What exactly is a Lurcher?

What exactly is a Lurcher?

When most people meet my dog they assume he’s a greyhound.  He looks fast; he has a smooth coat, skinny legs and a pointy face; and his black and white colouring is common among greyhounds (tuxedo, dontcha know).  When I explain he’s actually a lurcher, I often get confusion.  Lurchers are grey and scruffy coated and live in tv programmes about 1970s Yorkshire.

Jackie Drakeford, in her seminal book ‘The House Lurcher’ says:

‘In essence, the lurcher is a cross between a running dog (also known as a sighthound or gazehound), and a working dog, most usually a border collie or terrier’.

Lurchers are a type not a breed so they can’t be shown at Crufts - they were perhaps the first ‘designer crossbreed’.

Before the Norman Conquest, dogs that hunted by sight and sprinted after their prey (hare and deer destined for the owner’s pot) lived in their owners' homes and were highly prized.  After the Normans arrived, the new landowners passed laws conferring harsh penalties on the owners of any dogs that could run down game.  This led to lurchers being bred from working dogs such as sheepdogs, and a sleek, intelligent hunting dog could be hidden under scruffy fur and a laidback demeanour.

Nowadays, HRH doesn’t stop us owning any dog we fancy – although the Hunting with Dogs Act 2004 did make hare coursing illegal, it is still legal to hunt rats and rabbits with dogs and many lurchers legally work in pest control. Many more live as pets, either bought from breeders or adopted from rescue.

Modern lurchers can be big or small (depending on whether the prevalent sight hound ancestor is whippet/greyhound/deerhound or whatever), smooth coated or hairy.  Those bred for working or pet homes will look different to those picked up as strays.  Stray lurchers from an area often have a similar look – round here they are often pale tan with brown noses, or black and tan saluki types.   

Their temperament will also be determined by the breeds in the mixture – greyhoundy lurchers will need short spurts of exercise and then be happy to relax.  Add Collie to the mix and you’ve got a dog that needs a fair bit of mental stimulation too.  They all stay puppyish for the first couple of years and are slow to mature.

It is always fun to try to work out what recipe a lurcher is, even if doggy DNA tests do now exist.  Boots, I believe,  is at least half greyhound.  However, he is much narrower in the chest than a male greyhound and has large ears, a long curled tail and a bump in the nose that would suggest some Saluki in there. No feathering though, so I think the saluki is a way back.  He is around the size of a female greyhound but looks tiny alongside a strong male grey. In the picture below you can see Boots (on the right) alongside a male ex racing greyhound.

greyhound and lurcher

He’s very greyhound in his outlook – quite happy with two walks a day then lots of sleep, but to watch him run is a joy.

Lurchers make great pets, but as with any dog, may need a lot of effort put into their training.  Their basest instinct is the look for prey and chase it, and training a lurcher to recall is one of the most important things.  They just want to run! 

 Cover photo courtesy of Katrina Wilson Photography

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  • Jo Smith
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