6 JUDGING LURCHERS
JUDGING LURCHERS - seeking soundness
It is a strange irony that now that hunting with dogs is so restricted there are more lurchers in the land than ever before. Sadly there are more too in rescue centres than ever before. There are too many being bred and too many poor specimens being over-praised. A few years ago I stood ring-side at a lurcher class during a country show and heard one handler singing the praises of his dog. His words told me more about him than it did about his dog, which lacked the build of a hunting dog. It was a not a good lurcher and he was not a good judge of one. A lurcher doesn't have to look statuesque but it has to have the anatomy of a running dog. Historically, if it looked too like a sighthound then the village constable was alerted. But if it couldn't perform like a sighthound then nobody was interested.
'Stonehenge' referred to lurchers well over a hundred years ago with these words: "A poacher possessing such an animal seldom keeps him long, every keeper being on the look-out, and putting a charge into him on the first opportunity; and as these must occur of necessity, the poacher does not often attempt to rear the dog which would suit him best, but contents himself with one which will not so much attract the notice of those who watch him". Strictly speaking, on this evidence, a judge at a lurcher show should automatically disqualify any dog which would appear to a gamekeeper like a coursing dog! That would thin out the class sizes in no small way! 'Stonehenge' has managed however to convey the essential ordinariness, the vital anonymity and the lack of type if a lurcher is to survive. Variety was not just the spice of life, it almost assured a life!
This variation in type manifests itself at lurcher shows today, with classes for rough and smooth-haired dogs and those under or over 26 inches at the withers. Some breeders swear by the saluki cross and others by Bedlington blood; some fanciers favour a rough or harsh-haired dog and others the smooth variety. A minority prize the 'Smithfield' blood from the old drovers' dogs and there are often more bizarre crosses such as beardie cross Dobermann and Airedale cross whippet. The concept, as always with a hunting dog, is to find the ideal match between quarry, country and conditions on one hand and speed, determination and hunting instinct on the other.
Firstly, why are so many lurchers so big! It is worth remembering that the main reason why show Deerhounds tend to be huge is not need but origin. Deer hunters found that dogs over 28" at the withers lacked performance and quickly passed them on to the early show breeders. No Waterloo Cup winner has ever been thirty inches high. I regularly see lurchers at shows which stand 30" and which must weigh 90-100 lbs. I would have thought that even on Salisbury Plain or around Newmarket, 60-70 lbs was easily big enough. The famous coursing greyhound Master M'Grath, three times winner of the Waterloo Cup, believed by many to have no equal for pace, cleverness and killing power, weighed 52-54 lbs. Wild Mint weighed 45 lbs and Coomassie only 42; both were superbly effective coursing dogs. But whatever their size it is possible to judge these admirable dogs more effectively. If we are going to judge them, let's do it properly. A hound which hunts using its speed must have the anatomy to do so. Immense keenness for work will always come first but the physique to exploit that mental asset comes close second. A lurcher must have a long strong muzzle with powerful jaws and a level bite, with strength right to the nose-end of the muzzle. How else can it catch and retrieve its quarry? The nose should be good-sized with well-opened nostrils, for, despite some old-fashioned theories, sighthounds hunt using scent as well as sight.
For any sighthound to succeed, its eyes should be fairly prominent and be set slightly oblique, to the side of the head. One eye should look away to the right and one to the left so that, like any good rangefinder, both eyes can be used for long distance marking. It is likely however that at close range only one eye is used at a time. The neck should be long but symmetrically so, muscular and firm. Length of neck does not improve 'pick up'; flexibility in the 'swoop' comes from the placement of the shoulder blades.
But the best physique is squandered without keenness in the chase and immense determination, an alert eager expression in the eye indicates this and is essential. A judge has to ask himself: will this dog hunt? Can this dog hunt with this anatomy? Better judging, based on a more measured assessment, should lead to the production of better dogs. Fieldsports folk have too much sense to allow such a concept to degenerate into the pretty polly state prevalent in the pedigree dog show rings. Lurcher shows are a bit of fun; the only real test for such a dog is in the chase. But that 'bit of fun' can raise standards too if the judges' criteria are sound. Who wants to win with an unworthy dog?