Join the Club
By: Tom Goldsmith
Field trials offer hunting-dog owners a lot of benefits. Bank on them
If you spend enough time in the field with gun dogs and their owners, you're apt to hear comments like "Yeah, he's a little hard to control. I should have known better than to buy a dog out of field-trial stock."
There's no doubt trials and the dogs competing in them have been given a bad rap, mostly by unskilled trainers looking for a convenient and selfabsolving excuse for their own dog's transgressions. The truth is, trials offer the best quality control we have to ensure top-notch game dogs. The people who participate in field trials and tests are among the most dedicated gun-dog enthusiasts we have.
Recently, I sat in on the Georgian Bay Hunter Retriever Club (GBHRC) as members prepared for the upcoming trial season. It occurred to me that, rhetoric aside, even someone with a single dog can find benefits and a valuable resource by participating in such a club.
Depth of Expertise
In most clubs you can expect a wide range of experience. There will be breeders looking to attain placements for their dogs, along with seasoned pros with numerous wins under their belts. Even a neophyte will find similarly experienced peers, some looking to enter the competition game, others just trying to keep their hunting dogs sharp.
Important to remember is that these clubs depend on growth. Most encourage new members and are only too happy to welcome and assist visitors with procedures and their dogs, if asked. The GBHRC is no exception.
After an informal meet and greet, we moved directly to the training grounds. We navigated our way through the spacious property, which featured a varied set of courses designed to test a dog's retrieving abilities, including ponds, fields, and hedgerows. Exercises were well organized and efficient. Those looking to address a particular issue needed only to ask and the scenarios were adjusted accordingly.
Throughout the exercises, while one dog was working, the next one was expected to wait for its turn. Aside from basic manners, this conditions the dogs to the fact that, even in the excitement of popper shots being fired and real birds being thrown, he or she is only going to retrieve the birds they're sent to pick up. Anyone who has spent time in a blind with more than one dog can see real applications for this skill set.
A Bird in Hand
There's an old but relevant adage that states, "You need birds to make a bird dog." One of the greatest benefits from joining and participating in breed clubs is the hassle-free access to birds. Legally possessed live and dead game birds play a huge part in any day's activities. Permits to use these birds on a given property are all part of the package. Dummies and bumpers are great for yard work and field training, but nothing can replace a nose or mouthful of feathers for a working gun dog. On the day I attended the GBHRC spring training, dead mallards were used for all of the tests and bumpers were piled out in the field to test the dogs on the 200-yard blind retrieve.
In the Loop
Whether you own a flusher, pointer, or retriever, breed- or task-specific training groups have a great deal to offer. Even when distance prevents participation in events, there's the opportunity to network with those who share a passion for their dogs and working them in the fashion they were bred to do.
Most clubs publish a newsletter that announces upcoming events running the gamut from hunt tests and official club-sanctioned trials of all levels, to more social fun days and barbecues.
Aside from the value clubs offer by way of socialization to you and your dog, field trials and training days offer a great opportunity to see just what your breed is capable of in the field. Getting involved with the club's events also has the added benefit of extending your season in the field and, in so doing, enriching your dog's life. Birds, dogs, guns, and camaraderie in the field needn't be limited to two or three short months each autumn.