Lurchers – Definition, History, Characteristics, & FAQ

Lurchers – Definition, History, Characteristics, & FAQ

Lurchers are often mistaken to be a pure breed of dog, when in fact they are a very old mixed-breed, with a unique origin and interesting history. Nowadays, they are known for taking part in dog racing sports, as well as being beloved family pets.

They’re gorgeous, quirky, and extremely fast. With their popularity as pets rising in the US, let’s explore the background of the Lurcher and everything else you need to know.

What is a Lurcher?

A lurcher is a type of hybrid dog which is a cross between a sighthound (e.g. Greyhound, Whippet) and a pastoral working breed (e.g. Border Collie, Terrier). The Lurcher dog is the original ‘designer breed’.

Sighthounds are dogs that hunt primarily using their sight and speed, rather than their sense of smell and endurance (unlike what most other hunting dogs do). They are incredibly fast runners and have very strong hunting instincts, but are otherwise gentle, calm, and friendly dogs.

Working dogs aid humans in doing a specific job, in the case of pastoral working breeds; farming, herding, and guarding livestock. These types of dogs are typically highly intelligent, intuitive, alert, and energetic. Lurchers, as a result, are all of these things too.

Origin & History of Lurchers

Lurchers date back to the middle ages of Great Britain when many people needed to hunt to survive. At the time, only Noblemen were allowed to own purebred sighthounds for hunting. So the Lurcher was bred in order to give the common man a legal and sufficient hunting companion.

It is not 100% clear where the word ‘Lurcher’ comes from. It may come from the Middle English term lurch, meaning to lurk around creepily or remain somewhere where you’re not wanted. Or it may relate to the archaic English term meaning prowler, swindler, or petty thief, or even the French word, meaning to move to one side suddenly.

Lurchers & Dog Sports

Because of their speed, Lurchers, like Greyhounds, often compete in sports such as dog racing. However, the sport is becoming less and less popular and is now only legal in 9 out of 50 US states. Only six tracks remain active across the country, with three of these due to close in Florida in 2021, as the state recently passed a law to put an end to the sport there as well.

The decline in its popularity is due to concerns over the welfare and treatment of the animals involved in the sport. Racing dogs often suffer mistreatment. There have been over thirty cases of cruelty and neglect surrounding them in the United States since 2008. Some were locked in tiny cages for 23 hours a day, according to The Human Society.

lurchers and dog sports
Lurchers compete in dog racing.

Lurchers Today

Because Lurchers are not yet officially recognized by the American Kennel Club, they don’t have a popularity ranking. So it’s hard to know exactly how many people are currently keeping Lurchers as family pets in the US.

They’re nowhere near as popular in America as they are in the UK and Europe. That said, their numbers are reportedly on the rise.

Key Characteristics

Let’s take a look at the key features of Lurchers & everything you need to know as a prospective owner of the breed.

Appearance

Because Lurchers are a mixed-breed, so it’s hard to specify an average size. Every mix will differ somewhat. That said, they’re typically large but can be medium-large sized dogs. Depending on the gender of the dog, Lurchers usually stand between 22 and 30 inches tall and weigh between 60 and 70 lbs.

They have very similar builds to greyhounds, with slender dolichocephalic heads and tall, long, narrow, aerodynamic bodies. They have deep chests, flexible spines, and long, strong, muscular legs. Because of the variety of genes, their coats come in almost every color & combination you could think of. Their fur typically consists of a single-coat and is short like sighthound fur, but can be a bit longer and rougher depending on the mix.

Either way, their fur is low shedding and low maintenance, requiring only weekly brushing with a soft-bristled brush, and a bath every few months.

Personality & Behavior

Lurchers are typically friendly, gentle, affectionate, and loyal dogs who make good family pets, getting on especially well with children. That said, because of their strong hunting instincts, they can be aggressive towards other, smaller animals. It is not advisable that they live with small pets such as rabbits or hamsters unless they have the appropriate socialization from puppyhood.

Like all dogs, Lurchers should be well socialized with other dogs from a young age to avoid aggression. Lurchers famously have a lot of quirks. One of which is that they love to steal things, and not just food. Owners report random household items going missing, such as pens and pencils, clothes, pillows. But these dogs do not typically chew or destroy their collections, they just seem to enjoy stealing for the sake of it!

