Field Trials
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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs


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Field Trials

by George Hickox



Field trials are like ice cream-there's a flavor that appeals to everyone's palate. Whether you want to prove you are a great trainer and your dog is the best, get together with other like-minded sporting-dog enthusiasts for some casual fun, or extend your hunting season, there is a field trial that will suit your tastes. I am an avid proponent of the many virtues of field trials. Field trials are the best means of testing dogs to a standard that will lead to improvements of a breed. By becoming a member of one of the sundry trialing communities, you will gain knowledge regarding training dogs to hunt with style and control. Members of the trialing fraternity share a love of dogs and a desire to train their dogs to be better field workers.

Some competitions declare an over-all winner, bestowing accolades on the dog and handler that beat the other contestants. Other trials are designed to test dogs against a standard rather than judging one competitor against another. Some field trials offer a cash purse; others give away plaques, trophies or ribbons. There are trials that are completed in a day, in a weekend or over several weeks. The world of field trials encompasses tests for the retrieving, flushing and pointing breeds. Some events are open to all breeds, whereas others limit entrants to specific breeds. Puppy stakes, derby stakes, all-age stakes, natural-ability tests, utility tests, water tests, pheasant trials, quail trials, grouse trials, wild-bird trials-you name it-the field trial menu offers more flavors than Baskin-Robbins.

Field trials spawn bird-dog clubs that host training clinics and have available training grounds and often training birds. By joining one of the many clubs across the country, the sporting-dog enthusiast often will have a place to train and gain knowledge from other handlers and dogs. Whether you're a cocker spaniel fan, an English setter junkie or a lover of Labs or some other breed, somewhere there is a home for you. The American Kennel Club sponsors events designed to offer purebred dogs the opportunity to show their stuff in the area for which they were bred. Performance trials and tests are open to dogs that were bred for specific tasks. AKC events for gundogs are broken into two somewhere there is a home for you. The American Kennel Club sponsors events designed to offer purebred dogs the opportunity to show their stuff in the area for which they were bred. Performance trials and tests are open to dogs that were bred for specific tasks. AKC events for gundogs are broken into two categories: hunt tests and field trials. Hunt tests evaluate dogs against a standard, and retrievers, pointing breeds, spaniels and standard poodles are eligible. Dogs can be tested and earn titles at the Junior, Senior or Master Hunter level. AKC field trials are conducted for pointing breeds, retrievers and spaniels. In these trials overall winners are declared. Dogs that accumulate the necessary points garnered by field-trial placements are titled either Field Champion or Amateur Field Champion. The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NA VHDA) offers events designed to help hunters train their dogs to work on both land and water. NA VHDA was created to set a standard method of evaluating the performance of versatile pointing dogs, regardless of breed. There are sanctioned NA VHDA chapters that sponsor training and testing programs throughout North America. NA VHDA chapters conduct four levels of testing. The Natural Ability Test is geared to evaluate the genetic abilities of young dogs by testing use of nose, searching, tracking, pointing, passion for water, desire and cooperation. The Utility Preparatory Test examines the dog's progress toward the next level. The Utility Test evaluates the finished versatile hunting dog in both the field and water. The Invitational Test is the highest level, and eligibility is limited to dogs that have achieved a Prize I in the Utility Test.

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