As with almost everything in the hound group, competitions for these dogs are generally divided into two very specific categories. This same type of division in shows and events also reflects the role that these dogs play as "working" dogs, with many breeds or hybrid crosses of hounds and other breeds employed in various types of activities.
First and foremost all hounds can be trained and entered into events and competitions that are specific to their type of hunting techniques. Scent hounds hunt by tracking, so events or competitions are designed to allow a dog to demonstrate his or her ability to follow a scent over a specific course. Different breed organizations and groups often determine the specific format of these classes or competitions, but there are some general components that are included in almost all events.
The first is that the hound must be able to work independent of the handler, but must also be responsive to the handler. A course is pre set and the scent is marked either by dragging a marked object over the course or by otherwise laying down a track. The dog is then alerted onto the track by the handler and is scored on how closely he or she follows the actual footsteps of tracks of the target. At the end of the course the individual that lays the track will drop an item, which the dog has to locate.
Tracking competitions require a lot of planning and space since every dog will have a different track to follow. A track is only used once, as this prevents the tracking dog from simply following the scent of a previous dog. The handler cannot cue or correct the dog if he or she goes off the track or becomes distracted on the course. Courses do change and the difficulty of the tracking increases through the various levels. Courses range in length from 400 yards to up to 1000 yards for American Kennel Club sanctioned events.
As the dog and handler move into higher levels of competition the challenge becomes much more pronounced. In lower level competitions the tracks are fresh, typically about 30 minutes old, and have only a few changes in direction and very little challenge with regards to terrain. By the end of the levels of competition the track is up to 5 hours old and rain, snow or other types of weather conditions may be replicated or taken advantage of to really test the dog. The terrain also becomes much more challenging and may require the dog to use high levels of problem solving skills to stay on the track.
Sight hounds do not compete in scent hound competitions, just as scent hounds do not compete in sight hound events. The most popular event for a sight hound is called lure coursing, which is a very exciting event to watch. In this event a mechanical lure, often with a representation to a rabbit, is placed before the dogs and driven over a set course in keeping with how a rabbit would naturally run. The dogs are required to keep up the lure and to stay with the lure, not try to anticipate which way the lure will move. Typically in shorter courses, which may be up to 600 yards in length the lure will change directions several times, but in the longer courses of up to 1000 yards directions changes will increase.
Dogs typically run against other dogs in the same breed, however there are exceptions based on different organizations and associations that sponsor the events. In most lure coursing competitions dogs are also grouped by age with younger dogs not competing against the more senior dogs. Since this is a very fast paced, strenuous type of race with sudden and dramatic directional changes dogs under one year of age are prohibited from competing.
Depending on the group that actually sponsors the event the dogs may be required to be purebred, registered dogs of a recognized sight hound breed. Other types of lure coursing events may allow hybrids, often called Lurchers, to enter in the events but not be provided with points or standings within purebred competition events. Lurchers are not a true breed, rather a cross between a sight hound and a non-hound breed. Common Lurcher breed crosses are Greyhounds and Collies, Greyhounds and the large terrier breeds or even sight hounds and any sporting breed.
Any hound that meets breed standards can also be entered into traditional conformation types of dog shows. The gentle, amicable temperament of the hounds makes them a good show dog as they are not typically aggressive or problematic in the ring. In addition their shorter coats, with the exception of the Afghan Hound, are easy to keep looking in top shape, perfect for a eye catching presentation.
Hounds and hound crosses are also used in agility, obedience and other types of athletic competitions. Hounds may be more challenging for both agility and obedience because of their rather more independent nature, but once they focus in on what the handler wants they are very effective in these types of events. Sight hounds may also be a great dog for Flyball and Frisbee types of events since they can use their natural speed and athletic ability to compete.
There are many hounds, typically the scent hounds, that are used in working situations in police forces, search and rescue agencies and other specialized types of organizations. Scent hounds can be trained to detect contraband, illegal drugs, food items or virtually anything else that has a unique scent. Of course they are also used for tracking purposes, although this is a less common use that it has been historically. Hounds used for these types of real world jobs may or may not be purebred and may hybrids and even rescue puppies become outstanding police or search and rescue working animals. The military also uses scent hounds for bomb detection and other types of identification of materials or chemicals.