Ready, Set, Let’s Go! - Outstanding in their Field
The first U.S. recorded field trial was held in Memphis, Tennessee in 1874. Fifty years later, the American Kennel Club (AKC) held its first trial in Medford, New Jersey. Field trials are not to be confused with hunt tests. Though they have many similarities, field trials and hunt tests are also very different from each other. The main difference is that field trials are competitions in which one dog wins, while hunt tests are not competitive, as each dog is judged individually. The purpose of a field trial is to pick a winner, yet that of a hunt test is to assess each dog’s abilities.
Only seven breeds are eligible to compete in AKC field trials. Retrievers (Chesapeake, Curly-Coat, Flat Coat, Golden, Labrador and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling) and Irish Water Spaniels. Besides the AKC, there are other groups that host or sponsor field trials, such as American Field Sporting Dog Association, National Shoot to Retrieve Association, National Retriever Club, National Bird Hunters Association, etc. These other groups will not only allow breeds that retrieve, but they will also welcome hunting and pointing breeds. Each association conducts trials differently and has different formats. Some of the differences are due to the type of dogs entered at the trial; pointing, spaniel or retriever. Some involve shooting birds; some do not. They may use retrieving dummies, small game, wild birds or pen-raised birds.
Field trials are highly competitive, sometimes having 100 dogs all competing for first through fourth place ribbons. The dogs retrieve up to 600 yards away. They test a dog’s memory, retrieving skills, problem-solving, ability to work with their handler and intelligence. In order to accomplish this, trials strive to resemble a day’s shooting in the field. Dogs are expected to work with all types of game presented to them. Each type of dog (Retrievers, Spaniels, or breeds that hunt, point and retrieve) will be judged on different behaviors and abilities. Retrievers are basically tested on their ability to locate the game, the directness of the retrieve and the speed with which they do it. They will also be judged on style, control, and drive. Spaniels are mainly judged on their ability to follow directional commands and, find both visible and hidden dummies. Breeds that hunt, point and retrieve are judged on their hunting and retrieving skills. Judging their pointing abilities is difficult in these artificial tests.
If your Retriever, Spaniel or Pointer comes from working stock, you may want to give field trials a chance. Think about it, you get to spend lots of time outside, enjoying the great outdoors with your best friend. Your dog's breeder may be able to guide you as to how to get started. Or you can find a field trial club, which will undoubtedly be full of passionate competitors only too happy to welcome you to the sport. If, however, your hunting dog doesn’t come from working stock, you may find that he does not possess the instinct or drive to successfully participate in field trials. If that is the case, perhaps the two of you would find brunch, and an action flick a more enjoyable way to spend a Saturday together.
If you enjoy Christina's writing, check her books out! She is the author of “Chester Gigolo: Diary of a Dog Star” and "Insider Training: Chester Gigolo’s Dog Training Secrets Revealed” for which she won the 2016 DWAA Captain Haggerty award for Best Training Book and the 11th Annual National Indie Excellence Award (Animals & Pets). She is also a contributing author to “Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors”. She has written multiple articles which have appeared in various international publications.