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Hi again, folks.

I would like to sincerely thank that group of people who wrote in after my first article. My friends and training mates were very supportive, and that was encouraging to see. But just as important was the folks who don't know me who had some really good questions, observations, and comments about specific field trial situations and/or the last article in general. Many good points were raised and I will do my best to address them here in this article.

Several comments related to new people in the field trial world. Let's discuss some of these topics first.

It was asked if there is any sort of "entry level field trial". Yes and no. Actually written into our Field Trial Guidelines book (the little blue book that explains all the AKC regulations governing field trials) are the provisions for Limit and Novice stakes. We don't see them anymore in the states as we don't have time on a given weekend to do them. In Canada, we still occasionally see Limit stakes. These are stakes in which dogs of any age can run - if they haven't had an All-Age field trial placement. So, if your hunting dog is steady, you can run him. Typically, these stakes do little more then replace the puppy stake on a given trial day as most folks just run their young dogs in the Limit.

The puppy stake - both here and in Canada - is where most folks get their feet wet. In a puppy stake, dogs of up to two years of age may compete. They must be steady. Almost always, pigeons are used. Dogs are run individually; just you, two guns and two judges with a gallery walking behind. It can be a bit nerve racking for first time handlers, but it is a good way to start.

"Have fun with your dog and enjoy meeting the other contestants and their dogs."

A step down from puppy stakes are fun trials. These things can be fantastic though hard to find. In a fun trial, local clubs will hold a trial-like competition. It is not AKC sanctioned at all, just a simulation of a trial where club members can compete on an informal basis. In Wisconsin, we have a couple every year. Minnesota has a small fun trial circuit each summer where several clubs all have events on different weekends. I'm sure there are others scattered around the country. It is a very fun way to meet new friends, see new dogs and get your feet wet at running a trial.

The next closest thing are hunt tests. I personally love the idea of hunt tests; they are fabulously conceived. Their drawback is that at times their execution is lacking. We'll get to that in a moment. First, let's talk about what they are. At a hunt test, your dog is not competing against other dogs, but is trying to perform up to a written standard. There are three basic levels of hunt tests: junior, senior, and master. Basically, a quick summary of each level would be that in the junior your dog has to run around a bit, find a couple of game birds (normally pheasants, sometimes chukars), flush them, then bring them to your general area after they are shot. Then they need to do a single short water retrieve. In the senior, the dogs need to be able to be quickly called off of missed game, need to be line steady at the water for a single short retrieve, and need to do a short land blind on a dead bird. Birds need to be delivered to hand. In the master, dogs need to be steady to birds on land and in water plus do a water and a land blind on dead birds. In all stakes, the two judges are only there to determine whether your dog did or didn't do these actions that are spelled out in a book.

At a hunt test, if all the dogs entered do well on a given day, then they all get ribbons. That is very cool. It is also a great place to practice running your dog while having a group of people watching you. That isn't for everyone and it can take some getting used to. The tests are an excellent way for people who have a hunting dog to get involved with other people who also love their dogs very much. There is not the pressure of a trial at a hunt test, it is a more relaxed atmosphere and a good place to go that doesn't have the competitive atmosphere of a field trial.

But there is a dark side. Generally, the judging at spaniel hunt tests is highly erratic. Amazingly so - considering how well the rules are spelled out in the guidelines. Peoples interpretations of the rules laid out before them can be breathtakingly devoid of any common sense. For this reason, many of the field trial folks stay clear of hunt tests. Many of the hunt test people are just fine with that as they feel that many field trial folks judge far to strictly, thereby making it harder to pass a given test. The end result is that a lot of very good, experienced, and knowledgeable people hold hunt tests in low regard.

As this petty bickering goes on, nothing is being done to promote the sport of spaniel hunt tests. It has actually shrunk a bit instead of grown over the last decade. That is most unfortunate as it really is the perfect venue for most folks and their dogs. My advice to anyone interested in hunt tests is to go visit one and learn what they are about. Then go and run your dog. Have fun with your dog and enjoy meeting the other contestants and their dogs. Don't get too worked up if things don't go your way at them - just enjoy your time in the field with friends of two and four legs.

" have to figure it out from the dog's point of view, not yours."

Okay, enough hunt test talk, back to the original novice handler topic.

It was also pointed out that it is very difficult for new handlers to learn all the things they need to know at a field trial. That is very true and I would add to that point that it is experience that helps more then anything else. New handlers try and think their way through situations. That gets them into trouble as often things develop faster then a person can reason them out. Once you have experience, you will be able to make snap judgments in a very fast reactive manner. The best thing to do will just come out of you in less time then it would take you to think about it. (I feel quite certain that many of my closest friends would whole-heartedly agree that I rarely think about things - actions and words just seem to come out of me!) Anyway, as you gain experience, decisions will become more instinctive for you. It is your job as a handler and trainer to take full advantage of your experiences. After each trial, and for that matter, each training session, sit down and figure out what happened. Remember, the good things as well as the bad things. Try to figure out why things went the way they did so that in the future you will be more able to recreate the positives and eliminate the negatives. Some folks keep journals. I tried that but found that I spent too much time writing about stuff and not enough time figuring out why stuff happened. But you need to use whatever method works best for you.

