Coursing slips look simple, but figuring out how to use them at the line when your dog is struggling to go chase the 'bunnies' can be extremely difficult! I always recommend practicing on your own leg or a tree in advance, so you don't fumble around as much with your slip at the line. An early slip at a CAT test can cost you a qualifying run, so holding onto your dog is extremely important.
Here's a quick guide on how to use a coursing slip.
First, let's talk about the Inactive Configuration. This is what I call the configuration where the slip lead is not set up for quick-release. Many people walk their dogs to the line with this configuration. However, since my dogs are rude at the line and won't stand still to allow me to completely remove the slip and change it to Active, I only use Inactive after we're done with our course.
Here is what Inactive Configuration looks like:
Step 1: Feed the leash through the dead ring like so. The dead ring is the ring right next to the leash portion of the slip, and the live ring is the ring on the very end of the neck piece.
Step 2: Feed the leash through the live ring like so.
Step 3: Double back, and feed the leash through the dead ring again, but from the opposite direction.
You're finished! Your slip lead is now securely around your dog's neck, and is not set up for "quick release." (Let's look a the finished product again, so you can see how all the steps come together.) You CANNOT release your dog at the line with this configuration.
Next, let's talk about Active Configuration. This is the configuration that allows you to let go of one end of the slip to instantly release your dog at the "T" in Tally-ho. I find it extremely difficult to switch from Inactive to Active at the line, and haven't fully grasped how to do it and still have my dog securely leashed.
Here is what Active Configuration looks like. At the line, the loop and the leash will not be held in one hand like in the photo. You will hold an end in each hand.
Step 1: Feed the leash through the dead ring.
Step 2: Feed the leash through the live ring.
Step 3: Feed the leash back through the live ring, but not over the live ring like you did in Inactive. At this point, it is very important that you hold tight onto the "loop" formed on the live ring's side. If you don't hold onto this loop, your dog could pull forward and escape! At this point, your coursing slip is active and is considered to be in a quick release position.
Step 4: Feed the leash back through the dead ring like so. Pull until the loop near the live ring is 6-8" long. Hold tightly onto that loop, and ball up all slack leash coming out of the dead ring in your hand. This is all about safety - a dangling leash end has the potential to get caught up on your dog's feet, which could result in serious injury. (Incidentally, this is why you don't want a overly long coursing slip. More length means more excess leash to worry about at the line.)
Let's look at the finished product one more time! When you hear the "T" in Tally-ho, simply let go of the loop coming out of the live ring. Don't pull on the leash at all - just let go. And remember - don't tell the hunt master you're ready until you're actually ready. It's perfectly okay to say you're not ready and that you need a bit more time. The hunt master will help you if needed.
So how can I get up to the line without switching from Inactive to Active? I know of two methods. One is what I jokingly call the Ridgeback Cowboy, in which you walk up to the line with your leash in Active, holding each end like a rein, with your dog between your legs. Here is a photo of Aryn utilizing this technique. To be honest, this is the technique I use as well. It's simpler, but you do need to make sure you've got a death grip on both ends of the slip.
The second method is something I see a lot of Whippet folks use. Basically, you set up your leash in Active configuration, then feed the leash end through the loop near the live ring. At the line, simply pull the leash back out the way it came. I've tried this in the past, but have had difficulty getting the leash back out. A 70-95lb dog can pull that quasi-knot so tight that it takes both hands just to get it free, and then of course you're left with a loop that is only about an inch long and needs to be lengthened. Below is a photo of this configuration. I call it the Whippet Lock.
I hope this little how-to guide has helped de-mystify the coursing slip for everyone!