Posts Categorised: Hunt tests

Judging an AKC Senior Hunt Test

The last local AKC retriever hunt test of the season is in the books. Beautiful property with fabulous water, good weather (yes, a bit hot) and lots of great dogs and their handlers. There was even a chocolate boy I’ve got my eye on!

My co-judge, Jeff Baldwin, drove all the way from Utah to bake in the high plains sun while Wyoming lent us some of their wind every afternoon. After we designed the Senior test on Friday, he also judged Junior on Saturday while I worked at Master and then we judged Senior together on Sunday. It was a long weekend.

So what did Jeff and I set up and why?

The requirements for an AKC Senior test are a double retrieve on land and a double retrieve on water plus a land blind and a water blind. Then we have to throw in a live flyer, an honor, a walk-up, a diversion shot and multiple decoys and other trappings to simulate a real bird hunt.

Here are some definitions by Rich Carpenter of PVHRC:

  • BLIND RETRIEVE – The dog is sent to retrieve a bird that it did not see fall. The dog is expected to take hand, voice and whistle signals to direct it to the bird.
  • DIVERSION – Either a shot or a fall designed to divert the dog’s attention from the task at hand.
  • DOUBLE – Two birds to retrieve.
  • HONOR – Dog to sit quietly off-leash on or near the line while another dog retrieves.
  • MARK – A retrieve that the dog has seen fall.
  • MEMORY BIRD – First bird the dog sees thrown/shot on a multiple mark. Usually the last retrieved.
  • STEADY – Dog does not leave assigned spot until instructed by the handler to retrieve.
  • WALK-UP – Bird is thrown while handler and dog are walking with the dog at heel, much like jump shooting.

You can see the entire glossary at http://pvhrc.com/hunt-tests/glossary/

We chose to start off with the land series in the morning and the water series afterward to give the dogs a chance to cool off in the afternoon heat.

The first two photos were taken from the “line” – the spot where handlers bring their dogs to start the test.

To begin, we ran a “test dog” (a dog who was not in contention) to make sure everything worked as we planned and to show all the handlers the test set up. Of course, the dogs in contention didn’t get to watch!

Click the image to see a larger version

After completing those two marks successfully, the test dog (and handler) moved to the “honor box” which is a spot nearby where the dog can watch the next dog work. Having just completed two retrieves the honor dog is often still excited, but must be “steady” (remain quietly in place, off leash) and watch the next dog retrieve the same marks. This is often a challenge for dogs at this level.

Next the handlers brought their dogs one-by-one to the line. When they signaled they were ready, we had bird tech #1 throw a duck from a winger hidden behind a clump of trees near the left side of the field. The bird went from right to left and landed in some rather sparse cover, about 70 yards away. There were multiple goose decoys the dogs had to run through to get to the bird. Just before throwing the bird, the bird tech blew a duck call and shot a blank to get the dog’s attention.

As the birds are thrown, handlers must bring the shotgun to their shoulder like they were actually shooting. For safety reasons, the guns are disabled.

Many dogs wanted to retrieve right away, but they had to be steady and wait for the second bird to be thrown – a “double retrieve.” This bird was a “flyer” (a live bird that was thrown and then shot in the air) which is very exciting for the dogs. All the other birds were already dead before being thrown.

This bird #2 came out from a winger that was hidden behind the berm that ran parallel to and behind the line of trees. Flyers rarely land in exactly the same place for each dog so the distance to the bird varied, but averaged about 60 yards.

Because of the excitment caused by a live flyer, several dogs “broke” (ran to retrieve it before the handler’s command). Dogs that retrieved the bird without being released were disqualified. However if the handler was able to stop the dog quickly (within about 15 feet) and get it back to heel, they were allowed to continue but were penalized for a “controlled break.”

Some dogs didn’t break, but couldn’t contain themselves completely and moved a little bit towards the birds. This is called a “creep” and is penalized, but less than a controlled break. Any dogs that moved beyond the length of the gun barrel had to return to heel before they could be sent to retrieve.

Click the image to see a larger version

After both birds were down, we gave the handler permission to send his dog. They could pick up the birds in any order, but usually chose to get the last bird down first. This is especially so when that bird is a flyer! After delivering one of the birds “to hand” they were sent to retrieve the other bird. After the working dog was sent on the first retrieve, we dismissed the honor dog.

Sometimes dogs forgot where the other bird landed and had a big hunt or started back towards where they already found a bird. Returning to an old fall and switching are both disqualifications. They are similar faults, but “returning to an old fall” is going back to where they already retrieved a bird while “switching” is abandoning a hunt for one bird to go to a different bird.

When a dog started hunting too far away from the bird or they started toward the other bird, handlers would blow their whistle and handle the dog to the bird using the same technique as a “blind retrieve.”

