What do greyhounds chase when racing?

What do greyhounds chase when racing?

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What do greyhounds chase when racing?

Greyhounds chase a lure, usually an artificial mechanical object, while racing around the track. This object, often designed to mimic a small animal or simply a flag-like item, is used to keep the dogs focused and motivated to run at top speeds. In this article, we will discuss the history of greyhound racing, the types of lures used, and the controversies associated with it.

History of Greyhound Racing

Greyhound racing has its roots in an ancient sport called “coursing,” where greyhounds would hunt and chase live prey, such as rabbits or hares. Modern greyhound racing began in the early 20th century, with the invention of the mechanical lure.

  1. Coursing: Dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, coursing was a form of amusement and competition, where greyhounds were let loose to chase and catch small, swift, wild animals.
  2. Mechanical Lure Invention: In 1912, an American inventor named Owen Patrick Smith invented the mechanical lure to replace live animals, making the sport more humane. He opened the first greyhound racing track, with the mechanical lure, in Emeryville, California, in 1919.
  3. Worldwide Adoption: Greyhound racing spread to various parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. It became a popular form of entertainment and gambling.

Types of Lures

There are different types of lures used in greyhound racing to simulate prey and encourage the dogs to run. Some common types include:

  1. Mechanical Rags: A bundle of cloth or fabric, usually attached to a metal arm that circles the track. It is designed to create noise and movement to attract the dogs’ attention.
  2. Artificial Animals (Rabbits/Hares): Mechanical lures made to look like small animals are also used, imitating the traditional prey greyhounds were bred to chase. These lures are often made of cloth or other lightweight materials and attached to the metal arm.
  3. Flag-like Items: In some cases, a simple flag or a brightly colored object, which can be seen and heard by the dogs, is used as the lure. The main objective of the objects is to maintain the dogs’ focus and motivation.

The Mechanical Hare in Greyhound Racing

The mechanical hare serves as an essential component in modern greyhound racing. It performs the role of the live prey that was used in original coursing races.

Design and Operation

The mechanical hare was first introduced with the invention of the mechanical lure system itself by Owen Patrick Smith in the early 20th century. The most common form of mechanical hare in use today closely resembles the original design. It usually involves a fluffy or cloth item attached to an arm which is mounted on a motorized vehicle or rail that travels around the track.

The goal is to mimic the movement of live prey to incite the greyhounds’ innate desire to chase. Some mechanical hares are crafted to look like small animals—most often resembling hares or rabbits—while others may be as simple as a set of flag-like items or bundles of rags.

The speed and motion of the mechanical hare are deliberately designed to maintain a tantalizingly uncatchable distance ahead of the fastest greyhound.


The speed of the hare varies depending on the track and country, but generally, its speed is enough to encourage the greyhounds to run as fast as possible. On average, greyhounds can reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest dog breeds. Therefore, the mechanical hare must maintain a speed that keeps it just out of reach while still appearing catchable.

The lure operator, a person who controls the speed and direction of the mechanical hare, plays a crucial role in maintaining these ideal conditions. This person must ensure the hare keeps a consistent lead distance and must handle any hitches during the race, such as a dog getting too close to the hare or a mechanical malfunction.


The hare mechanism may vary slightly depending on the specific track design, but the essential elements are:

  1. Arm System: The mechanical hare is attached to a metal arm system that extends out towards the center of the course. This arm is connected to a motor and is designed to rotate, moving the hare along the track.
  2. Motor: This propels the metal arm and, by extension, the mechanical hare. The motor device or vehicle usually runs on a separate track inside the main racing track.
  3. Control System: The hare’s speed and direction are controlled remotely by the lure operator. Modern tracks employ sophisticated control systems that allow for precise control over the hare’s movement.

In understanding the mechanical hare, one gains insights into not only the mechanisms that drive a race but also the calculated measures taken to motivate greyhounds to partake in the chase throughout the race.

Lure Mechanics and Training

Understanding how the lure is used during the race and how greyhounds are trained to chase it forms an essential part of understanding greyhound racing.

Preparing Greyhounds for Racing

Greyhounds are often introduced to racing and chasing a lure at a young stage, a practice commonly known as schooling. The process usually follows the following steps:

  1. Puppyhood: During this stage, pups are allowed to grow and develop naturally. They are often given toys to play with to stimulate their chase instinct and build strength.
  2. Introduction to Lure: When the dogs are old enough (usually around a year old), they are introduced to a racing environment and a mechanical lure. Initially, the training is conducted over a short distance, and gradually, the distance is increased as per the dog’s stamina and ability.
  3. First Races: The first few races are usually trial races to help the dogs understand the routine and get used to running with other dogs.
  4. Professional Racing: Once they’re accustomed to chasing the lure and running in a pack, the dogs are deemed ready for professional racing.

Lure in Action

When racing, the lure is attached to an automated mechanical arm and moves at a speed that encourages the greyhounds to chase it but doesn’t allow them to reach it. The main factors affecting the lure’s operation are:

  • Speed: The lure must move at a constant, high speed to keep the dogs encouraged to chase.
  • Visibility: The lure should be visible enough to the dogs around the entire track.
  • Noise: Some lures create a distinctive noise to attract the dogs’ attention.
Factors Purpose
Speed Encourage the chase
Visibility Maintain focus on the lure
Noise Attract attention

Impact on Greyhound Behavior

The habitual practice of chasing a lure that greyhounds cannot catch often leads to specific behavioral traits seen in retired greyhounds:

  1. High Prey Drive: Due to their training and racing experience, greyhounds often have a high prey drive and may have a strong impulse to chase small, swiftly moving objects or animals.
  2. Exercise Requirements: Racing greyhounds are trained athletes, and hence, even after retirement, they typically require adequate exercise to keep them healthy and content.
  3. Adaptation: After retiring from racing, greyhounds often need time and training to adapt to a domestic environment, especially if they’ve spent most of their lives on a racing track. Training can help them understand that not all moving objects need to be chased.

By understanding these elements, we can better comprehend the impact of lure chasing on the behavior of greyhounds and their transition from racing life to becoming beloved pets.

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