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Judging the Kelb tal-Fenek at Lure Coursings

REMARK: When judging the hunting skills of the Kelb tal-Fenek during a lure coursing, it is of utmost importance to remember that lure coursing shows only one aspect of the breed’s hunting abilities. The chase by sight only plays a secondary roll in the Kelb tal-Fenek's work in the country of origin, Malta.  

In the Maltese Islands, the Kelb tal-Fenek is used for searching and announcing hidden rabbits in an extremly rough terrain. Most hunts take place during the night. The sense of smell, the fine ears, and the dog’s ability to learn about the behaviour of its prey are the most important factors for the success of its work.  

A complete live chase (hunting up, chasing by sight, kill) rather is an exception during the hunt with a Kelb tal-Fenek than the rule. The following proceedings are more frequently seen: 

  • Dog surprises a rabbit – dog chases the rabbit by sight – rabbit flees into hiding – rabbit shelter is covered with a net – a ferret is set after the rabbit – fleeing rabbit is caught in the net 

  • Dog announces a hidden rabbit – rabbit shelter is covered with a net – a ferret is set after the rabbit – fleeing rabbit is caught in the net 

  • Typical rabbit shelters (e.g. cracks) are covered with nets – a dog discovers a rabbit and chases it – rabbit tries to escape into a shelter and entangles in the net

Due to the complexity of its hunting tasks, the Kelb tal-Fenek has a great ability to learn. He must be able to adjust himself on the terrain and on the behaviour of his prey. For example, he must know: 

  • where to search for his prey 

  • which signs indicate the presence of a hidden rabbit (smell, sounds) 

  • where a rabbit might bolt in flight from the ferret 

  • where it will try to flee to 

  • which escape route it will probably choose 

  • to find possible hiding places of the rabbit after loosing sight on it (not only by scent – the rabbit has only a very slight smell – but also by interpretation of the terrain) 

  • how to get an advantage by observing the work of the other dogs

Before a Kelb tal-Fenek is used for hunting in Malta, he has always to undergo a training period together with other, experienced dogs. Usually, the Maltese hunters use well co-operating pairs of one male and one female, in some cases also larger packs of dogs. 

In the lure coursing field, the ability of learning is indicated by the way how the dog recognises the coherence between certain marks of the field surface and the way of the lure and how he adjusts his own hunting actions to this facts. This ability of learning should not be misinterpreted as a lack of enthusiasm or as laziness, since it is one of the very few aspects of the Kelb tal-Fenek’s manifold hunting abilities, which can be tested both in real hunting as well as in lure coursing.    

The following remarks refer to the five main criteria of the most common judging systems for lure coursing (FCI, ASFA, Windhund-Sportordnung (Germany)).

ENTHUSIASM 

Behaviour on the Start: The dog becomes extremly enthusistic in sight of the prey. The criteria “enthusiasm” in the best sense of the word can therefore already be judged when the dogs are brought to the start.  

Desire, pressure on the lure: Each experienced specimen will not exactely follow the track of the lure. This will only happen in very young, unexperienced dogs. The desire is shown by the way the dog tries to find the optimum position to cut the way of the lure already during the run. This will especially happen if the boundaries of the field indicate that the lure will soon change its direction. The dog learns very quickly that – different from the hunt on living game – he has no influence on the actions of the lure, and he will also learn that the lure will always remain within the boundaries of the field.  

Running style, behaviour on obstacles: The dog runs free and enthusiastic (but never as deep and stretched as a Greyhound or Whippet), and he often shows his hunting enthusiasm by a typical, crying chase barking (in Maltese called „kurriera“). The running style of the dog shall express attentiveness and readyness for a quick turn. The dog jumps over obstacles without hesitation, as long as this is necessary to achieve a good position in follow of the lure. However, if the surface, the boundaries of the field or the position of the second dog require a tactical way of running which leads the dog to skip an obstacle, this shall not be judged as a lack of hunting desire or courage.  

Behaviour when loosing sight on the lure: When the dog looses sight on the lure, he must start an intensive search. This can be shown by a circular search over the field, but also by trying to find the best position to get a survey over the field. In search for the lure, the dog can even stop or stand on his hind legs, to get the optimun sight over the field. A permanent strain and the continuous motion of the ears show that the dog has not given up hunting. 

