As a result of concerns expressed by some trainers that our greyhounds are not chasing as enthusiastically as they should be, the Greyhound Owners Trainers and Breeders Association (GOTBA) held a workshop at the Sandown Greyhound Racing Club on 17 June to discuss reward-based lure systems.
The finish-on-lure and its relative merits has been a polarising discussion topic amongst participants in Victoria and around Australia for some time. The workshop on reward-based lure systems was aimed at creating further discussion and exploring the issues associated with the possibility of implementation of the system in Victoria, with a view to helping ensure a sustainable future for our sport.
A panel presenting on reward-based training and lure systems were President of the Australian Federations of Greyhound Breeders, Owners and Trainers Association Geoff Collins, professional canine trainer Steve Austin, owner and trainer James Shaw and GRV’s Stuart Laing.
Mr Collins began proceedings discussing what he believes to be one of the biggest racing issues facing our sport – greyhounds not chasing, describing it as the ‘Achilles heel of our industry’.
“The more dogs that are chasing, and chasing hard, the less greyhounds we will need to breed as a collective group,” Collins explained to the 50-person crowd in attendance.
“Greyhound racing in Victoria for 2018 is serviced by dogs bred in 2016, 2015 and 2014. There has been a 33 per cent drop off in litters registered in 2016 compared to 2015.
“I expect another 15 to 20 per cent drop off in potential race dogs for 2018 and therefore I believe we cannot afford to lose the current percentage of dogs to fail to chase tickets,” Collins said.
Mr Collins said it had been documented how well the finish on lure dramatically reduced the number of failing to chase and marring charges in a Queensland trial of the system with statistics showing that before its introduction the suspension rate was 1 in 15 races.
“Following the two-year trial this dropped to 1 in 69 races but after the two-year trial was complete and Queensland reverted back to a catching pen, figures then showed a suspension rate of one offense in every 12.5 races, the worst figures in six years,” he said.
Mr Collins spoke of a cradle to couch approach to breeding, rearing and educating greyhounds.
“The concept of a cradle to couch approach is to focus on industry-driven programs that supports pups from four to five months but doesn’t stop there, it needs to be consistent and continue right through and throughout racing,” he said.
“We need to be pro-active in developing industry-based best practice training and I believe a reward based lure system is a significant part of that.”
Special guest Steve Austin has earned himself recognition through the Certification Council for Professional Dog trainers (CCPDT) after more than two decades training canines.
Mr Austin has for over two decades, successfully trained quarantine, customs and drug detection dogs. He also trained Australia’s first truffle detector dog, has trained handlers and canines for the scent detection of feral animals in Macquarie Island, and in an Australian first, Mr Austin trained spaniels to sniff out leaks in water pips for the WA Water Corporation.
“When training a canine success is critical in the mental stability of that animal,” Mr Austin said.
“I train my dogs for 30 to 40 seconds per day, making sure they are not over trained. I want the highlight of my dog’s day to be training, nothing is better in their lives than the training they do.”
Mr Austin believes that after watching greyhounds race that 80 per cent of our greyhounds do not chase and that a reward based lure system would provide a feeling of achievement for the greyhounds after a race.
“I watch the different behaviours between the dogs in front as to those following and they are completely different.”
“For me it is a no-brainer to have a reward based lure system, this ensures that the dogs don’t fail and therefore have more desire to succeed.”
New Zealand owner and now Victorian trainer James Shaw spoke about the success he has had buying Australian dogs who have received a failing to chase or marring infringement and selling them to New Zealand.
“I spent many nights at the pub watching Australian dogs almost hoping as much that one would fight as the one we’d back would win because we learnt quickly that it was cheaper to buy an Australian dog that had fought,” Shaw said.
He said he believed there were two main reasons greyhounds chase better behind a finish on lure – the greyhounds received a reward for their efforts and it encouraged confidence.
“I bought Lonesome Nitro off the Daillys for $2,500 after a marring offense at The Meadows which saw him receive a 28 day stand down. After two best of the night performances behind the finish on lure at Warganui, New Zealand, I was offered $20,000 for him,” he said.
“There are countless examples on the success Australian greyhounds have had once racing behind a finish on lure.”
GRV’s General Manager, Racing, Wagering and Business Development, Stuart Laing briefly discussed the previous trial of the finish on lure in Victoria and conceded that it may not have been what the participants really wanted it to be at the time.
“The overwhelming outcome was that the wider hoop arm resulted in less interference and although we are still in the early stages statistics are starting to show a reduction in racing interference,” Mr Laing said.
“What we are here to do is to listen to the experts. I am not an expert in greyhound racing or training and I have never trained a greyhound. But what we want to do is listen to what the people who are training greyhounds require.”
Over the last 12 months there have been around 530 tickets – about 150 were for marring, 130 failing to chase and 250 failing to chase due to injury.
“530 is obviously a large number and our objective is to see how we would reduce that,” Mr Laing said.
“The discussion here today has been enlightening around a reward based lure and we are open to consider what our best options are.”
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