A few weeks ago, I took Colombo to a Fast CAT event. Fast CAT is a popular American Kennel Club (AKC) dog sport that is a short version of lure coursing. Dogs chase a “lure” (a white plastic bag) that is attached to a pulley system for 100 yards in a straight line. The dog is timed and their time is converted to a miles per hour speed, so you can see how fast your dog really is!
The sport of lure coursing was developed as a safe way to evaluate sighthounds’ (dogs such as greyhounds, whippets, salukis, and Rhodesian ridgebacks) abilities to chase game. The white plastic bag is supposed to simulate fleeing game, such as the white tail of a rabbit. In lure coursing trials, the course is typically 600 to 800 yards weaving around an open field. Dogs are run in pairs or trios and compete against each other. Fast CAT events are a simpler version of this and they’re a great way to to try out lure coursing.
Colombo’s run at the Fast CAT event last year.
Who is Eligible for Fast CAT events?
Although lure coursing trials are limited to sighthound breeds, Fast CATs are open to pretty much any breed, even mixed breeds! To enter a Fast CAT event, your dog needs one of the following:
- An AKC registration number
- An AKC Canine Partners number, which is for mixed breeds to allow them to participate in certain dog sports
- A Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) number, which allows purebred dogs to be registered even if their owner doesn’t have their paperwork
- A Foundation Stock Service (FSS) number, which is for less common breeds that are on the way to AKC recognition
They also need to be at least 12 months of age.
Colombo’s Fast CAT run at the event we attended in August.
What Kind of Training is Needed?
Most lure coursing, including Fast CAT, doesn’t require a lot of specific training. A dog will likely either have the instinct to chase the lure, or not. A lot of Fast CAT events include fun runs, where you can run your dog just to try it out. I’d recommend doing that if you’re not sure if your dog will take to it. I did a fun run with Zara and Colombo at a lure coursing trial in 2018. Within a few minutes of us being there, it became obvious that Colombo was going to chase the lure, because he was trying to lunge at it every time we walked by. Zara, on the other hand, didn’t have much interest when I released her for the fun run. She chased the lure for a few seconds, but then veered off, probably looking for something to hunt. It even varies within litters. One of Colombo’s littermates is already a Field Champion and took to lure coursing easily. A bunch of his other littermates have tried it, but they’re not as interested.
You do want to make sure that your dog is in good physical shape and able to run fast speeds without getting injured. I would not run an overweight dog or one that is recovering from an injury in a Fast CAT. Running with your dog is a great way to get them in shape for coursing!
What Kind of Equipment is Needed?
You really don’t need any special equipment to participate. Dogs can run wearing their regular collars or run “naked” without a collar. It’s very unlikely to happen, but I’d recommend not running them with any dangling tags on their collar in the rare instance that it got stuck in the pulley system. In lure coursing trials, dogs run naked and people using coursing slip leads to release them. These are specially made to allow you to easily release the dog from the collar when it’s their turn to run. See photo below.
Colombo wears a coursing slip lead that we borrowed from his littermate’s owners during a lure coursing trial last year. He also has on a coursing “blanket” which is not needed for Fast CAT.
How Are Events Structured?
Typically, you can register for a Fast CAT event in advance. Some events also accept day-of registration, until their limit is met. A lot of clubs hold two events in one day, so you have the opportunity to run your dog twice. Fast CATs are sometime held in conjunction with other dog events, such as conformation or agility, over a two- or three-day weekend.
When you arrive, you’ll want to check in with the organizers. All dogs are required to undergo a soundness check before they run. A designated person will watch you gait your dog back and forth to make sure they don’t have any obvious limps or injuries. After that, you wait until it’s your dog’s turn to run. Depending on the event, they may run all the dogs in one test first, and then start the second event, or they may allow your dog to do both of their runs without waiting for all the others to go.
Depending on your dog, you may need to keep them away from the lure before their run. Colombo gets VERY amped up as soon as he can see or hear the lure, so I have to keep him crated or away from it, otherwise he barks and tries to lunge at it. You can imagine it’s hard to hold on given that he’s 97 pounds!
When it’s your dog’s turn, you’ll need someone to release them at the starting line and someone to catch them. If you’re alone at an event, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone to help you. The two events I’ve been to have had the course completely fenced, so it’s pretty safe even if your dog doesn’t have a great recall. You step inside the fenced area with your dog and wait for the organizer to give you the go-ahead to release them. Typically they say, “Tally-ho!”
How are Fast CATs Scored?
Each run your dog completes is timed in seconds. For example, one of Colombo’s runs last year was about 8 seconds. The time is then converted to miles per hour and multiplied by the dog’s height-based handicap. Below are the handicaps. For large dogs like Colombo, they don’t get a handicap.
- Handicap of 2.0 for dogs below 12 inches at the withers
- Handicap of 1.5 for dogs 18 inches or greater at the withers
- Handicap of 1.0 for dogs 18 inches or greater at the withers
Last summer, Colombo had a top speed of 26 mph! That miles per hour speed is your point value. So 26 mph = 26 points. To earn a BCAT title, a dog needs 150 points. The levels above that are listed below.
- 500 points for DCAT
- 1,000 points for FCAT
- 500 points for additional FCATs
These titles appear after a dog’s registered name. So once Colombo earns his BCAT, his registered name would be Adriatic’s King Colombo of North Ridge BCAT.
Colombo is always super amped up when he sees the lure. Notice how I’m holding on tight!
Last summer, I attended two Fast CAT events with Colombo and he ran 25 and 26 miles per hour. That gave him 51 points toward his BCAT title. A few weeks ago, he ran 16 and 20 miles per hour, so he’s now up to 87 points. There are a few reasons for the slower times. First of all, this year’s event was held in the evening, so it was darker and potentially harder for him to see the lure. It had also just poured and the ground was wet, which may have slowed him down. I also had a friend release him and I caught him, which meant he got a little confused and was looking for me as he was running. Lastly, he’s gained about 10 pounds (finally filled out) since last summer, so it may be more work lugging 97 pounds in a 100-yard dash than 87 pounds!
But he loves lure coursing and I’m hoping we can find a few more Fast CAT events this year so he can finish his BCAT title. Have you thought about trying Fast CAT with your dog? Let me know in the comments.