled by the lure operator, who matches the speed with your dog. 

Here is a sample course plan.  Note that this course also includes the course that the sighthounds would run in their LC trial.  

Q: How is my dog judged? How do they 'pass' a CAT test?
A: The dog must pursue the lure with enthusiasm and without interruption, and finish within the allotted time. The 300 yard course dogs are given 90 seconds, and the 600 yard course dogs are given two minutes.  That said, it is at the judge's discretion whether or not to pass your dog.  I have seen very old, very short dogs require much more than 90 seconds to complete their course but be awarded a Pass due to their determination and enthusiasm.  See the photo below - this senior Dachshund took about 4 minutes to complete her course, but she Passed due to her unwavering pursuit of her quarry. You can see how she didn't want to let go, even after her owner picked her up!

Q: What titles can my dog earn?
Three total passes will earn your dog the CA (Coursing Ability) title.  Ten total passes will earn your dog the CAA (Coursing Ability Advanced) title. Twenty-five total passes will earn your dog the CAX (Coursing Ability Excellent) title.  Each additional 25 passes adds a number to the end of your CAX.... so CAX2 is 50 total passes, CAX3 is 75 total passes, etc.

Q: What are the official AKC regulations for CAT tests?

Q: How do I find an event?
A: Go to the AKC's Event and Awards Search.  Click the tab that says Event Search.  Under the Event Type drop-down box, choose Coursing Ability Test.  You can also narrow your search for time range and state.  

Q: How do I enter an event?
A: To enter, you need to get an entry form from the club putting on the test.  This is located in the premium list.  If you cannot find the premium list, you can contact the club and they will most likely be able to email it to you.  READ THE PREMIUM LIST CAREFULLY - it will tell you everything you need to know about that particular event.

Q: How do I fill out the entry form, and where do I send it?
Keep in mind you need an entry form for each event.  If there are two CAT tests being held, you need two entry forms. Even if day-of-show entries are offered, it is highly recommended that you pre-enter.  Spots fill quickly, and it'll save you money.  Read the premium list carefully, as it will tell you where to send your entries, who to make out your check to, how much you need to pay in entries, etc.  

Here is a sample entry form.  You will need to fill out your dog's information (breed, call name, registered name, parents, breeder, date of birth, sex, registration or ILP/PAL number), your information (name, address, sometimes phone and/or email), and the information specific to the test itself.  In this case, the sample dog is a Doberman with an AKC #, so the entry form would have '600 yard' and 'AKC No' checked.  Be sure to sign and date your entry at the very bottom.  You will need to mark TEST (not Trial) and mark you dog's course length.  Keep reading to learn how to know which course length your dog will run!

Q: How do I know which course length my dog will run?
Dogs under 12" at the withers (shoulders) will run the 300 yard course.  Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs will run the 300 yard course.  Everyone else runs the 600 yard course.  I have seen some judges allow Boxers to run the 600 yard course, but it's not the norm. If you ask to have your Boxer run the 600 (and I recommend against it) be prepared to be told No.

Q: How old does my dog have to be to participate in a CAT?
Your dog must be at least 12 months old. Practice runs are often offered by lure coursing clubs though, so be sure to ask if your puppy can run a shorter course for fun and experience!

Q: What training does my dog need in order to course?
A good recall is strongly recommended, but other than that there is no training needed.  Lure coursing is an instinct sport, which means it tests a dog's natural ability. You don't give your dog any commands or direction while the course is in progress, and only call your dog after the course is complete or when instructed to do so.

Q: How do I prepare my dog for a CAT test?
A: Get them in shape! Before each event, your dog will be inspected for lameness and poor physical condition.  If your dog is in poor shape, you may not be allowed to course.  

Q: Wait, my dog will be inspected?  How does that work?
A: Every dog must be inspected before they run. You will trot your dog away and back, and the inspector will watch for signs of limping or other physical issues that may hinder the dog's ability to safely course.  Females will also have their girl parts wiped with bath tissue to verify that they are not in season.

Q: Do I need any special equipment?
Technically, no.  Dogs running in CAT tests may wear a regular collar with no hanging tags, but it is not recommended and I have seen judges request that collars be removed.  Many people use special coursing slip leads.  I recommend using a coursing slip lead, especially if your dog is quite keen on the lure and/or if you plan on pursuing titles beyond the basic CA.  I usually recommend people buy coursing slips from Colorful Collars by Rae.  You do need to bring water for your dog, as well as some form of containment.  Most people keep their dogs in their vehicles.  If it is too hot for this, a crate or a covered, secure exercise pen is recommended.  

Q: Why do I need to contain my dog?
If your dog gets loose and runs onto the field while another dog is coursing, you will be fined by the club.  You will also not make any friends by letting your dog interfere with another dog's run. 

Q: Can my dog get hurt doing this sport?
A: Yes, but every effort is made to ensure the safety of the dogs and their handlers.  If your dog has soft pads and the ground is very hard and dry, minor paw pad injuries might occur.  Stepping on the line or getting tangled in the line can cause abrasions, but the workers all have scissors and are ready to cut the line if your dog becomes tangled.  Poor leash handling can cause injury as well, so be sure you listen to the hunt master and make sure your leash is not dangling.  Pulled muscles and soreness can also occur if your dog isn't in shape, and occasionally dogs can break their toes.  All of these injuries are rare though, and no more common than injuries that could potentially occur in any other sport.

Q: What do I do once I arrive at the coursing field?
First, find someone who can check you in. Second, have your dog inspected. Third, walk your dog so he poops and pees before he goes coursing. Fourth, pay attention and be ready when the paddock master calls for you.  If the CAT test is in conjunction with a lure coursing trial, the CAT is usually after the trial.  Really, just read the premium list for this information... every club runs their tests a bit differently.

Q: You keep mentioning the hunt master.  What is their job? 
A: The hunt master is the person at the line that gives you the command to release your dog and collect your dog.  They will check to make sure your leash isn't dangling and that you are ready to release your dog, and check with the lure operator and judge to make sure they are ready.  The hunt master will give you the Tally-ho. Also be on the lookout for the paddock master. The paddock master is in charge of getting dogs ready for their turn to course, and will be the person letting you know that your turn is coming up!

Q: Are CAT tests held in a 100% fenced area?
Some are, but most aren't.  This is why a good recall is important!

Q: Will lure coursing make my dog kill cats?
Probably not.  If your dog is already safe around cats, lure coursing probably won't change that.  My dogs are lure coursing monsters, but they ignore my cats.  You may see an increase in prey/chase drive towards squirrels and bunnies though!  I should also mention that the first time your dog sees a plastic shopping bag fluttering across the Petsmart parking lot, you'd better hold on for dear life!

If you have any additional questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to find you an answer!

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