Fast CAT Is a Fast, Fun Dog Sport

fast-cat-is-a-fast-fun-dog-sport

"Get it! Get it! Get it!" shouts Cyndi Clingerman, fueling the excitement of her 4-year-old female Keeshond, "Boo" (Clingmey’s Home Grown Honey RN DCAT CGC), as the dog whizzes down a Fast CAT (coursing ability test) course in Salisbury, Maryland. 

Cheering from the finish line, Clingerman jumps joyously, while Boo grabs the bouncing white bag — an artificial lure that resembles a fast-hopping rabbit — and shakes it. The No. 1 Keeshond in Fast CAT in 2018, Boo took top honors with an average speed of 23.80 mph in the 100-yard straight-course sport.

Fast CAT is synonymous with having fun with your dog.

Since the American Kennel Club introduced Fast CAT in 2016, the number of events held annually has skyrocketed, going from 125 that first year to 646 in 2018. Fast CAT is an electronically timed race in which a dog’s speed is converted into mph. Titles are awarded based on points that are calculated by multiplying a dog’s mph by its handicap, a derivative of its height at the withers.

"Many owners are surprised to see how excited their dogs become when they try Fast CAT," says Doug Ljungren, Executive Vice President of Sports and Events for the American Kennel Club. "It is pure fun for dogs to chase the lure. Some dogs need a little coaxing at first, but Fast CAT is largely an instinctual activity."

Fast CAT is addictive — just ask Clingerman.

"The first time Boo ran, I had never seen such excitement in her face," she says. "That look! She was so intense on catching that lure." Now, the speedy Keeshond, who runs so fast she goes airborne galloping after the lure, is only points away from earning the highest title — FCAT. Boo was the first Keeshond to title in Fast CAT, earning the BCAT title in 2017 only one month after her first run.

The highest-titled Fast CAT competitor among all dogs is a 5-year-old female Boston Terrier named "Wee Willow" (Jo-Clem Zippity Doo Dah NAP NJP NF NFP CAX8 FCAT20 RATN), who has earned the highest Fast CAT title 20 times, the equivalent of 10,500 speed points. Owners Chris and Laurie Frodsham of Waynesville, North Carolina, have traveled from Texas to upstate New York and Florida, as well as many places in between, to take part in Fast CAT with Wee, starting when she was 1 year old.

"Wee loves it, which makes it a love of ours," says Chris Frodsham of the first Boston Terrier to earn all three Fast CAT titles — BCAT (150 points), DCAT (500 points) and FCAT (1,000 points for the first FCAT and 500 points for additional FCATs). "She has a high prey drive and is very tenacious when trying to get that 'bunny.'"

Unlike lure coursing trials that began in 1972 to test the hunting abilities of sighthounds, and thus are restricted to the 17 sighthound breeds, CAT and Fast CAT are open to all breeds and mixed breeds. The twisty-curvy pattern used in lure coursing and CAT emulates the zigzagged way a rabbit scurries when being pursued, whereas Fast CAT is a 100-yard dash where dogs chase the lure on a straight course.

"A lot of people with sighthounds have other breeds as well, and they would run these dogs on the lure coursing field for fun after a trial," says AKC field representative Sharon Webb. "This led to CAT in 2013, a sport in which dogs are judged on how well they follow the lure without interruption and with enthusiasm. People started wanting to know how fast their dog ran the CAT course, so we came up with Fast CAT."

Part of the thrill for dogs in chasing the lure — a white plastic bag or a squawker that resembles a small animal and squawks when dragged along the ground — is catching it at the end of the race. Ninety percent of dogs grab the bag at the finish line, Webb says.

"Dogs absolutely love Fast CAT," Webb says. "People love it, too, because it makes their dogs happy. It’s a very fun event whether you have a dog running or are a spectator. When you’re outside with your dog doing something fun, what’s not to enjoy?"

Chasing prey has long been recognized as a natural instinct for sighthounds. Having long legs, a deep chest, flexible back, and keen vision, they are equipped to overpower fast-moving prey with their speed and agility. That speed comes out in Fast CAT, where sighthounds may power down the course at nearly 40 mph.

As Fast CAT has shown, chasing prey comes naturally for a wide variety of breeds, hence participation in Fast CAT across breeds from all Groups and mixed breeds. Speeds are tabulated on the average of three runs and listed online in the AKC’s Top 20 Fastest Dogs by Breed ranking.

Being in running condition helps dogs attain high mph speeds and accrue the points needed to earn titles. “Wee runs on a treadmill at home to stay in shape,” Chris Frodsham says. “She runs on an incline, which helps build endurance and muscle. Being in great shape and having a lot of drive are assets that help her do well.”

Likewise, Boo practices running along the fence in the backyard, Clingerman says.  "Keeshonden can be couch potatoes," she says. "But, they are smart and quick and learn fast. There’s no real training for this — they either have prey drive or they don’t."

Clingerman is hooked. Her 2-year-old male, "Vinny" (CH Vinny Of Clingmey Sumbarsky Pramen DCAT), started in the sport in 2018, earning the BCAT title at 14 months of age, and her 2-year-old female, "Tootsie" (Clingmey’s Steppin On Toes), is starting in 2019.

"I love Fast CAT!" she says. "I’ve never had a dog so into something as Fast CAT."  

How to Play Fast CAT

The fast world of Fast CAT — a 100-yard straight course often run in mere seconds — is one of the American Kennel Club’s newest sports for dogs and those who love them. Dogs run individually and earn points that are calculated by multiplying their mph by their height-based handicap. The handicap system works like this:

  • Handicap of 2.0 for dogs below 12 inches at the withers
  • Handicap of 1.5 for dogs 18 inches or greater at the withers
  • Handicap of 1.0 for dogs 18 inches or greater at the withers

Dogs earn suffix titles based on a point system. Here’s how titles are awarded:

  • 150 points for BCAT
  • 500 points for DCAT
  • 1,000 points for FCAT
  • 500 points for additional FCATs

Each Fast CAT team has a releaser positioned at the starting line and a catcher at the end. Owners usually choose to be at the end, so their dog runs toward them and they can cheer them on. The electronically timed events kick into motion when the lure, a white plastic bag or squawker, takes off in front of the dog. The lure is pulled by an electronic pulley system or a drag line behind a golf cart.  

Among the greatest enjoyments of Fast CAT, owners say it is a wonderful way to bond with their dogs doing something that is so much fun. Bragging rights are icing on the cake for those whose dogs make the Top 20 Fastest Dogs breed ranking. What are you waiting for? To learn more about Fast CAT and to find an event near you, visit: akc.org/sports/coursing/fast-cat/

Fast CAT Trivia

The first Fast CAT event was held April 23, 2016, in Manchester, Tennessee, at the Coffee County Fairgrounds and hosted by the Tullahoma Kennel Club. Two events were held that day and two the following day. In 2016, there were 125 Fast CAT events, and in 2018, the number increased to 646. The popularity of Fast CAT is reflected in how quickly entries fill the limited number of spots per event and participation among breeds across the Groups and mixed breeds.

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