Fast, intelligent, tough and kind, the lurcher is the ultimate dog for country dwellers, says David Tomlinson – though you won’t find them at Crufts
A lurcher is a difficult companion to better for country people. Healthy, quick, kind and highly intelligent, if you take the time to train them they will make as good a peg dog as any retriever or spaniel. Their lack of fancy papers also make them quite the bargain.
Lurchers are an infinite combination of breed types, so no breed standard could ever be applied to them. Other dogs are not quite so fortunate. David Tomlinson questions gundog breed standards. Fit for function?
LURCHER: IMPOSSIBLE TO BETTER
What’s the ultimate countryman’s dog: black labrador, English springer, Jack Russell? All three have a claim to the title but none comes close to a good lurcher. These are dogs that, according to aficionados, combine so many attributes in a single animal that they are impossible to better. Thanks to their hybrid vigour, lurchers tend to be healthy as well as tough and resilient. They are good doers, thriving on the most basic of diets, while they also have a reputation for being quiet and kind. Being sprinters rather than endurance runners they don’t need much exercise, while grooming requirements are minimal.
They are brilliant at putting a rabbit in the bag, so you will never go hungry if you own a lurcher. They have a special affinity with horses, which explains why you see so many at events such as Badminton and Burghley.
Of course, there are downsides to lurcher ownership. Recall is frequently a weakness and it can be difficult to train your lurcher to ignore chickens and sheep, not to mention the neighbours’ cats. They tend to be intelligent, so can get bored, while many will give careful consideration to any command before deciding whether to obey it. A good lurcher is highly valued by the travelling community, which might explain why they are generally regarded as highly nickable.
Lurchers are not, of course, a breed but a type. Thus, they aren’t at any risk of being recognised by The Kennel Club, a nasty fate that has recently befallen the Jack Russell. Part of their appeal is that they come in all sizes, if not shapes. There are big tall ones and more compact varieties. What they have in common is an athletic build and the sort of acceleration you normally associate with a Ferrari.
LURCHER: THE BEST PARENTAGE?
While many will agree that the lurcher is, indeed, the ultimate countryman’s dog, few will agree on what is the best parentage. The breeds generally crossed to produce a lurcher include all the so-called gazehounds – greyhound, whippet, saluki, borzoi, afghan – and something different. Bull-terrier types are often included to give what the poachers call gameness, while collie blood adds brains to the mix. The danger with the latter is that you can end up with a dog that is more intelligent than you, which isn’t always a good idea.
For the ultimate rabbiting dog, a large racing whippet crossed with a Bedlington terrier has many supporters. If, however, you want a dog that can tackle almost any legal quarry, then a bigger, more powerful greyhound x collie or even deerhound x collie might well fit the bill. However, a note of caution is needed here, as if the dog is too big it won’t be able to turn quickly, one of the essentials of a good lurcher.
Many lurcher enthusiasts will admit that their best-ever dog was none of these but one that had a touch of labrador, springer or even a bit of Jack Russell. Unlikely, unplanned crosses often prove to be the most successful. There’s general agreement among lurcher owners that the first cross is usually the best, though, again, many will disagree.
LURCHER AS GUNDOG
If you want a lurcher that will double as a gundog, then it makes sense to get one with a bit of gundog blood, plus a good touch of collie. I’ve met one lurcher bitch that was trained to be the perfect gundog: she was obedient, soft-mouthed and extremely quick, though she could be a little fickle. When entered in the various have-a-go competitions at the Game Fair she beat all the retrievers and spaniels with such consummate ease that owners of the latter lodged complaints; she was disqualified for not being a proper gundog. Her owner also had to endure the indignity of being asked whether she would rip up the dummies.
This particular lurcher was multi-talented but her owner had put a great deal of effort into her training. She was a genuine all-rounder, working in the beating line, going rough-shooting and wildfowling, and accompanying the ferrets. I don’t think she ever went on a formal day’s shooting but I’m sure she would have made a fine peg dog. There would certainly have been no risk of the labrador on the next peg beating her to a retrieve, while she could have put over-zealous picker-ups’ dogs firmly in their place.
One drawback to finding the perfect lurcher is that they are never advertised. You really have to know someone who knows someone whose bitch is expecting puppies. Failing that, go to your nearest horse trials and chat to anyone you see accompanied by a lurcher you like the look of. Because they don’t have fancy papers, lurchers are usually keenly priced, offering one of the great bargains of the sporting canine world.