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Sporting Dogs and Hounds: Putting Field Dogs to the Test

March 09, 2018
GSP.jpgThe field events are among the oldest of dog sports. Long before there were any formalized dog shows or obedience trials, dogs played a very important role in helping humans hunt for food, performing a variety of tasks from signaling the presence of game, retrieving it or chasing and catching it. Today, many breeders and owners participate in hunt tests and field trials designed to simulate realistic hunting conditions in order to demonstrate that their dogs still have these abilities.
 
Ask anyone active in field events and they’ll all agree that spending time outdoors, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow competitors and seeing how much the dogs enjoy their ‘work,’ is what keeps them coming back. Field events welcome everyone, whether the goal is a field championship or participating in entry-level hunt tests. Once you experience the joy of watching dogs do what they were bred to do, you’ll be hooked.
 
The Hunter’s Companion
 
Sporting dogs were bred to work alongside and take direction from their human hunting partner. To excel in field trials, these dogs are intelligent and highly trained to perform on land and in water, with a steadiness to the sound of gunfire and a soft mouth that will not damage game. Each breed is instilled with unique natural traits and skills that they use in the field. Sporting dogs fall into three categories: retrievers, flushing spaniels and pointers.
 
As the name implies, the retriever is required to retrieve game. To effectively serve this purpose the dog must demonstrate a range of useful hunting skills, such as searching for and retrieving game and ‘honouring’, which requires the dog to stay put while another dog retrieves the game. In advanced tests, the dog is sent on a ‘blind’ retrieve (does not know where the game is located), relying on scent and directional commands from the handler, who is often a great distance away. In addition to the retrievers, Standard Poodles and Irish Water Spaniels are eligible to compete in retriever field trials.
 
The role of the flushing spaniel is to locate game, flush it out for the hunter, mark the location of the game and then retrieve the game. The handler and the judges follow the dog, on foot, through a pre-determined course where birds have been planted under cover. The dogs are challenged by difficult terrain, heavy brush and dense thickets. Dogs are judged on their searching and scenting ability, willingness to tackle tough cover, steadiness when flushing, and their ability to retrieve game.
 
Pointing breeds are also expected to locate game, but instead of flushing it into the air as a spaniel does, the dog freezes in position to ‘point’ the game’s location, holding steadywhile the game is flushed by the handler, and when the handler is ready, the dog is released to retrieve the  game, delivering it right back to the hunter’s hand. In a pointing trial, braces (pairs) of dogs move through a predetermined field in which game has been released. The handlers and judge follow the dogs on foot or on horseback. The judge assesses the team work of dog and handler and for the dog, this includes the dog’s hunting prowess-- its enthusiasm, scenting ability, skill at covering ground in a systematic pattern using the wind direction to the dog’s advantage, ability and style in pointing, as well as obedience. For the handler, the judge is primarily looking at the handler’s control over the dog with as few commands as possible. The sport is open to all pointing breeds, including the pointers, setters, Brittany Spaniel, Vizsla and Weimaraner.
 
Release the Hounds!
 
Where sporting dogs take direction from the hunter, it is the hounds that are the actual hunters. Divided into the sighthounds and the scent hounds, field trials for these unique hunters are designed to ignite their natural hunting instincts and to encourage the dogs to work together to capture their quarry. Fortunately for hound owners, the training requirements are minimal. After they release their dogs, they just have to hope that after the excitement of the chase they can catch their dog at the end.
 
Sighthounds were bred to chase prey by sight and to this day they retain very strong instincts to chase what they see. Lure coursing is a way to test a hound’s ability to follow and catch prey. Plastic bags are tied to a string that is fed through a number of pulleys so that the bags zig zag and turn as they are fed through the course, imitating a fleeing rabbit. After the hunt master’s “tally ho,” the dogs are off in groups of two or three, coursing the artificial lure. Dogs are judged on follow, enthusiasm, speed, endurance and agility. While only sighthounds can earn official field titles, all breeds and mixed breeds can try this exciting sport and earn chase ability titles.
 
Beagle owners are accustomed to seeing their dogs nose-down, hot on the trail, which is the foundation of Beagle trials. The dogs are expected to enthusiastically find and pursue game. The number of times game is found is not the prime consideration. It is the quality of the dog’s ‘hunting sense’ that is important. Dogs are judged on searching ability, determination, endurance, the ability to work harmoniously with other hounds, accuracy in trailing game and the proper use of voice while in pursuit. Beagles will hunt in braces and small packs (five dogs), according to sex and height, or in large packs.
 
Outstanding in Their Field
 
In June of 1998, Dogs in Canada devoted its first issue to honouring Canada's Top Field Dogs, which included the lure coursers, pointers and retrievers. The CKC has continued this tradition and recently added spaniels and Beagles. Top Dog points continue to be tabulated by field clubs and are based on points earned toward field championship titles.For the majority of field events, the top dogs are ranked according to the Top 10 in each class. The lure coursing dogs are ranked by breed and Top 10, all breeds. The Canadian Kennel Club congratulates the countless owners who continue the long tradition of proving their dogs’ natural instincts in the field.
 
Find out more about our talented and accomplished field dogs on Monday, March 12. A special thank you to our CKC Top Dogs presenting sponsor, Purina® Pro Plan®

The opinions expressed by authors on the Canadian Kennel Club Blog and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Canadian Kennel Club or any of its employees.

Les opinions et les commentaires exprimés dans le blogue du Club Canin Canadien sont ceux des auteurs et ils ne reflètent pas les opinions du Club Canin Canadien ni de ses employés.

CKC Top Dogs, Field Dogs CKC Top Dogs, Field Dogs

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