If the working dog did a passable job on the double retrieve, they next had a “blind retrieve.” This is picking up a bird the dog didn’t see fall and so had to be directed to it.

We “planted the blind” (placed a bird in a specific location when the dog wasn’t watching) near a small bush about 50 yards from the line. To get to the blind, the dog had to pass some larger bushes and diagonally cross a dirt track. The location was to the left of bird #1 and slightly out of the left side of the first photo.

To get a passing score, the handlers had to “challenge the blind” by keeping their dogs close to a direct line to the blind and not let the dog run all around in hopes that he would eventually find it on his own. Dogs were penalized each time they didn’t stop on the whistle or take the correct cast or maintain the new direction for at least a few yards. Because Senior dogs are at an intermediate level of training and still learning how to apply their training in a field situation, each penalty was only counted as a minor deduction, provided they were making progress toward the blind.

We repeated this sequence of double retrieve, blind retrieve and honor for 31 dogs – 29 in contention plus the test dog (who honored for the first dog) and a bye dog (who was asked to retrieve while the last dog in contention honored him).

Click the image to see a larger version.

Dogs who had a passing score on land were “called back” to run the water series.

We moved a 1/4 mile south to a spit of land with a water channel on the left side and open water on the right. This series was a double retrieve and a blind retrieve with a walk-up and a diversion shot. No honor, no live birds.

We started with the handler walking down the spit with their dog at heel. When they got to a certain point (known only to the judges), there was a gun shot and a bird was hand thrown to land in grass about 8-10″ tall and about 4-6′ from the water’s edge. The second bird came out slightly left to right, with another gun shot, and landed with a splash about half way down the channel. Both bird techs were hidden behind tall bushes.

The dogs could retrieve the birds in any order, however when they were returning with bird #1, there was a diversion shot to set up the blind.

Most dogs did fairly well to great on the water double retrieve. There were a few that needed to be handled and some who needed to be handled to both the memory bird on land and one of the birds on water.

The blind was across to another spit of land and was placed just out of the water. Except for some suction to the old falls and to a tiny bit of land poking out of the water, this was a straight forward blind. All the dogs who attempted it did fine.

Click the image to see a larger version. This is the same setup, just from a slightly different angle.

Our goal as judges was to make both series as hunt-like as possible while staying within AKC’s rules for a Senior retriever hunt test. We also wanted the handlers and dogs to enjoy it and to make sure everyone was safe. Some dogs did very well overall, some did better on one series or the other and some had enough trouble that we couldn’t give them a ribbon this time. We got several compliments on the test set up, however in hindsight there are a couple of things I would tweak to make it an even better test.

I’m grateful to the Mile High Golden Retriever Club for asking me to judge, to the owners and handlers who entered their dogs, to all the helpers for handling the myriad of jobs and to my co-judge who made it so easy, it felt like we’ve been working together for years.

By the way, all of my dogs got to experience that great water. The adult dogs loved it. The younger ones quickly learned that the end of grass doesn’t always mean there’s a gentle slope into shallow water. =D And the drive home was rather quiet – except for some snoring coming from the back.

Wynk got to play on new grounds on Sunday where she earned her WC!

The Working Certificate test was hosted by the Labrador Retriever Club of Greater Denver. The property, near Franktown, was nicely set up for retriever training and lots of people and dogs turned out for fresh air and some rather ‘moist’ skies!

The WC is a very basic retrieving test. The judges have you bring your dog up, on leash, and then hold them by the collar while someone throws a duck. Release your dog and he brings the bird back to you. Easy-peasy! Then you do the same thing on water, twice.

The test was originally designed for show dogs to prove they have the retrieving instinct, even if they never get to hunt. For Wynk it was just another fun day because she’s already proven herself in the field.

She started off with one mark on land – near the top of a little hill – no problem. But there was something new, something she’d never seen before. A blind (camo fabric) out in the field, hiding people. ‘What’s that?,’ she asked. So she had to go take a peek and say hello to the bird boys. Then remembered she had to get her bird back to mom! Scooped it up as she ran back and delivered to hand. Land portion completed!

After a bit, we worked the water portion – back to back retrieves in a pond enclosed by tall reeds and other vegetation. Another new experience for her. Out and back, delivered to hand for each mark, with her signature squeal as she left the line. Quite proud of my little Lab!

Thanks to Linda Alexander for the great photos!

We ran in the hunt test at Indian Meadows in Snyder, CO on May 5-6, 2018. Thanks to Platte Valley HRC for hosting the event!

Tisket only needed two passes to complete her Started Hunting Retriever (SHR) title, so she was entered both days.

The first land mark on Saturday was in fairly heavy cover and a bit shorter than what we’d practiced. Many dogs, including Tisket, overran the mark and had to work their way back, while honoring their noses. Tisket ran back and forth in the area where she thought the bird had dropped, in an effort to pick up the scent. You could tell when she did catch the scent because her nose looked like it had been snagged by a fish hook.

