The end of testing?

Elettra, Mia and Doc stretch their legs Friday night before the hunt test.

Elettra, Mia and Doc stretch their legs Friday night before the hunt test.

I’ve always said that the main reasons I test my dogs are: 1- hunt tests are like seminars from which I can learn, and 2- they give me a way to gauge how well I train; I also enjoy the camaraderie of hunt tests. After this past weekend of testing, I now know where I stand and I’m seriously debating on whether or not I’ll enter my dogs in another hunt test.

Hunt test camp site.

Hunt test camp site.

In the past, AKC judges have been very helpful in giving me tips for improving my dogs’ hunting skills and pointing out mistakes that I made. Therefore, I viewed it as my fault that the guys were failing all their hunt tests on Saturday. That is, until I was told by the owner of a Setter, “they don’t like dogs with long tails” (Setters), and another individual told me that these were some of the most biased hunt tests he’d encountered anywhere in the country.

Judges and handlers holding a call-back for a retrieving honor.

Judges and handlers holding a call-back for a retrieving honor.

Even though my Spinone out-hunted most of their German Shorthair Pointer and Brittany Spaniel brace mates – especially considering the number of dogs that were disqualified – they failed every test in the same category: Hunting. The criticism against them was: 1- they hunted primarily within shotgun range, and 2- did not show enough independence (from time to time, my dogs check in with me).

Don’t get me wrong, everyone testing their dogs were great people and I enjoyed the camaraderie. So Saturday night after watching my dogs fail every test, I had a lengthy conversation with an AKC judge and learned a great deal. Such as:

1- A pointing dog must hunt outside of shotgun range because any dog can find birds within shotgun range, and hunters themselves will stumble over anything within shotgun range. Since Spinone hunt at a medium distance unlike German Shorthairs and Brittany Spaniels, this was a guaranteed failure.
2- Dogs need to build muscle in order to run big, and a good way of doing that is to attach a 3-foot log chain to their neck and let them drag it around for a few minutes. Eventually they will build enough muscle that they will want to run big. While this is apparently used on German Shorthairs, don’t expect me to hook my Spinone to a log chain.
3 – But there was one Senior Hunt Test rule that I found hard to believe: the handler is allowed to hold their dog by the collar when honoring. Now, I always thought that by the time a dog gets to their Senior Hunt Test, they were a “finished” dog, but since when does a “finished” dog have to be held by the collar to honor their brace mate?! My dogs may have failed every test, but I never once had to hold their collar to honor a brace mate. I guess that makes them more “Finished” than the AKC standard.

So after watching my dogs being insulted by their test scores for two days, I ripped into the judge of my final hunt test and told him exactly what I thought of their test criteria and obvious bias. Yup, I burned my bridges big time but it sure felt good.

Stay tuned as the next three posts will summarize each of their hunt tests.

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5 Responses to The end of testing?

  1. Ted Wentink says:

    Unfortunately, some AKC hunt test judges are mostly field trial judges, which can sometimes cloud their vision. They forget that it’s a hunt, not a race. Dogs are to be judged on productivity and cooperation, not style.
    My heart goes out to you, Robert. I’ve run many tests under many judges. Some have become my friends. Some, well, not so much. We train and train for every possible factor – weather, terrain, birds that won’t fly – but we can never control the judges. It’s a crying shame. We all pay our entry fees and expect a fair score, nothing more. Sometimes we mess up, and that’s just the way it goes. But when a dog runs well they need to be scored fairly, regardless of the judge’s personal breed preferences.
    Hang in there! Regardless of the judging, your dogs had a great weekend. They still got to hunt birds for and with you and bring the shot birds to you. And they’re ready to do it again for you. Anytime you ask. They’re good dogs.

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  2. Jay Hoffman says:

    Thanks for the info. I have hunted for 15 years, and hunted with my Spinone for 5 years. While I have never done trials, I have thought about doing it. Now, not so much. The first point you make — the judges wanting your dog to hunt big — is completely undesirable for the type of hunting I do. I live in Illinois, and mostly hunt pheasant on preserves and state land in the Midwest, with some grouse and woodcock thrown in. Spinoni are perfect for this type of hunting because they do work close. Lots of birds, especially grouse and rooster pheasant, will not hold for a point. If you hunt with a big running dog, you miss a lot of birds. I get that Western states are big, and wild bird cover is vast (lucky them), but who says there is only one way to hunt this cover? I hope that NAVDA rules, or at least the Judges who interpret those rules, are not as biased toward their favored breeds and and disconnected from the realities of a lot of hunting conditions. Anyway, thanks for sharing and good luck.

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    • Thanks for your comment, I would not run in a trial, which is competitive but you still might consider a hunt test. The judges in Illinois may appreciate and understand breeds like Spinone, and I still believe that in general, hunt tests are fun. The dogs don’t know scores and ribbons, they’re just hunting, so it still gets them on birds in hunting situations. I just need to reevaluate things for myself.

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  3. I think it is a shame that hunt tests (true for retrievers as well) have moved so far away from hunting. Of course you can get bad judges and one thing our club has done is to work to qualify more club members as judges so that we know for our tests we have quality judges. When we hunt upland, our dogs are required to hunt close. But then they are flushers not pointers.

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