Trials, Tests and Hunting

hunter94

Active member
seems to be a lot written lately about how we train/breed our bird dogs and the contradiction between making a hunting dog and making a trial/test dog. it has really given me pause and food for thought as i acquire a new pup and decide on my approach/goals for his development.

so often many focus on meeting/preparing for test criteria and (of course) working the dog on pen raised birds under similar conditions, that we may unknowingly be making a mechanical dog, conditioned to win trials or test at a high level. sometimes these same dogs never really learn to handle wild birds, becoming a hunting dog as intended. i have heard stories of high level champions not having the developed instincts to be top notch bird dogs in the field. i do believe, for me, there is a minimum standard of basic manners and handling that i expect and will train for...being steady, backing, retrieving to hand (drives me crazy when i see videos of dogs mouthing their birds and/or not retrieving or dropping the bird at the hunters feet....whatever standard you desire.

but i am not prepared to over train for tests and trials just to put the title on the dog's pedigree either.....the problem lies with knowing you are breeding/buying a pup with lots of natural drive and ability and so we look to titled dogs who have proven their worth.

for me i am not sure if i am looking at a well bred pup, a handler or trainer that is really good at development or a dog that can just handle the pressure/training to achieve high test scores/title? in reality it is probably a bit of both, just my speculation.

so, wondering, what are other folks thinking when they plan to develop the pup? i would guess few folks want just a "meat dog", but settle somewhere between a dog that proves his worth on paper and one that handles wild birds well in the field?

i have hunted with plenty of dogs with no manners, i would rather hunt by myself than run my dog with one that displays bad habits.
 
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A5 Sweet 16

Member
At this point, exploits on paper mean nothing to me. I don’t plan to breed my dog (although if I could get a pup from my current dog, I’d do it in a heartbeat). Nor do I participate in trials/tests. I’ve owned a grand total of 2 English springer spaniels, purchased solely because I love dogs (particularly spaniels) & I because I want to shoot pheasants. In this day & age, you won’t be very successful on SD public land without a decent dog. I’m after a dog who loves people, at least likes other dogs, travels fairly well, likes TV, loves water, is pretty cute, & can’t get enough pheasant hunting. I need him to understand basic commands & obey most of the time. I don’t need him to perform tricks or other amazing feats. My first dog was a great dog & murder on pheasants, but he was naturally hard-headed & I was a beginner. So….while he was pretty good about obedience, he did much of it on his own time. My current dog is incredible in every respect (relative to my needs). He’s also murder on pheasants, but he’s much more willing to please. He’s the friendliest, happiest dog I’ve ever met. He’s almost 6, & I’ve only heard him growl in anger one time (when a lab tried to steal his bumper at the lake). He cost $350 & my first dog cost $200 in 2002. I couldn’t care less about pedigree, other than that there IS one. In each case, I met my prospective puppy’s mother & talked to people about the father. I met the families who bred them. I met the pups at 4 weeks & picked one out. Everything added up to a great puppy. It’s just not that tough unless looks on paper are important to you.
 

FCSpringer

Super Moderator
In the Spaniel world they are one in the same. Our trials are based on a days hunt, and set up as best we can to simulate it. Dogs in gun range, in control, and using the wind. A good trial dog, makes good hunting dogs and vice versa. Hunt test titles are not a good choice to base purchasing a dog off. It is just pass fail stuff. And to be honest, for the most part like watching paint dry. Show dogs pass, clumbers etc. However good dogs also join in the fun. But it is not the place to look for good dogs. AKC Trials and titles would be the place for spaniels. And just stay away from any show lines if looking for a hunting dog. Otherwise trial and hunting dogs are one in the same with us.
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Dakotazeb

Active member
As usual there are no clear cut answers to your questions. I've had hunting dogs for over 40 years. All AKC registered dogs. Several with nothing in their pedigree to indicate whether they would be good hunting dogs and a few with steller pedigrees with multiple national field trial champions. All turned out to be at least pretty good bird dogs. But I can see the difference in the ones with the proven breeding. It doesn't guaranty that a dog with a super pedigree will turn out great but I think it does increase your odds. From what I've seen in being around dogs is that a great hunting dog may not make a great trial dog. And vice versa. I happen to run NSTRA field trials and for the most part the very good dogs at the trials are also very good hunting dogs. The good ones learn the difference between being at a trial and actual hunting. The female Brittany I had to put down a little over a year ago was a NSTRA champion and a pheasant hunting dog that would not take a back seat to any dog.