Though Lurchers are quite calm, they are also alert and will always let you know when strangers are approaching the house – they even sleep with their eyes open! These dogs also tend to have a fear of strange noises, such as echoes.

Training

Lurchers are very intelligent and trainable dogs. However, most owners find it difficult, if not impossible, to gain control over their hunting instincts, reporting that once they see something they want, they chase it no matter what.

So, if you adopt a Lurcher, it’s essential to make sure that you start training early and avoid situations that may trigger their instincts, and keep them on the leash in new or unfamiliar places to keep them safe & well-behaved.

lurchers are intelligent
Lurchers are smart dogs.

Lifestyle Requirements

Adult Lurchers should eat around 500g of lean meat, vegetables, and 2 cups of high-quality kibble per day divided into two meals. Another quirk of the breed, they are famously very picky eaters, so it may take you a while to find something that they like. They won’t eat anything they don’t like, and unusually for a dog, they’ll stop eating when they’re full. It’s a joke among owners that Lurchers are ‘always on a diet’ because they never finish their meals.

Lurchers need at least an hour or more of exercise a day, ideally, split into two daily walks and involving a run. They love to run more than anything and they are extremely quick due to their sighthound DNA. So making sure you have access to a large, safe space in which they can run while out on walks is essential. That said, despite their passion for running, Lurchers are famously quite big couch potatoes at heart. As with all intelligent dogs, Lurchers can bore easily, especially when they have Collie DNA. This means they need a lot of mental stimulation with games and social interaction every day to stop them from misbehaving.

Their fur is short and relatively low maintenance, requiring only a weekly brushing with a soft-bristled brush and a bath once every few months. Because their fur is short, sometimes these dogs require coats in the winter months to keep warm on walks. They also need to wear special collars designed for breeds with narrow heads & necks that won’t slip off during runs.

Lurcher Lifespan & Common Health Conditions

The average lifespan of a Lurcher is 12-14 years. They are generally healthy dogs, but unfortunately, different breeds are naturally more susceptible to getting certain health conditions. These are the ones that most often affect Lurchers.

Paw Problems

Greyhounds & their mixes often get a lot of problems with their paws, likely due to their love of running. Their feet also lack much protective fat. From muscle strains to torn claws and ‘corns‘; thickened portions of the skin, watch out for paw problems within young and active Lurchers. The signs & symptoms of paw problems include:

  • Limping
  • Whining
  • Pain
  • Licking the affected area to self soothe

Treatment options vary. A torn claw may just require home treatment, unless it’s particularly bad, in which case, a vet may need to treat the injury or prescribe antibiotics for any infections that may happen. Home treatment would include wrapping the injury in a clean cloth and applying pressure until the bleeding stops immediately after the tear, bathing, and rest until it heals.

Corns may need filing down or complete removal by a vet, and muscular tears may require rest, veterinary prescribed pain killers, physical therapy in extreme cases, and in severe cases, surgery.

Osteosarcoma

Unfortunately, Lurchers are prone to a malignant cancer of the bone known as Osteosarcoma. It tends to spread quickly and aggressively and is terminal more often than not. It’s quite common for cancer to have already spread around the body by the time any symptoms are even noticeable, and before diagnosis. It most commonly affects the limbs, but it can develop in the skull, spine, and ribs. The signs & symptoms of Osteosarcoma include:

  • Painful, hot, hard swelling or lump(s)
  • Limping
  • Fractures or breakages for no apparent reason
  • High temperature
  • Lethargy

If you suspect your dog of having Osteosarcoma you must take them to see a vet immediately for examinations, tests, and scans. Treatment consists of chemotherapy and amputation (when a limb is cancerous), but this rarely guarantees survival. The prognosis is almost never good; most dogs with the diagnosis are given around a year to live at the most.

Bloat (Gastric Torsion)

Bloat in dogs is when the stomach fills with gas; it’s common in deep-chested breeds like Greyhounds and Lurchers. It is extremely dangerous because it can twist the gut in a way that cuts off its blood supply. This stops the gas and food from being able to leave and is a life-threatening emergency. It can also make the spleen twist and lose circulation, and block vital veins in the back that carry blood to the heart. The signs & symptoms of bloat include:

  • A hard, swollen belly
  • Retching
  • Drooling
  • Abdomen pain
  • General distress

Dogs suffering from bloat must see a vet as soon as possible for life-saving treatment. They will need to have their stomach pumped, receive IV fluid treatment, antibiotics, pain killers, and surgery.

