Lurcher

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Lurcher
Long Haired Lurcher (Sykes108 / Wikipedia.org)

A bit of a 'mongrel', the Lurcher is not only a crossbreed, but one that can be composed of a variety of different breeds, meaning that Lurchers are one of the most diverse types of dogs about. Most will be athletically-built with rangy, slender bodies. Their fur may be short or medium in length and can sometimes give them an unkempt appearance. Practically any coat colour is possible, though many are grey and fawn.

Traditionally kept as hunting dogs, some individuals continue to carry out this function today. They are quite easy to train and have very high prey drives, which can sometimes get them into trouble! Their kind spirit and dedicated nature mean that, despite their working background, they adapt well to life in a family home.

About & History

Lurchers are an interesting crossbreed of dog that are not officially recognised by any international Kennel Club but that are well-known and widely used and have been for many years. Theoretically, a Lurcher is composed of any Sighthound (including Greyhounds, Salukis and Whippets) crossed with any other working breed, but traditionally they are a mix of a Greyhound and a Collie or Terrier.

The Greyhound parent of the Lurcher derives from an ancient Sighthound that existed several thousand years ago within the Middle East. In times long gone, these dogs were revered as Gods and were only owned by the elite. Traditionally, these dogs would use their keen sense of sight to hunt over open lands and their incredible speed to keep up with their prey: rabbits and hares. The origin of the name 'Greyhound' is not thought to be related to the colour grey (indeed, many coat colours exist) but may mean ‘fair dog’ or ‘shining dog’. Greyhounds have an undeniable sporting ability and are still used as racing dogs and coursing dogs today. Their docile nature and easy going personality make them wonderful family pets, with many retired Greyhound being adopted through rescue organisations.

Mixing a Greyhound with a Collie provides intelligence and a strong work ethic. Many of the original Lurchers would have been used by poachers and hunters. These initial crosses are thought to have been carried out in around the 14th and 15th century within the UK. Around this time, the general population were banned from owning Sighthounds, which forced them to create new crossbreeds ,which did not go against the law.

The Lurcher is a very popular breed of dog within Great Britain, where it is frequently used in competitive canine sports, including dog racing. Internationally, they are less well-known.

Appearance

Lurcher Large Photo

Given their mixed heritage, the Lurcher is a breed with a varied appearance. Most are quite tall and lean, resembling their Sighthound parent. Their long limbs and deep-chested muscular bodies provide them with both speed and some endurance when running. The head and muzzle of the Lurcher are long and quite narrow. Their triangular ears tend to stand semi-erect, with the upper tip flopping over, though some will have more pendulous ears. Their eyes are not overly large but should be evenly spaced and must be free from any obstruction, such as facial fur or skin folds. The tail of the Lurcher is often long and slender.

Given their mixed parentage, there is a wide range of acceptable heights and weights for the Lurcher. As a general rule of thumb, they will weigh between 27kg and 32kg and measure from 55cm to 71cm, however, weights and heights that fall outside of these parameters are not unusual.

Fur type and colour is also difficult to predict and, while some will have the short and fine coat of their Greyhound parent, others can have longer, scruffier coats. Practically any coat colour is allowed, including black, white, fawn, grey, brindle and blue. White markings are a common feature.

Character & Temperament

While a working dog by nature, the Lurcher has the sweet and loving personality of the Sighthound, making it a delightful pet to own. They do bond well with their families and are usually very respectful and obedient.

Athletes at heart, Lurchers love nothing more than to be free in the wild and to be chasing behind something. They can make calm household guests, but only once their exercise needs have been met. For most, a rural home with outdoor access is preferred.

When it comes to their natural instincts, Lurchers are rarely able to control themselves. Having been bred for centuries to seek out small prey and chase them, this is a task that they will perform whenever given the chance. This feature means that Lurchers should not be walked off the lead in a public place and many will require basket muzzles when outdoors. Similarly, they cannot really be homed with smaller animals, such as rabbits or gerbils, as their prey drive is too strong.

Trainability

Photo of Lurcher puppy

Though quite biddable, some Lurchers do have a mind of their own and often require a patient trainer and one who is willing to constantly repeat themselves. A trainer should not aim to rid them of their prey drive (an impossible task!) but should provide them with ways to deal with it when in the great outdoors.

Most are exceptionally intelligent, particularly those that have been bred with Collies and other herding breeds. They enjoy having jobs to perform and relish any form of mental stimulation provided. For some, long training sessions can become a bore, causing them to become distracted. For best results, ensure sessions are short, interesting and always varied.

Health

Specifically bred to be a hardy dog capable of working in cold weather, the Lurcher tends to enjoy good health. A mixed-breed rather than a pedigree, the genetic variation within the Lurcher also allows for a more robust animal that is less likely to develop genetic diseases. Regardless, there are a number of health issues that we should be aware of within the Lurcher population.

Bloat

The deep chest that most Lurchers have makes them predisposed to a nasty condition called 'bloat'. During an episode of bloat, a dog’s stomach enlarges with gas and liquid, compressing nearby organs and blood vessels. In some cases, the enlarged stomach will twist over on itself, causing further damage. A dog suffering from bloat must be brought to the vet as quickly as possible to attempt to relieve the distension.

Osteosarcoma

Unfortunately, Lurchers are prone to a malignant cancer of the bone known as an 'osteosarcoma'. This type of bone cancer tends to spread quickly and aggressively, meaning for many dogs, their cancer has already spread around their body at the time of diagnosis. The treatment usually consists of amputating the affected leg and starting chemotherapy, but even this rarely guarantees survival times of over a year.

Pad Injuries and Corns

Greyhounds and their crosses are predisposed to getting thickened portions of their paw pad known colloquially as 'corns'. Affected dogs tend to be in pain and will limp. Some experts suspect that the lack of fat within the foot pad of Lurchers and similar breeds can predispose them to a range of pad conditions. Treatment options vary and may consist of paring the corn down or hulling it out. Often, corns are difficult to treat and tend to recur.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A competitive sporting dog, it would not be fair to expect the Lurcher to be a couch potato all day long. These animals have relatively high exercise requirements and need to be allowed to run free in safe and enclosed spaces. Many continue to be used in dog races and coursing events today – areas in which they truly excel. As both of these tasks require short spurts of energy, the Lurcher is extremely fast but does not have great stamina.

Despite the fact that many are tall and large, this breed does not actually need a vast amount of space. Many are quite comfortable in small homes, provided their exercise needs are met.

Grooming

The grooming regime of the Lurcher will vary depending on their fur type but most are low-maintenance. Even those that inherit the short fur of their Greyhound parent should be brushed once a week or so.

Those that are walked outside on a daily basis will not usually need to have their claws cut, though as they get older, their claws can get thicker and will sometimes require a claw trim. As the Lurcher tends to be related to the Greyhound and the Greyhound is notorious for having terrible teeth, it is important to stay on top of a Lurcher’s dental hygiene. Ideally, tooth brushing should be performed on a daily basis.

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