"Say, what was up at that hunting test you were at last weekend? I heard those judges were really tough on the junior dogs! Is it true that only 2 of 11 dogs passed even though only 3 of them didn't find birds?"
Ok, hands up. How many of us have been on one end or the other of this conversation lately?
It's funny how we accept the "judges being tough" at the Master and even the Senior level of the AKC hunting test program. It's not supposed to be easy and it's not. The pass rate is usually something like 30% at those levels. So what is up at the Junior level to bring out this kind of a reaction when the pass rate starts to dip anything below 50%?
What I have observed is that this anomaly is a function of several things that gets this "the judges are hammering the Junior dogs" ball rolling. Number one; at the junior level you have alot more folks participating in the junior as an "entry level" activity into pointing dog field events. This is great and the more new folks when can get involved in our tests and clubs the better. The Junior test was designed to be exactly that for handler and dog. Number two, I think at the junior level you have alot of folks running pointing dogs who are not hunters per se. I am always delighted to see new faces at the tests, but I think some of us more experienced hands do not always give as clear a picture of the performance requirements to our new friends entering dogs at the Junior level as we could. We were all beginners once and we need to do a good job of presenting this sport to folks who don't know all the ropes yet.
For instance; What's the first thing someone hears when they ask an old hand "I'd like to enter my bird dog in a Junior test, what does my dog have to do to qualify at Junior?" Right! The pat answer is "Well, all the dog has to do is get to the bird field and point one bird, that's all..." Hmmmm...well...that answer is right, but it is not a complete answer. I think the question posed at the top of this piece comes about because there is a misconception getting passed around out there (and it probably didn't start with the new folks!) that if a Junior dog finds and points a bird, the dog has earned an automatic pass. In fact, a quick read through the rule book will tell you that it is entirely possible for Junior dog to find and point not one, but several birds in a given test and still not earn a qualifying score. One would do well to remember this point that I will illustrate clearly from my own experience later in this piece.
Most importantly, we would all do well to remember that this is a HUNTING test, NOT a POINTING TEST! Also, one needs to keep in mind that this is a progressive testing program with the Junior, Senior and Master levels being logically interconnected to follow the progression of a dog through it's hunting and training career from green neophyte to a finished bird dog.
Since we have started down this path, let's look more closely at how the Junior test fits into the whole scheme of the hunting test program. A dog in a Junior test is scored from 1-10 in four categories by the judges. Pointing being only one and not even the most important of those categories at any test level. Hunting, Bird Finding Ability and Trainability being the other three categories for judgment. The Junior dog must earn an average score of 7 for the test (the lowest possible qualifying score then is 28 points total for the 4 categories) with no single score in any category being scored less than a 5. (So, even if the dog does earn 28 points through the 4 categories, the dog will still fail if any one of the 4 scores given by the judge is less than a score of 5). So, we can clearly see that while the POINTING of the birds might be the hardest thing for a JUNIOR dog in a test, it is not the biggest part of what he is being scored on at this or any level.
Lets look at each category separately to get an idea of what the Judges of Junior dogs are doing with these scores and therefore why dogs that are pointing birds in these tests at the JUNIOR level are still not passing these tests.
The first category of judgment is HUNTING and the rule book reads; "scored on whether or not the dog evidences a KEEN desire to hunt, boldness and independence and a fast, yet useful pattern of running". Right away it is evident where a young dog can fall short in this category. In short, the dog must be applying himself to searching the available cover for a significant amount of the time under judgment. HUNTING is listed as the first item of judgment for a reason. In fact, the requirement for HUNTING at the Senior and Master levels reads exactly the same in the HUNTING category as it does at the JUNIOR level.
Second category; BIRD FINDING ABILITY. The rule book reads; "a dog must find and point birds in order to receive a qualifying score...scored based upon intelligence in seeking objectives (bird holding cover), use of the wind and the ABILITY TO FIND BIRDS.