There are several organizations that offer a way to test or compete with your bird dogs. NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association), NSTRA (National Shoot to Retrieve), American Field, and AKC Hunt Tests. For this Blog, I am going to focus on the AKC Hunt Tests. http://www.akc.org/events/hunting-tests/pointers/
An AKC Pointing Dog Hunt Test is an opportunity for a person to demonstrate a dog’s ability to perform the task for which they were originally bred. The test gauges the dog’s natural hunting ability and training against a set of standards. There are three levels of performance: Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter and Master Hunter. I am not going to go into the specifics of each level, just an overview and how this type of event can help create a better bond with your dog and help you in the field. If you want more info on AKC Hunt Tests, here is an article written by Mel Reveles of Fusion Vizslas: https://fusionvizslas.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/what-are-akc-hunting-tests-and-titles-for-pointing-breeds/
The AKC Hunt test is a great way for you and your bird dog to get ready for the next hunting season. The benefits are almost endless. I will give you a few thoughts on how the event has helped me with my Vizslas.
It’s a great opportunity to bond with your dog: There is no doubt that by working with your dog to achieve any of the above listed titles, that you are going to be bonding with your dog. The more that you work, and bond with your dog, the more it will help you in the field during hunting season.
Get your dog in shape: Each year I see dogs that are not in shape and out hunting. That puts stress on the dog, and puts them at risk for injury, or worst, heat stroke. When you are working and training with your dog, you will be helping them get in shape. A nice side benefit, you will get in better shape also.
Learn what areas to improve your dog’s training: A lot of you send your dog’s off to a trainer. You can’t expect your dog to be on remote control when you get him back. You need to apply the dogs training, and learn to handle the dog yourself. Make sure that you spend time with your trainer when you pick your dog up so that you understand the commands he has been taught.
Improve your dog handling skills: I have been on lots of hunts where dogs are running around, and the handlers are screaming at their dogs, or blowing their whistles non-stop. Now that’s a great way to scare off all of birds. By training and running your dogs in the AKC hunt tests, you will become a much better dog handler. The end-product will make your hunting trips more enjoyable and create a better bond with you and your dog.
Force you to get an earlier start in training: A lot of us procrastinate and do not start getting our dogs ready for hunting season until the weekend before your hunt or trip. If you start getting your dog ready for a hunt test, it will force you to start earlier in the season. By working your dog months before hunting season, your dog will be in better shape, and you will enjoy the season more.
Will make you a better trainer: Now by making you a better trainer, I am referring to the ground time with your dog. You have probably already had someone train your dog. But you need ground time with your dog as mentioned above. As you work more with your dog, you will become a better trainer. You will learn methods to help your dog maybe honor, or become a better retriever.
Your dog will learn to honor and become a better retriever: Speaking of, your dog will need to honor and be a good retriever. These are both important and basic tasks for a complete hunting dog and are also tasks that will apply when out hunting. One of the most basic skills a hunting dog should have is retrieving dead or wounded game. The Hunt Test will help your dog be a better retriever.
I have been participating in AKC Hunt Tests for over 15 years. I have helped put them on, I have been a chair, bird planter, gunner, and all of the above. I have also trained two AKC Master Hunters, and countless Senior and Junior Hunters. So, I can tell you from a personal standpoint that I have become a better trainer, and better handler of bird dogs by training for, and running in AKC Hunt Tests. I believe that if you give it a try, you will become a better companion with your bird dog. I hope to see you at an event one day.
Alan Blakemore is an upland enthusiast and an owner handler, owner trainer of Hungarian Vizslas. (www.huntmorevizslas.com) He is currently the Secretary of the Lone Star Quail/Pheasant Forever Chapter of Dallas/Fort Worth. (www.lonestarqf.org)