We Labradors are Sporting Dogs. These days we love all sports, but the classification was originally designed for dogs who help people hunt birds and small game…aka Gun Dogs or Bird Dogs. Unfortunately, hunting season is pretty short. So what is a good Sporting Dog supposed to do to keep sharp for just a few precious weeks out of the year? Train for “Hunt Tests” and/or “Field Trials” of course!
In a “Hunt Test”, an imitation of actual hunting conditions, a dog’s natural ability and trained obedience are evaluated against a “Test Standard”. In a “Field Trial”, the dogs compete against one another in ever more demanding variations of field conditions which may or may not resemble real hunting conditions. I call it extreme field obedience.
My employer, Black Lab Vodka, supports all kinds of hunt tests and trials from a small club’s annual event to the Master Nationals and NAHRA Invitational. And you folks send us all kinds of pictures of your dogs competing and actually hunting!
Chris Moriarty of Maryland sent this photo of himself and Chief with their first AKC Junior Hunt Test Ribbon. He told us all about their adventures at the “line” during their first two tests. The first test was failed due to the oldest reason in the book “Handler Error”. But the second got them this ribbon and three more passes will land Chief his Junior Hunter title. He’ll do it!
The AKC tests have three levels, Junior-single simple retrieves, Senior-multiple and blind retrieves and Master-really advanced work. Every dog at a particular event takes the same test at their level. The hunting part is simulated by either live birds being released and actually shot by the gunners or by catapulting dead or plastic birds while firing blanks. Weather conditions can change over the course of the test giving some dogs an advantage and if live birds are used…well just like hunting, anything can happen. For example, my Granpa Gator’s first test used live ducks. He had passed the land part of the test and was up for the water retrieve. He and Mom, his handler, come up to the line to wait for the retrieve with the Judge and other officials. Bang! The Mallard is shot and splashes into the lake. The Judge gives the ok, “Dog!” Granpa, in a highly desirable bee-line, swims to where the duck went in and…no duck. It was still alive and it ducked under the water. Pop! It’s back on the surface. Sploosh! It’s under water again. For almost an eternity, Granpa chases a diving Mallard around in circles until he gets it in his soft retriever mouth and heads for shore. But wait! The tribulations do not stop there. Now the duck is biting Granpa on the head as he swims back. Granpa takes this abuse until landfall where he promptly spits the duck out and barks at it furiously. The Judge tells Mom, “What a good bird, what a good dog, but he flunks if he doesn’t bring it to you.” “Pick it up, Gator” and since he had vented enough, Granpa picks up the duck, walks around Mom, sits perfectly and delivers to hand. TA DA, a pass! Great Stuff. I know you guys have lots of these kind of stories to share…First Retrieve, First Hunt, Best Test…hmmm there may be a contest in here somewhere. I’ll keep you posted.