The muscles in the dog’s back rippled as it banged his front feet into the turf. It then thrust off with its powerful back legs. These legs were precision pistons and within two seconds this beautifully muscled, jet black dog was at full speed. And what a speed. Its legs were a blur and each stride exceeded ten feet. Its shoulders moved rhythmically like a fast ticking Swiss watch. Its secondary thighs flexed and reflexed like perfectly balanced, well-oiled machinery and they drove it forward faster than can be imagined. It gained inexorably on its prey.
It was fluid. It was poetry in motion. It was a tremendous example of an animal bred to find, chase and catch its quarry. It had a far-seeing eye and long white canines. Its jaw was wider than that of a pure greyhound or whippet and its bite was awesome. It was a prime example of a killing machine.
It was running at top speed.
Quite suddenly it appeared to slow down. What was happening? The landscape was still rushing passed at a great rate of knots so why did it appear to be slowing down?
It was an illusion. It was still travelling at the same amazingly quick speed but unbelievably it was being overtaken!
What kind of animal was this that had the ability to pass something as fast as this?
It was its kennel mate – the speed freak.
This dog was also well-muscled but lighter and leaner in build and bone. Both had reached full size, were now exactly twenty-three-and-a-half-inches at the shoulder. The first dog had large, highly developed muscles and was built on the lines of an Olympic hundred metre sprinter crossed with a weightlifter. It was fast, very fast. The second one was built on the lines of a four hundred metre runner, leaner and with longer muscles. It had a narrower muzzle and took a fraction longer to get into top gear – maybe an extra half a second but it was even faster. It was unbelievably, blindingly, blisteringly quick. Everyone who saw it at top speed was astonished.
The speed freak reached the hare first but sailed by when it jinked.
The bruiser benefited by the hare’s change of direction and settled in behind it. It had coursed a number of these wonderful creatures with varying success.
The speed freak, never having seen a hare let alone coursed one and having lost many yards at the first turn, had to get back on track and close with the hare. With its ferocious pace it didn’t take it very long.
Now the dogs were running side by side with the speed freak occasionally easing ahead. It lost patience and could not resist the temptation to try for the strike. The hare jinked again, this time more abruptly, turned on a sixpence and went back the other way.
The bruiser had anticipated this move, used its great strength to muscle itself round and was soon back to full speed and on the hare’s scut.
The speed freak had not anticipated the move and this time sailed a long way past. No matter. It turned a bit clumsily but lit the after-burners and once again soon regained its position.
The hare reached a sheep-netting fence and without any decrease in speed went through it. The bruiser saw the fence and cleared it in style; not that the fence was very high, but had it been it would have cleared that also. It was an amazing jumper.
The younger dog, the speed freak, saw the hare go through the fence and ignoring the lead given by his mate attempted to follow the hare. Fortunately, the wire was very slack and arrested the dog’s impetus quite slowly without inflicting any serious injuries. It extracted itself and then it too jumped the fence albeit inelegantly. It caught its back leg on the top wire which was barbed and suffered a three-inch gash. It was full of adrenaline and didn’t heed the pain. But now it was a good thirty yards behind its kennel-mate and forty behind the hare.
The bruiser had settled in nicely and was keeping a few feet back waiting for the hare to make an error from which it may benefit.
Surely it was just a matter of time.
Running dogs need speed; a serious reduction in a dog’s speed usually, repeat usually, results in fewer things caught. Speed is vital. If a dog cannot catch up with its prey it cannot catch it. I acknowledge that the majority of running dogs, unless they are complete lulus, can catch up with a hare depending on how much law it is given.
Most working long dogs are faster than the underestimated, humble rabbit so why do many get away? The rabbit is an outstanding example of a quarry which, in the daylight and with cover handy, tests the best running dogs. We’ve all caught daylight rabbits using just one dog, but I suspect not many have come home with big bags. It is ten times easier to catch bunnies at night, but I would rather catch two daylight rabbits, miss maybe a half dozen, than bag twenty on the lamp.
I have had terriers that were excellent rabbit catchers in the bushes but were hardly speed merchants but then that was not their game. I had two running dogs that possessed that uncanny ability to know where a rabbit is going to go and ambush it but as good as they were my best daylight bag was, if memory serves, eight. That was not in my native Surrey (which is heavily wooded with a plethora of bramble strongholds) but on the moors of Lancashire. In bramble-infested Surrey I had one dog that caught five one halcyon day. The rest of my running dogs, some brilliant at foxes, deer and O.K. on hares, could only catch daylight rabbits now and again. I know not all parts of Surrey are as I’ve described but it is the most heavily wooded of all the counties of England (and maybe Scotland, Wales and Ireland?)
How many daylight rabbits are caught when there is just a single running dog after them? Not nearly as many as when they have assistance. The running dog that catches rabbits bolting from an earth or exploding from cover hasn’t caught its rabbits ‘single-handedly’, it has had the assistance of ferrets or bushing dogs.
I used to hear (and still do on occasion) people saying, “I don’t want a fast dog.”
What are they burbling about?
It’s not the high speed that isn’t desirable it’s how the dog utilises that speed that is important. A flying-machine of a dog will catch up with its prey quicker than a slower dog. If it has the same striking ability, then it will also catch its prey quicker. Slow dogs often look more lethal behind their quarry (and sometimes are!) because they hang back and look as though they are going to catch it any second. The fast dog gets to its quarry first but, when young and inexperienced often sails by. Eventually it may learn its art and start to catch.
I haven’t mentioned stamina. A dog has either got it or it hasn’t. Stamina can be improved by exercise and training, but I have found over the years that pups from the same litter and brought up the same way can exhibit hugely different degrees of stamina. The two dogs featured here are good examples. They are not from the same litter – obviously – but as unlikely as it seems, bearing in mind the differing physical makeup, the more muscular bruiser has far more stamina than the lighter boned dog. Why unlikely? Think of a weightlifter trying to out-run Mo Farah.
I make no secret that my preference is a dog that sometimes fails in its attempts to put teeth on fur but puts every effort into trying to. Those dogs that sometimes miss and occasionally tumble over, sometimes somersaulting spectacularly, do on occasions make successful strikes and when they do it’s a treat to see. Even when they miss it’s usually exciting.#
If, and it is a big if, that same speedy dog that shoots past its prey then learns to hang back for a while, you may, just may, have a corker of a dog; but only if, directly it gets within range, it can make the strike successfully and bowl the prey over. You should then have a dog that satisfies you and itself.
If a dog is a certain three-out-of-three dog, then the catch is a foregone conclusion. Where is the sport in that? To me, those type of courses border on being boring because you know the probable outcome. I admire a dog’s ability if it catches hare after hare but after a time admiration turns to disdain. Like it or lump it a course with a fast dog that will maybe catch its quarry and is mighty in its attempts, is far more of a heart-in-the-mouth spectacle than a catch-it-every-time dog. This is a very personal outlook and there will be plenty of people who disagree with me wholeheartedly.
Surely, though it is, or should be, about the sport and not the numbers.
P.S. In order to comply with the stupid Hunting Act which in Scotland, differs from that in England, mammals cannot be coursed or hunted (not even rabbits) but can be ‘flushed to the gun’. If you encourage your dog to catch even a rat you are not complying with the Act.