Heatstroke

Because Lurchers love to run around so much, they tend to suffer from heatstroke much more easily than other breeds of dogs. Heatstroke occurs when a dog gets so hot, the internal mechanism that regulates its body temperature stops being able to work properly. It only has to rise by a few degrees for this to happen. A dog’s body temperature should be between 101°F – 102°F. If it rises above 104°F, they are at serious risk of heatstroke. Between 107°F – 109°F, their organs will begin to shut down. The signs & symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Stomach upsets
  • Redded gums
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Mental dullness
  • Collapse/unconsciousness

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Dogs with heatstroke should see a vet as soon as possible. In the meantime, they should lay in a cool area, drink sips of fresh water, and be cooled down using flannels soaked in cool (not freezing cold) water.

Veterinary treatment includes gradual body cooling using water and ice, IV fluids, and sometimes oxygen therapy. The vet will also monitor your dog for secondary complications such as organ failure. The prognosis depends on the extremity of the dog’s rise in temperature. To prevent heatstroke, never exert your dog in temperatures of around or above 90°F and keep them hydrated during and after walks and play, by giving them constant access to clean, cold water to drink.

Lurchers – FAQs

What a Lurcher dogs a mix of?

They are a mix of sighthound breeds like Greyhounds and Whippets with pastoral working breeds, most commonly Border Collies and Terriers.

How much do Lurcher puppies cost?

The average price of a Lurcher puppy in the US is between $600-800. Prospective buyers can expect much higher prices for a pedigree Lurcher with a lineage of champions.

What are Lurchers like as pets?

Lurchers are typically friendly, gentle, affectionate, and loyal dogs who make good family pets, getting on especially well with children.

That said, because of their hunting instincts, they can be aggressive towards other animals. It is not generally advised that they live with small pets like rabbits and hamsters unless they’re appropriately socialized from puppyhood.

Do Lurchers have a lot of health problems?

Lurchers are generally healthy dogs, but all dog breeds are genetically more likely to develop certain health problems. Lurchers are more likely than other dogs to experience problems with their paws, such as corns, muscle strains, and torn claws. They’re also more likely to experience bloat, heatstroke, and develop a type of cancer called Osteosarcoma.

What age do Lurcher dogs usually calm down?

Lurchers can be quite hyperactive until about 4 years old when they start to mature and calm down. The process should be gradual, and they should remain generally active into old age.

Do Lurchers need a lot of grooming?

Lurchers don’t usually require extensive grooming, but exactly how much they need depends on the mix of the dog. Their fur is typically single-coated, but can be double-coated, and short like most sighthounds but can be a bit longer and fuzzier.

Either way, their fur is usually fairly low shedding and low maintenance, requiring only a weekly brushing with a soft-bristled brush and a bath once every few months.

Is it true that Lurchers are notorious thieves?

Lurchers are known to steal for the fun of it – and not just food! Owners report their pens, cushions, and shoes all going missing. In fact, the name Lurcher is possibly derived from an archaic English term meaning thief.

Are Lurchers scared of certain noises?

Lots of dogs are frightened of loud noises like thunder and fireworks, but a lot of Lurcher owners seem to report that their dogs are distressed by hearing strange sounds, such as echoes.

Why are Lurchers abandoned a lot?

Unfortunately, a lot of new owners just know they want a dog that is cute, and don’t do enough research into the breed they’re adopting. If you’re not prepared for the more difficult traits that come with certain dogs, it can make life difficult. This is why so many Lurchers end up abandoned and turned in to dog shelters.

But with the right person or family, love, and dedication, Lurchers make brilliant dogs and wonderful members of the family. They deserve to be loved and looked after just as much as any other breed of dog.

Lurchers are beautiful, quirky dogs, with a unique history full of hard work and hardships. With their popularity as pets on the rise, will you be looking to adopt a lovely Lurcher? What do you like most about them? Let us know in the comments down below!