Kathy, Marcie (with Clooney) and Troy

She ran straight to the second mark – “stepped on it” – and brought the bird back to me. The land marks were done, next up were the water marks!

Big water entry to retrieve a bird

The water marks were set up at the end of a spit of land. The first mark was to the right and across a channel into a marshy area to give a slight splash when the birds landed. The second mark was to the left in open water on a good-sized pond.

Tisket did great on the first mark, except she had to check the decoys on the way back. She never dropped her bird, but had to bump each decoy with her nose to make sure it wasn’t real.

The open water swim was out and back, despite the slight chop due to the wind.

Another pass for Tisket!

On Sunday we started with the water marks and Tisket’s daughter, Wynk, got to run her first hunt test.

Both marks were across a channel – wider than yesterday’s location – and onto a sandy bank with sparse grass.

Tisket was out and back quickly on both birds. Very nice retrieves.

Wynk came out raring to go! There wasn’t room for a running start, but she leaped into the water with a big entry and picked up each bird in turn. No time wasted hunting around – she knew exactly where her birds were.

On to the land marks for both girls!

Wynk says, "I can do both - field dog and show dog."

It was hot and starting to get muggy with a thunderstorm brewing to the west by the time we got the land series set up. Didn’t bother either girl in the least.

Tisket ran first again. Out, scoop up the bird and back in no time. The second bird landed in a little swale and she overran it by a yard or two, but turned quickly, scooped it up and back to me. No question that she picked up another pass and that was enough for her title!

Wynk came out raring to go again. Good, because I was wilting with the heat and humidity. Although she’s not very tall, she motored her way to each mark and surprised a few people with her speed. Out and back quickly on the first mark. Slide and turn as she tried to pick up the second bird without stopping. No question; she likes this game!

People at hunt tests are like Labs - fun and happy to help!

Overall, great weekend.

Tisket finished her title, Wynk got her first pass and my truck didn’t stay stuck for long!

We had a great weekend – despite the heat and wind near Boone, CO. Arwen passed a tough Finished test, Tory passed his 3rd Seasoned test, and Jazzy got to run two Started tests and passed both!

The Finished test started with a wide-open triple “dove” hunt and a diversion as the dog was coming in with the last bird. Then a blind retrieve with lots of suction to the dike and old falls. Arwen did fabulously! I, on the other hand, “missed” every bird I shot at.

Afterward we decided to try for ducks. This series was a mind-bender of trying to remember which bird is shot at by which handler and which dog gets to retrieve.

It started off with a buddy on the honor bucket with his dog as Arwen and I walked down the muddy path to the pond. On the way, a duck comes sailin’ in from the left. Both handlers take a shot at it, but remembering not to shoot in the direction of the other handler! The honor dog picked up that bird while the working dog had to watch.

Once we got settled on a bucket, a duck came in from over our right shoulder and quickly thereafter another duck came in from the left. Both handlers shot at the birds. Arwen picked up the left bird after a long swim and then rooted the right bird out of the reeds.

Somehow with all that “shooting” we put down another bird way off to the left. The line to the blind was just off the beach with suction to the shore and to the old fall. Couple whistles and Arwen picked up that bird.

Time for a new “buddy.” As he came down the path with his dog, we moved to the honor bucket. But this dog was amped! When he came into sight Arwen must have figured she’d need a headstart to beat him to HER birds and took a few steps toward the water during the double, but luckily decided not to go any further! Good dog!

Chip Earns 12th Title!

Although a little belated, I want to give Chip a pat on the head via the Internet for completing 12 titles – obedience, rally, tracking and field.

He’s also working on some basic agility – I just need to work on keeping up with him.

Way to go Chip!

HRCH Justamere Chocolate Chip CD TDX SH RAE CGC

Justamere Dog Trainer

I’m “just a mere” dog trainer! Hmmm – it’s hard to write about yourself. Let’s see, I love to train my dogs and we mostly do field work in preparation for hunting and hunt tests. I love when a Lab’s natural instincts kick in for the first time!

But I also train in obedience and rally and tracking and have dabbled in agility and even the show ring. In that regard I’m more like owners of Golden Retrievers. Although Labrador Retrievers are multi-talented, most Lab owners tend to train for only one or maybe two venues. I like to train my dogs for anything they might enjoy.

I also like raising puppies. Because Labs have been the most popular breed in America for over a decade, there is a lot of variety. I believe in trying to retain their essence – Hunting Labs with Classic Looks. My dogs tend to be somewhat in between the tall, slender field Lab and the shorter, stocky show Lab.

As they say, “Life’s too short to hunt with an ugly dog.”

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