Attempts to catch the lure in the run: The dog will try to catch the lure whenever he gets the chance for it. Due to the smallness of the hunting terrain in Malta, the Kelb tal-Fenek is not a breed which will try to tire his prey. 

Behaviour when catching the lure: The dog will directely catch his prey, whereas he will run on the side, slightly behind the lure when it begins to slow down, and he will lower his head and try to catch the lure with his mouth. After the lure has stopped, he will try to hold the lure both with his mouth and with his feet. The breed hunts in pairs or in packs, however, they do not show a pronounced order of precendence when catching a prey. Usually, both dogs will catch the lure. It might happen that a dog defends his prey against his competitor.  

INTELLIGENCE 

Interpretation of the field surface: The ability to „read“ the surface of the field is an outstanding feature of the breed’s hunting behaviour. In lure coursing, the dog shows his ability to learn by the way he recognises the coherence between certain, typical characteristics of lure coursing fields and the motion of the lure. The dog will soon learn that the lure will always remain within the parameters of the field and that it will never pass fences, cordon tapes, hedges, bushes, edges of a forest, lines of parking cars, spectators etc. The attention of experienced dogs might temporarily be drawn upon looking for such characteristsics of the field. If it is obvious to the dog that the lure will soon change its direction (since it e.g. is running towards a fence) an experienced dog will look for possibilities to cut the way of the lure in a wide range, and he will try to get an optimun position for catching it.  

By his fine sense of hearing, the dog is also able to locate the sound of the line in the grass. If he has once noticed that this sound is an indicator for the running way of the lure, he will also include it in his attempts to cut the way of the artificial prey.  

If the dog’s eyes are not always fixed on the lure, this should not be punished as a lack of attention, as long as it is obvious that the dog tries to find indications for the next actions of the lure - this is a sign that the dog has learned about the behaviour of its prey. A dog, which does not use such chances and only follows the lure in a straight line, should be rated lower than a dog which tries to get into the optimum position by continuous, intelligent interpretation of the field.  

Hunting intelligence: In a real hunt, the dog will always try to prevent the rabbit from escaping into rough, unclear terrain (e.g. bushes). But in lure coursing, he will soon learn that certain forms of terrain (high grass, reed, ploughed land) are typical boundaries of a lure coursing field, which will never be crossed by the lure. Therefore it can be expected that the dog will hedge the opposite site, since he knows that the lure will change its direction before reaching such natural boundaries. 

Breed typical co-operation: The Kelb tal-Fenek hunts for its own success, but he takes the actions of his partner into consideration for achieving the most promising position in the field. An experienced specimen of the breed will always try to catch its prey by choosing the shortest and most efficient way. If a faster and less experienced dog closely follows the lure, or when the boundaries indicate a specific way of the lure, he will (probably in a very wide range) try to cut the way of the lure. The successful attempt to get the prey in an easy and efficient way is a sign for the dog’s ability to learn and shall not be misinterpreted as lazyness.  

AGILITY 

Skill: In the country of origin, the breed hunts in an extremly difficult terrain. Therefore it has the ability to turn very quickly and efficiently.  

Change of direction: Experienced dogs will not follow each turn of the lure. Due to its ability to interpret the field surface, to take the actions of the partner into consideration and to foresee the next actions of the lure from the boundaries of the field, the dog might act in a wider range and he might not follow each action of the lure. 

ENDURANCE 

In the country of origin, the breed works throughout the whole night in a very continuous and intensive way. Therefore, the requirements of a lure coursing parcours are no exceptional demands for this breed. It can be expected that the dog shows the same co-ordinative abilities (agility, skill, acceleration) in the last part of the parcours as in the beginning. 

SPEED 

In the difficult Maltese terrain, not always the fastest dog gets into the most advantageous position for catching the prey, but rather the most agile, most attentive and most intelligent specimen. The Kelb tal-Fenek will never run as deep and stretched as a Greyhound or Whippet. To preserve the breed typical hunting abilities, it is very important not to over-emphasize the criteria „speed“ in lure coursing judging, since an extremely fast specimen would have nearly no chances to survive a hunt in the country of origin without injuries.

Jan Scotland