One thing this past hunting season demonstrated is that hunting is not hunt testing.  By that I mean that some of the skills we train for hunt tests are not the same skills that a good hunting dog needs.  This is unfortunate since hunt tests originally started as a way to test the skills needed by a hunting dog.  Unfortunately over the years hunt tests have evolved into mini field trials with trained skills being valued over instinct.  This is particularly true at the Senior and Master hunt test levels.  So many of the dogs running those tests never spend a day out hunting.

Thunder and Storm both had several hunting seasons under their belts by the time they ran the higher level hunt tests.  Sometimes this hurt them at tests.  For example, a hunting dog’s job is to find and retrieve all the birds.  Hunters use dogs to minimize the number of birds they lose.  A hunting dog will normally take the quickest route to the bird and the quickest route back so they can make the next retrieve.  A hunting dog does not care if they swim parallel to a shore line because that is often not the quickest route.  Running down the shore and jumping in the water may in fact be quicker.  Chessie’s have been bred to be thinking dogs and they will often decide what is the best route to recover the bird and that hurts them in tests where they may be required to take a particular path.

Of course there are some skills which we train for hunt tests that are valuable for hunting dogs.  Steadiness is definitely one of them because it is for the safety of the dog.  You do not want a dog taking off after a bird while other birds are coming in and other hunters are still shooting.  Recall is another.  A hunting dog needs to come when called no matter what.  There may be times when you call a dog off a retrieve for the safety of the dog.  Recall is not negotiable.  Handling is another skill that we train for hunt tests that is also valuable for a hunting dog.  Being able to direct a dog to a bird that it did not see fall means the hunter does not have to wade or paddle out to retrieve it.

But the hunter does not want to have to handle the dog to every fall while hunting.  A good hunting dog needs to be able to mark the fall of birds even if they fall off to the side or behind the dog.

Freighter as our third and youngest dog has the least hunting experience.  He has spent a lot of his time training for hunt tests and compared to Thunder and Storm, is running higher level tests at a younger age.   But during hunting season, it was clear that some of his hunt test training had not served him all that well for hunting.  For example, at hunt tests great value is put on a dog sitting in one spot.  But when you are hunting and the birds fall all around or even behind the dog, a dog sitting in one spot will miss them.  This was a bit of a problem for Freighter this season because he had to be handled to those falls.  Luckily the ability to watch for birds all around can be acquired through hunting experience and with Thunder and Storm aging, Freighter is sure to be tapped for a lot more hunting adventures.

23 thoughts on “Hunting Is Not Hunt Testing

  1. What would it take to return the tests to a realistic, meaningful event? Perhaps the ACC should start its own series of tests independent of the AKC, with their blessing? Probably will never happen but imagine what Chessies would do! They could classify them as tests for dogs who really hunt?

    1. We do have WD/X/Q that were the basis for hunt tests but unfortunately the people in charge of them in MI never hold them. Unless you go to a National, you are out of luck.

  2. I heard this too here, that it became more a field trial than a hunt test. Do you think there will be a change back or will it become more and more a “sporting event” ?

    1. I am not sure. The numbers are huge so there is no incentive to change.

  3. That is a bummer the testing doesn’t line up with the real hunting world. Our sports are just for fun so it doesn’t matter which is nice.

    1. We hunt test for fun as well. But I always think that anything a dog does should line up with their natural abilities and what they were bred to do. For example, your nose work lines up with a scent hound. Hunt tests also use retrievers natural ability, but there is also a lot of trained behavior involved.

  4. Great article, especially since I’m preparing 3 of my guys for Senior hunt tests in two weeks. But you’re absolutely right, a great hunting dog may not test well and a dog that tests well may not be a good hunter. I treat hunt tests as inexpensive seminars and a way of gauging what I need to work on as a trainer, so for me testing is just for fun. The criteria is so different between “versatile” bird dogs and “retrievers”. A retriever gets marked down if they don’t take a good line to the bird and have to search for it; with NAVHDA Utility tests, the goal is for the dog to search for the bird until they find it – or at least search for about 10 minutes.

  5. Great article, especially since I’m getting 3 of our guys ready for Senior hunt tests in two weeks. But a great hunting dog may not test well and a dog that tests well may not be a good hunter. I treat hunt tests as inexpensive seminars so that I can improve as a trainer, and for my dogs testing is just for fun; their test scores tell me what we do well and what we need to work on. Some of the differences in test criteria between “versatile” bird dogs and “retrievers” are exactly opposite. For example, a retriever gets marked down if they do not take a good line to the bird and have to search for it; with NAVHDA Utility tests, the goal is for the dog to search for the bird and I believe are given 10 minutes to do so.

  6. It doesn’t seem right that they strayed away from the original purpose of the testing. I suppose there’s not a lot you can do about that though, except what you are doing….making the adjustments you need to to do both.

    1. I would say that one of our biggest issues is the lack of training grounds. For hunting we can train anywhere, even in city parks. Hunt test need specific kinds of training grounds in order to do well.

  7. Even the AKC rules have become self-contradicting. In one place it clearly states that the dog should disturb the minimum amount of cover. Try that one if your dog runs a blind 3 feet off the line to a blind to avoid disturbing cover. I think its time to change the name to Junior Filed Trial and start over with Hunting Tests. Nothing wrong with that, anything that doesn’t change ends up dying. The differences between hunting and hunt testing are now so large the majority of participants would object to the necessary changes. If so many Hunt Test people don’t hunt their dogs and want a Junior Field Trial they should have it.

    1. I think the popularity of the Master National has hurt hunt tests. If you look at video from tests years ago, they are so different. I would like to see them get back to testing the skills of a hunting dog. UKC tests are closer, but even at Finished level they have started to go astry in my opinion.

  8. No problem hunting any my mh dogs , it’s just up to me to train for extra or diff environment to suit my hunting. HT is good for general and just for testing purpose. Don’t need to make it anymore complicated than what it is. No complain

    1. Do you wait until they have their MH to hunt them? I know many people do but we are hunters first.

  9. AKC hunt test simulate hunting.The test are set up to judge the dogs on (1)Marking (2)Trainability(3)Perseverance(4)Style.I think anyone would want these virtues in a dog whether it is a hunting dog or hunt test dog.I think there are a lot of dogs that have no problems doing hunt test or hunting.I know my Black Labs don’t.

    1. We run Chessies. I think we can agree they are not black labs. Chessies are a thinking dog. Their hunting style is much different from what is required for a hunt test.

  10. I look at Hunt Tests as a great way to train after hunting season closes. It keeps your dog in shape and allows you to do hunting-type events with your hunting companion as opposed of letting them get out of shape laying around the house. True, hunt tests cannot replicate everything you experience in a hunt, but the excitement that my Lab has doing either is why I do it. Personally, I prefer the HRC over the AKC since most all HRC hunt test participants and judges literally are hunters.

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