Encouraging your retriever to achieve his/her true potential
When clients show up for training here at Otter Tail Kennels, it is often behavior problems that first drove them to pick up the phone and seek help. Problem solving is a big part of retriever training, but it is not what drives me each morning. Retrievers are beautiful, loving dogs that have an innate love for retrieving. Watching them learn and grow and become everything they were created to be is where I find fulfillment.
That’s why I’m always surprised when a retriever owner doesn’t understand the full potential of their retriever.
We often demonstrate to clients, with a dog that has completed one of our hunting programs, what they can expect from their retriever once he/she has competed training. The owners are often impressed with the great attitude and work the dog can do. Then we demonstrate an advanced dog, one that has completed our advanced or competition programs. The reaction is often pure awe. They simply had no idea these dogs possessed such talent and ability.
What we do is not rocket science. We simply build and encourage a retriever’s natural talent and skills. The dogs are the athletes. They deserve the glory. But many retriever owners do not understand the natural talent and skill that lies just below the surface of their family retriever. It brings us joy to display this raw talent and encourage owners to develop it.
How to encourage and develop your retriever’s talent?
All dogs should be encouraged to learn new things. Like people, learning new things helps keep a dog’s brain active and helps them grow. Ongoing training is the best way to do this, but sometimes it helps to have a measuring stick – a way to judge if you are making any progress. This is where hunt tests can be helpful.
You can plan your training toward the goal of winning a ribbon or title for your dog, and then advancing toward the next one. In this way, you can encourage your retriever and yourself, to always be learning and growing in ability and confidence.
Other benefits of competing my retriever in hunt tests
Besides learning and growing in your knowledge of training retrievers, there are many benefits to getting involved in competing your retriever. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Competing can become a family event. Many retriever owner’s find that hunt tests provide a time to connect as a family and spend time with their retriever. It is kind of like a family attending a sporting event to watch a family member compete.
- A way to connect with others who share your interests of hunting and competing. Developing friendships with like minded people. You may even find some other enthusiasts who can help you train.
- Discovering the joy of seeing your dog achieve his/her true potential
- Keeps you actively training for hunting scenarios and increasing the knowledge of your dog to respond to those scenarios during an actual hunt.
- Keeps your dog in shape and further his/her training
- Just to have fun. Many people find that they simply love to train and compete their dog!
What is a retriever hunt test?
Hunt tests are a non-competitive event. Dogs are not competing against other dogs, but instead the dogs natural ability and training is evaluated against a written standard. Each dog that meets the standard, is awarded a ‘Pass’. So essentially all dogs entered can pass.
Generally, earning four to six ‘passes’ in a level result in earning a title. That title is then recorded at the end of the dog’s formal AKC or UKC name.
There are other retriever tests called Field Trials. Field trials have a higher standard of testing, in which your dog is tested against other dogs and only one is the ultimate winner. Our discussion today will focus only on hunt tests.
There are three organizations that host hunt tests. The American Kennel Club (AKC), the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) and the United Kennel Club (UKC). Each of these organizations has different testing standards. I will discuss the two most common, AKC and UKC.
What breeds of dogs can I compete?
There are hunt tests for many different breeds including hounds, pointers and beagles, but for retriever hunt tests, the breeds that can compete vary by the organization that is hosting the event.
For AKC Hunt Tests, your dog must be AKC registered and one of 21 acceptable breeds . For UKC , your dog must be UKC registered and the breed listed in their Gun Dog classification. To get the full details, check out the links below:
What is expected of a dog during a retriever hunt test?
Each organization has their own set of standards. To understand all the different levels of hunt tests and what is expected of your dog at each, consider reading through the rule books.
Having said that, there are some general expectations for each level.
For Junior and Started level tests:
- Marks on land and water will be single marks
- Dogs can be restrained at the line, so they don’t need to be steady
- Depending on test, birds need to be delivered to hand or immediate area of handler
For Senior or Seasoned level tests:
- Marks on land and water will be doubles
- One land and water blind
- Dog must be steady and deliver to hand
- Diversions and walk ups are added
For Master or Finished level tests:
- Marks on land and water will be triples
- Land and water blinds
- Dog must be steady and deliver to hand
- Diversions, walk ups and honoring added
Be sure and check the official rule books for complete details. These are very broad explanations.
Can I run my dog in a hunt test? Or does a professional need to?
Yes, you can run your dog in a hunt test. Most hunt tests, especially at the junior or started level, have a very low-key atmosphere and the crowds are very supportive. Since dogs are not competing against each other, but rather against a standard, everyone encourages each other to succeed.
If you are uncomfortable handling your dog in this kind of setting, your professional trainer can run your dog for you.
How do I get started in hunt tests
If you are interested in getting started in hunt test competition, I would recommend doing the following:
Download a copy of the rule book for the organization you are considering competing in (i.e. UKC or AKC) and read through it. There is a wealth of information and everyone who is competing is required to know the rules and what is expected of them.
Find a hunt test near you and go watch one. There is no better way to get a feel for what is expected than to actually watch a test. You will be able to see the tests, understand what is expected of you as the handler and talk to others about hunt tests.
Optional. AKC puts on seminars that you can attend, use this link to find out if there is one going on near you.
Get training! Or, talk to a professional trainer to get your retriever ready to compete! Look for a trainer that is willing to teach YOU and your dog what you need to know to compete.
Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we offer a weekly group training free of charge for our clients. During that training our clients are exposed to hunt test scenarios and are able to learn how to handle their dog for hunt test competitions.
Learn about our Hunt Test programs here!
Final thoughts about why you should compete your retriever in a hunt test
There are many reasons to start competing your retriever in hunt tests, but I think the most compelling is the bond that you will create with your hunting partner. A well-trained retriever is fun to be around and a joy to hunt and compete. Find out the true potential of your retriever and have some fun along the way!
If you are interested in competing your retriever in hunt tests, I can help. We offer several hunt test programs to get your started on your journey. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.