Saturday, May 11, 2013
SENIOR HUNTERS: A GRANDMOTHER-MOTHER-DAUGHTER THING
A few weeks ago Jolie and her daughter Schoene finished their senior hunter certification about two braces apart during a local AKC hunt test. Grandma Vinia has had her Senior Hunter certification for several years, so we now have three generations of Senior Hunters to hunt pheasant, quail, and chukar with. Vinia functions at the Master Hunter level, but refuses to honor any dog she doesn’t respect so only has a few legs on her MH degree and is now a spectator when the younger generations of the family compete in hunt tests. Interestingly, Vinia has no difficulty honoring any of her family members (including all of the brothers and sisters of her pack mates) while hunting in the field so hunts at the MH level in real life as opposed to hunt tests. A couple of months ago we were hunting five dogs at once---Vinia, Jolie, Schoene, Sarah (another granddaughter), and Tiger (a Jolie brother)---on a large field. Somebody (either Jolie or Schoene) found a pheasant and pointed it. Four other dogs stopped where they were and honored the point. They’re trained to hold the point (and the honor) until someone human does something about the bird. That’s a pretty spectacular sight! It makes finding the bird pretty easy.
On her good days Jolie is already functioning at the Master Hunter level, while Schoene still has to learn how to do everything without help from a handler. In the field, Schoene has by far the better nose, but there’s a lot more to Senior or Master Hunter certification than finding and retrieving the bird. Junior Hunter tests emphasize whether the dog has the correct instincts to hunt, point, and retrieve a bird at the Junior Hunter level. The test here is “To find a bird, point a bird (briefly is OK)”. Fancy stuff like retrieve comes later.
After Junior Hunter it’s more about training. By the time the dog has been trained up to the Senior Hunter level they still have to find the bird and point the bird, but now they also have to be steady to wing, they have to retrieve just about to hand, and they have to be able to honor their brace mate when another dog finds the bird first. The handler can coach the dog in each of these steps, at least verbally, during the competition. At the Master Hunter level they have to do all of these tasks perfectly without verbal assistance from the handler, and also demonstrate that they are also steady to shot—they won’t go out to retrieve until signaled to do so by their handler. This isn’t easy, especially with a dog that has enough prey drive to really want that bird!
One of the secrets to enjoying high-energy dogs like GSPs is to give them plenty of exercise as well as a job---something to do so their brains and muscles get regular workouts. Hunt tests are a great outlet that satisfies their hard-wired instincts. There are plenty of other jobs to train them for---obedience work, search and rescue, cadaver finding, rally, agility work, tracking, lots of other activities. As Bruce the nanny points out in my next book, “The Deadly Dog Show”, “idle paws are the devil’s playthings.” If your dogs have enough to do, they can develop an on-off switch and be great couch mates in front of the TV as well as great athletes in the field.