Here is the key thing to remember while you are figuring out what happened to you and your dog: you have to figure it out from the dog's point of view, not yours. It is easy to understand that what went wrong was that your dog ran left when you pointed right. It could be your fault that you pointed the wrong way or it could be the dogs fault for not going where you wanted him to. Figure out why the dog did what he did. When figuring that out, remember that a dogs primary source of information is its nose. That is very hard for people to understand as it is generally a very weak sense for us. Decide why a dog performed in the manner it did then make changes to correct it so it doesn't happen again. That may mean different handling on your part or different or further training for your dogs part. Don't allow yourself or your dog to make the same mistakes over and over again. Learn from them, fix them, and move on.

So, let's move on to one of those mistakes that is often made which was the topic of a very good e-mail from an experienced field trial competitor and judge. It is the issue of pointing. Specifically, "flash pointing" or "stop, look, and listen" for the bird. ("SLL" he called it, which makes it sound like a disease of some sort - which I suppose is rather fitting.)

We spoke in the last article about having fast, positive finds. Judges like those. Judges do not like slow deliberate finds. Also, judges do not like to see dogs stop and listen for a bird or look for movement when they can't find a bird. Often birds will be buried in under cover and some dogs will use other senses besides their noses to find the birds. Some dogs are more genetically inclined then others to do this. Some dogs are encouraged by their training to do this.

The idea behind a spaniel having a fast flush is to force game into the air as fast as possible, before it has a chance to escape on foot. Stopping and looking could give a bird a chance to escape. That makes sense to me to a point (pun intended). I do, however, see some dogs that are very good at trailing birds but will lock up when the bird is hiding right in front of them. That looks bad from a field trial standpoint certainly, but most folks who hunt don't care about that at all.

I personally feel that in field trials we want a dog that is moving all the time, not stopping when it loses scent. When I am judging I take the whole weekend into account. I see what the other dogs are doing and what extenuating circumstances there might be for the dog that had a bunch of great finds and one bad one. I don't like throwing dogs out for a single bad find. Birds are just too unpredictable to punish dogs like that. Remember, in trials we are looking for the best of the best so we do need to reward the strong flushes. That being said, often what happens is the dog with the super flushes is also the dog with the control issues. In that case, I might like the dog that stopped once or twice for a very short time but ran very kindly for his handler a little better the dog that blew birds out while the handler was screaming through the whistle the whole time. I guess as far as judging, it really is one of those personal decisions that must be made in the context of a given weekend's conditions.

So how do we prevent it from happening to our dogs? Some dogs you don't. But with most dogs it is not too big of a deal to fix or just prevent it from happening in the first place. You must take away a dogs ability to use its senses of sight and sound. Make him use his nose. Do some night training - especially on windy nights. I have heard of guys taking Doggles (little doggy safety goggles) and coloring the lenses so the dog can't see well. I haven't tried that but I would think one would need to use a bit of common sense with that so your dog didn't run into a tree and break it's neck.

I often will use dead and/or taped live birds. These are birds that won't move at all. The dog can stop and look all it wants, but nothing will happen until he follows his nose right until it touches feathers. Don't use wing-clipped birds as that will make things worse. That will encourage a dog to use their nose and eyes to find them... the exact opposite from what you are trying to do.

"The idea behind a spaniel having a fast flush is to force game into the air as fast as possible, before it has a chance to escape on foot."

For problem dogs, I have laid a fake scent trail and then buried a bird in a clump at the end of it. The first few times the dogs would look like a setter when they got to the clump. I didn't say anything and endured the deafening silence that ensued, but eventually the dogs learned that they have to follow their noses right into the feathers. Many field trail trainers don't like to follow that last bit of advice, but it has served me well, so do with it what you will.

As far as preventative maintenance for that problem, don't train in places where birds can bury themselves into clumps. Don't use chukars in heavy, green, summer grasses. Do your best to make the birds easily available to your dog when he gets close to them.

I didn't realize I was going to have so much to write on these topics, so we will save some of the other topics for the next article. At some point I would also like to discuss electric collars and their uses - both positive and negative - in regards to both training and breeding of our dogs. Before we get to that, though, we will finish off the questions. So please make sure you keep them coming so that Loretta keeps asking me to write this.

Don't forget the liver treats,


Send your questions for Jason to:

Jason Givens has experienced success in the springer field trial game as an amateur. He then turned professional, nine years ago. Jason and his wife, Michelle, own and operate Lighthouse Kennels at Cambria, Wisconsin. They train all flushing breeds for hunting and hunt tests, along with just springers for field trials. To that end, since 2000, he regularly finishes in the top-ten for the Hogan Award - which is the top professional springer handler trophy. Jason has several national championship placements in America and Canada, including winning the American National Open in 2003. In additon, Jason has judged numerous trials both sides of the border - including the Cocker National and the Springer National Open.

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