As I said, there is no clear answer for you and I am sure you will get many varying opinions on this subject. It's important that you find a breeder that is breeding to develop the kind of dog you want.
 

hunter94

Active member
As usual there are no clear cut answers to your questions. I've had hunting dogs for over 40 years. All AKC registered dogs. Several with nothing in their pedigree to indicate whether they would be good hunting dogs and a few with steller pedigrees with multiple national field trial champions. All turned out to be at least pretty good bird dogs. But I can see the difference in the ones with the proven breeding. It doesn't guaranty that a dog with a super pedigree will turn out great but I think it does increase your odds. From what I've seen in being around dogs is that a great hunting dog may not make a great trial dog. And vice versa. I happen to run NSTRA field trials and for the most part the very good dogs at the trials are also very good hunting dogs. The good ones learn the difference between being at a trial and actual hunting. The female Brittany I had to put down a little over a year ago was a NSTRA champion and a pheasant hunting dog that would not take a back seat to any dog.

As I said, there is no clear answer for you and I am sure you will get many varying opinions on this subject. It's important that you find a breeder that is breeding to develop the kind of dog you want.
i think your observations and experience are correct......we always throw the dice, to some degree, when picking a pup.
and i think, to me, it is more important to develop the pup's skills to my liking than just putting a title on the dog....i don't need a brag dog, just one that meets my standards. i do like to do some testing to help the breeder verify the quality of his program.
 

Gatzby

Member
AKC Retriever Trials do not reflect actual hunting any longer but only because the dogs have became so good that to pick a winner the marks end up being crazy long. Marks and blinds can and do exceed 400 yards in the "big dog" stakes. But don't think for 1 second these dogs can not hunt. For most dogs to become an FC or AFC they need to be trained 3-4 days a week and competed most every weekend. This doesn't leave much time for hunting but many still do. Its a safe bet that any MH or FC/AFC will be a lights out hunter with just a little experience, in no way is the hunt being bred out. I will admit that that more attention needs to be paid to the "look" of some of these dogs before they a bred. The skills that make it possible to run trials are the same as a hunting dog needs. Only the trial dog needs his skills polished, honed, and refined to a level most meat dogs couldn't ever achieve. Hunt tests are far closer to "real" waterfowl hunting but are still a simulation. Both HRC, and NAHRA have upland tests. The NaHRA test requires a dog to quarter a field, sit to flush, retrieve, and run a rather simple blind. I think the HRC test has many of the same requirements.

Buying a puppy is always a gamble but you can greatly increase your odds of a great dog by buying from proven parents with hunt test or field trial titles. Seeing both parents hunt is great but far less convenient. Plus researching pedigrees becomes very interesting as you learn more about Sire's and Dams. I had a stray that was a lights out upland dog and very capable waterfowl dog. He trained at a Master Hunter level and could do the work all day. I had him genetically tested and he was a purebred lab. He also had a couple of "odd" traits. He had Bolo pads on 3 of 4 feet, a faint honcho ring on his tail, and was an EIC carrier. All this makes me think he was from the FC/AFC Hunting Hills Corriander (Cory) line. I will own another dog from the Cory line someday!

The long and short of it: My dogs are hunting dogs first and test/trial dogs second. For me I enjoy training nearly as much as hunting and trials are a great way to spend time with like minded dog people. Between hunting, training, and test/trials my dogs pick up more birds a year than nearly every dog that only gets hunted a couple months a year. Another benefit is I never have to get my dogs feet or body in shape for hunting season.
 

sweese

New member
Like most things in life it is good to set goals. Know what you want out of your dog and train a bit past that. Gun dog clubs, club training days, and hunt tests (pointer or retriever) can be additional tools to help you achieve those goals and are usually most active out of the hunting season. When putting hunt tests or trials in your tool bag, find those organizations and/or levels that best fit your goals. Example: NSTRA or bird dog circuit is different than AKC master hunter or field trial.
 
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