Field Tests for Puppies: A Valuable Learning Experience

Field Tests for Puppies: A Valuable Learning Experience

German pointing dogWhy bother testing puppies?

You might say, "Those tests look so easy I don't see the benefit; seems like a waste of time'¦" I wouldn't recommend saying that to someone who's spent weeks of preparation, experienced the excitement and understands the value of puppy tests. I'm sure they'd be quick to tell how thrilling the experience was and how much fun they've had in preparation, working with other club members, and how much they and their dog had gained in the process.

So for those of you thinking about a new pup or who have one sleeping on your lap right now, read on. Hopefully we'll spark an interest, one that very well could last a lifetime. Believe me, hunt tests for young dogs are great options for you and your pup.

Beyond the excitement and personal gains of new friends and a better appreciation for your pup's inherited abilities, puppy tests provide solid benefits to serious breeders, breed clubs and anyone planning to develop a good hunting partner, or hoping to continue onto higher level competition or testing. These tests offer a great venue for positive exposure of pups in developing a solid, self-confident foundation for advanced training.

No matter the breed or type of puppy you have — flusher, pointer, versatile or retriever — there are programs designed for your needs. In each segment there are tests that have been developed over time to provide well-thought-out, fair and consistent standards for the evaluation of the key attributes and abilities required to become successful hunting dogs. These tests are normally designed with young dogs from around 6 to 16 months old.

For retrieving breeds there is the AKC's retriever hunt test program and the UKC's Hunting Retriever Club program. Pointing breeds can take part in AKC's pointing breed hunt test program. The AKC's spaniel hunt tests are available for flushing breeds.

For the versatile breeds there is the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) hunt tests. By "versatile breeds" we are referring to those breeds originating in Europe, intended for hunting both upland birds and waterfowl. Please check out each club's website for more information on each program.

By now, I'm sure you've gathered that I'm a strong advocate of puppy tests. As a matter of fact I'm in favor of test programs in general, from beginning to end, all the way through the more advanced tests. My point is, the more time you spend with your dog throughout the year, the better hunting team you'll be when bird season rolls around.

For newbies and old-timers alike, these programs are a great way to meet folks with common interests and learn more about the care, exercising and training of gun dogs. With the added benefit of extending your hunting season into a year-round sport, what could be better?

In hunt tests you're not competing with other folks and their dogs, so everyone can qualify. Your pup is evaluated during simulated hunting scenarios by well-trained judges according to how he measures up to well-established standards. It's great fun. We help each other and we also cheer for each other, which makes this a great family activity as well.

On behalf of each of the clubs mentioned, I invite you to check their websites for event schedules and to locate a club or chapter. Call the clubs for details on meetings and training days in your area and get involved.

Don't worry about being a stranger; all clubs are on the watch for new faces and are quick to make you feel welcome'¦in other words, they'll put you to work. But you'll not be sorry, so I recommend you take the time to see what it's about.

'¢ Call the club contact to let them know you're interested in visiting a meeting or training day.

'¢ Be sure you have good directions, your Garmin GPS and a contact's cell number. Good training or test sites are usually off the beaten path, so be prepared for the back roads.

'¢ Be sure you have a safe, comfortable kennel in your vehicle for your pup, a standard collar, a short lead and a long lead or check-rope.

'¢ When you first arrive make a point to locate your contact and introduce yourself, leaving your pup in the kennel.

'¢ After meeting key people, ask about an exercise area where you can air your pup without interfering with others.

'¢ Once you've aired your dog, return it to the kennel and make sure of shade and ventilation, then check back in with the folks to see what's next.

From this point on I'm sure the day's activity will fall into place, as you've shown genuine interest, "dog ethics" and respect for others, and that you are prepared with some of the basic training tools.

Please come out and join us. Even if you have an older dog and a bunch of experience, you'll love these hunt test programs, not to mention the company of other dog enthusiasts. Beyond the puppy ability tests there are advanced levels, each a little more demanding and fitting for your dog.

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