Participating in Hunt Tests

Remember - you are here to earn a ribbon, not to train!!

Upon arriving at the Hunt Test, you should have done everything possible to prepare for the event. The following ideas may help make your experience a little more enjoyable:

  • Be Relaxed and Have Fun
  • Keep You Dog Calm and Relaxed
  • Evaluate each element before you commit your dog
  • Do Not Overhandle!!!
  • Locate the Porta Potty!!!

Be Relaxed and have fun

Hunt Tests are not just a means to show off what you and your dog can do. They are a great way to meet people from many different background and breeds who all share the same passion. Conversations can lead to different training ideas, possible equipment to purchase or avoid, or just a very enjoyable time!

Being relaxed yourself will help your dog be relaxed as well. If you are tense and nervous, your dog will sense something is wrong and may not perform up to your expectations. Try to control your anxiety to prevent your dog from picking up on your nerves. Do not change the tone, volume, or sequence of commands. Be aware of your body language and ask yourself, "Am I tense, uptight, or fidgety?"

Keep Your Dog Calm and Relaxed

In addition to relaxing yourself, the best thing you can do to be successful at any of the elements at a Hunt Test is keep your dog calm and relaxed. Many Field Trialers use a technique call "Just in time to the Line" which means to have the dog spend the least amount of time in the gallery waiting before having to run. The key is seeing how fast the dogs are completing any given element to know when to get your dog and start walking to the gallery.

Evaluate each situation before you commit your dog

Many Hunt Test participants tend to line up their dog and release them without taking into account the situation in which they are about to place their dog. This includes the following:

  • Listening to the Judges Instruction
  • Being Aware of Wind Direction
  • Taking Note of Terrain Changes

Listing to the Judges Instruction: The judge will tell you how this portion of the test is set up and how he/she expects you and your dog to handle it. While this may seem obvious,handling a given element may be more complicated than one might think. Occasionally, a judge will give an instruction with which you are unfamiliar. For example, during the Water Retrieve element, a judge might say, "I'll use a standing three count." If you did not hear this and you make a move or ask the judge something, the dog might go on the retrieve.

Wind Direction: At times, we forget our dogs are smell-dominant not sight-dominant. Always consider the wind direction to evaluate how you send you dog or when you might need to make a correction in the field. For example, if there is a cross wind at the hunt dead you can gain an advantage lining your dog up on the down wind side of the course.

Terrain Changes: When you come to the line always look at the terrain for potential issues like tree lines, gullies, and cover changes. Many Hunt Test participants are Urban dwellers and they must always look at the terrain for possible barriers -- particularly if the dog is not a hunter. For example, a Hunt Dead was setup so that the cover change was a dirt trail. The dog was sent and stopped at the trial. It had been trained not to go into the road but, instead, to sit beside it. The handler had to remember to give the command "Ok" to have the dog continue and to bring the retrieve back.

Do Not Overhandle!!!

A common mistake is to over handle the dog when he is not doing something the way you would like or the way he was trained to do. Over handling can take many forms, such as screaming commands, blowing the whistle as though your life depended on it, or switching from your regular whistle to a louder one. In any case, take into account the conditions before making any corrections. Give the dog some time to figure things out for himself before immediately correcting him. Also, for you non-huntersplease remember that using the whistle would always be preferable to using your voice. No one wants to use a lot of verbal commands while doing "real life" hunting.

Another very common example of over handling is waiting for your dog to give you a perfect front for the retrieve. If you are in Junior and your dog has dropped the bird within a foot or so of you, just pick up the bird! Your begging your dog to pick up the bird is only going to make you look bad, whereas a swift step forward to grab the bird will end things quickly. If this happens in Senior or Master level, however, do what you have to do to get the dog to pick up the bird and make the required delivery to hand.

A Hunt Test is set up so the dog can use his hunting skills and instincts to find game. Just as with any athlete, your dog may not always behave the way you and he practiced because conditions may be different than your normal training sessions. Please rememberyou man not correct your dog physically at a hunt test not matter how frustrating his behaviors may be. There are some ways, however, that a correction may be appropriate. On the hunt dead, for example, you may give your dog multiple commands or whistle him back in if he has gone off in the opposite direction. If such a correction needs to be made, the handler should try very hard not to cause the dog any further confusion. For example, many people fail at the Master Water Blind element by trying to make too many corrections in the water to redirect a dog who is headed for an "obstacle" (say, the tempting bank directly across from the handler) rather than toward the place the handler believes the dog should go to most efficiently find the bird. This over handling of the situation can cause the dog to lose all sense of direction. A better approach might be to let the dog take the "obstacle", take a second to regroup, and then handle the dog in the appropriate direction.

Keep in mind the suggestions outlined above to ensure the best possible experience at your next Hunt Test!