It is a pointing dog's job to "get out there" and find the birds for the handler. It must cover ground in that search so that the handler does not have to cover it himself. Too many times at all levels I observe dogs that are continually barely out of shotgun range and worse, are being hacked to death by the handler to boot.
Again, this BIRD FINDING element reads the same for the JUNIOR, SENIOR and MASTER levels. Again, much is expected here of the JUNIOR dogs in this category. Granted, Junior dogs, especially young Junior dogs will not exhibit as complete or extreme a performance as the dogs at higher levels. However, I see more handlers handicapping their dogs in this category than all other combined. Too often inexperienced handlers spend the bulk of their brace hacking their charge back in to them. Whether they are trying to keep the dog in "gun range" or simply not wanting to allow the dog to get out where he can make mistake, I am sometimes not sure. Sometimes it is evident that a young dog has no idea what he is even looking for. Several times a handler has beamed to me "that was his first time ever on a bird" and I just had to bite my tongue instead of saying "Yeah!... I could tell, he wouldn't have found that one had he not stepped right on it!". A young dog that has been introduced properly to birds and worked even a little bit on them will exhibit an active, joyful search of the available cover. A dog that is simply on a walk waiting for the handler to lead him to a bird is not a dog that is exhibiting good bird finding ability. The dog must demonstrate that he knows that he will be rewarded with a bird by seeking them out in the likely places, working a good spot and then when assured it holds no bird immediately seeking the next logical objective and applying himself with a certain amount of fresh resolve for the handler.
It takes some training on birds in cover to demostrate this effectively over even a short 20 minute length brace that Junior dogs are usually run in. I was dumbfounded recently when a handler took his dog's entire 8 minutes in a 10 acre bird field to have the dog wallow around in a path about 50 yards long and about as wide as my living room. Despite my encouraging this handler that the field was full of birds to be found, he never allowed his dog to break into even a good trot. The handler himself hardly ever took more than 3 steps in turn or stopped vocally badgering the dog for more than a few seconds at a time. This was not hunting. In fact, this test is completely unfair to such a dog who I am convinced had never encountered a live game bird in his life before that day. Clearly, good marks cannot be given to a dog that is simply doddling about, waiting for his handler to walk him back to the truck because he has no idea of the fun that is to be had out hunting birds in a field.
Third category: POINTING!
The rule book states "..the dog is scored on the basis of the intensity of it's point and it's ability to locate game under difficult scenting conditions and confusing scent patterns." A dog that is out hunting effectively will find and locate birds from a great distance. A young dog may road in on the birds quite close before pointing them. There would be little to detract from the score of a Junior dog handling a bird like this as long as the dog locks up on a effective, reasonably intense point without bumping the bird out first. Where I see dogs falling down in POINTING is with dogs that are either A) already handicapped in one of the first two categories by their handler as described earlier (really, how could a dog miss a bird that is right in front of the handler if that is the only place the dog is allowed to hunt?) and B) simply too afraid to make a mistake on their birds by early rough handling in training and not exhibiting a natural hunting and pointing response, i.e. they acknowledge the bird at distance and are then command into a sloppy point by the handler, the dog left uncertain if they were really supposed to find that bird or not. So, just because a dog stumbles across a bird and tries to point it , it doesn't mean the dog will automatically be taking home a ribbon. The JUNIOR dog must HUNT, FIND and then POINT the bird, pretty much the same way a SENIOR or MASTER dog would. Remember, the requirements in the first two categories are the same at all test levels and the only element added for SENIOR and MASTER to the POINTING category is the degree of steadiness after the flush. Which brings us to the least component of the Junior test:
This category is not nearly as problematic as the first three categories seem to be for Junior dogs. If a dog is hunting effectively and finding and pointing birds for you and allowing you to blank them after the flush, the dog is demonstrating acceptable performance in this category at the Junior level. A reasonable response to commands is expected at this level along with positive gun response. Although a handler and dog can run afoul of the requirement here at the opposite extreme of the spectrum from the faults I pointed out in the previous three categories. As an example, I wish to present that I am the owner of a young dog, not a year old yet, who as a six-month old, had the distinction of running in two separate Junior tests on one weekend and while without question demonstrating that she is a "hunting machine". She did, in fact, point and allow her handler to flush not one, but two quail in the running of each test. However, it did occur to the one observant judge that this dog's manner of hunting in these tests would have been "counterproductive" as applied to an actual hunting situation. Rightfully, this dog did not earn a passing score on either day.
This was a nice way of saying that this young dog basically just raised hell all over and then was seen to point, chase, catch and then eat whole, several of the pen raised quail in the bird field. Enthusiastic? For sure! Talented? Without question!! Effective?...not hardly. "How can a Junior dog point two birds and not pass?", some might ask...Oh let me count the ways....! Sometimes too much is too much.
Again, I believe alot of what is experienced in terms of the misconception of the scoring of JUNIOR test dogs to be handler inexperience in the area of actual hunting performance and conditions. I think alot of handlers would be well served to join a club of experienced hunters and train with them, even if the handler never intends to pick up a shotgun themselves. Also, there are several good video tapes of hunting dogs in action available that would quickly demonstrate to a novice handler just what effective hunting dogs are all about. The AKC puts out a wonderful series of tapes covering the field performance events, including the Hunting Test program. There are also commercially produced tapes available with marvelous action of bird dogs on wild birds. Some titles that I would recommend are "Grits Gresham on Pheasant Hunting" and Tom Huggler's series of tapes; "Pheasant Hunting" and "Quail Hunting".
A better understanding of just what is involved in this sport from the hunting aspect and not so much concentration on the "pointing" elements of the Junior test will serve the handlers and ultimately the dogs much better and ultimately provide superior perfromance for those same dogs as they progress through the Senior and Master Hunting test levels as well.
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