The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Good news today:  The Deadly Dog Show won today's (7/26/14) Indie Book of the Day Award.  This Roger and Suzanne mystery novel features Juliet, a poorly disguised Jolie, as one of the detectives in a complex murder case.  Romeo, a poorly disguised Ries, is born at the end of the novel.  Sooner or later Roger and Suzanne will have to solve a murder or two at a hunt test.

Like the movie Groundhog Day, each new puppy we keep starts off the cycle of conformation shows and hunt tests once again in our household.  At the moment we have four generations of dogs, great grandma Viña, Grandma Jolie, mother Schöne, and son Ries, still a puppy.  All three of the older girls are currently at the Senior Hunter level, with Jolie two qualifying rounds away from Master Hunter status and Viña functioning at the Master Hunter level in the field, even though she resists honoring random brace mates in hunt tests.  Today’s post will focus on Ries, who has already completed his Junior Hunter certification (at 7 months of age), and what it requires to earn the Junior Hunter title.

What are the judges looking for?  Junior Hunter competition is mostly about the dog’s instincts and motivation to hunt.  The animals need enough training to understand what is expected of them, but finding a bird and pointing it should be instinctual in a well-bred pointing dog.  At this level, the judges want the dog to show they want to go out in the field and search for birds.  The judge is looking for the dog to demonstrate using its nose and searching for birds by their scent.
 The Process:  In junior hunter competition, each dog goes out with another dog, usually a complete stranger.  The pair is called a brace.  Most of the dogs competing at this level are older puppies, with little or no experience hunting, so the first challenge is to make the dog understand he or she is there to hunt, not play with their brace mate.  Each animal is scored on their performance by two judges (typically on horseback, sometimes on ATVs or on foot, so they can keep up with the dogs and see what’s going on).  The dogs are scored in several categories, on a scale of 0-10 as explained below.  For the dog to pass a test, he or she has to score an average of 7, with none of the categories lower than 5.  The dogs are sent out through “the backfield” to run off some energy while they get oriented; this phase doesn’t get scored.  The handler eventually brings them to the bird field, and from here on out everything the dog does counts towards its final score.

The Test: 

Category 1-Hunting:  The Judge has to decide if the dog is actually hunting or just running around having aimless fun.  Is the dog working a pattern?   Is the dog using the wind to find bird scent?  Is the dog using their nose to find a bird?  Does the dog go out and look for birds but stay under the handler’s control while he/she is hunting?

Category 2-Bird Finding: This one is pretty much self-explanatory.  Did the dog find a bird?  Did they find several?

Category 3-Pointing:  When the dog found a bird did it establish a point, and hold the point for long enough for the handler to get into gun range?  In practice, this means did the dog hold a point for at least 15 seconds or so.

Category 4-Trainability:  This category is pretty subjective, and can vary by judge. It’s the rest of the package that will make the dog a potential hunting dog in the field.  Has the dog shown that it’s part of a team and responds to the human handler, that it’s not hunting completely on its own?  Has the dog demonstrated that it isn’t afraid of a gunshot so we could shoot a bird it was pointing if we were actually hunting?  At this level no birds are killed; a pistol containing blanks is used to simulate the sound of a shot and the handler “blanks off” the bird to demonstrate the dog tolerates the sound without fear.  At this stage of hunt tests this is the entire set of skills evaluated.  The dog can run after the bird when it flushes after the blank is fired if it wants to, and most dogs will want to at this stage of their training.  After all, that’s the fun part!

Scoring:  Both of the judges will score all of these categories and calculate the average score.  The handler and/or owner may silently pray for a 7 or better average score at this stage.

The training for the Junior Hunter level competition is a foundation for more advanced training to come as the dog moves into the Senior Hunter class.  This is a much more difficult test, and most dogs competing at this level are mature adults.  The additional skills they have to demonstrate are retrieving, which includes returning the bird to the handler, not keeping the bird to play with, and honoring, which means learning to respect their brace mate and stop hunting and pointing the other dog when it establishes a point.

As I said before, with a well-bred dog, most of the skills required to qualify at the Junior Hunter level are instinctual.  Training dogs to compete at this level is mostly focused on teaching the dog that good things will happen if he/she lets the handler give directions and they do better working as a team.  Some dogs will instinctively hold the point, while others will flash point for just a few seconds before going for the bird.  Most well bred dogs will retrieve instinctively, but not necessarily for your benefit.  A lot of birds have been eaten (or at least thoroughly chewed upon) at this stage by dogs hunting only on instinct. 

Junior Hunter training includes teaching the dog to hold the point for a long enough time to qualify at this level.   The training is usually done with a check cord to restrain the dog so it holds its point and learns that good things will happen when the handler catches up.  Many of the dogs we see hunting in the field with contented bird hunters are trained only as far as this level.

Ries has the advantage of having some very well trained hunting dogs as role models to learn from.  He’s been out in the field actually hunting chukars (a type of partridge) or pheasants and done very well.  He has watched his mother and great grandmother while hunting as a brace with each, and learned a lot.  Ries has a very good nose for birds, and can find them.  He retrieves birds instinctively and has a very soft mouth (he doesn’t bite down on the bird in his mouth whether it’s alive or been shot, so he doesn’t damage it).   Ries retrieves to hand because he doesn’t want to lose his bird, but loves to show it to us.  Since he has a really good recall, he brings his bird right to us before reluctantly releasing it to continue looking for more birds.  He is currently learning the new skills he’ll need for Senior Hunter competition, but has some maturing to do before we expect him to be able to put all the necessary skills together to qualify at the next level.

There is an optional intermediate stage called Advanced Junior Hunter, which your dog can compete for after it becomes a Junior Hunter, before attempting to qualify as a Senior Hunter.  The test is exactly the same as the regular Junior Hunter, but the dog has to qualify with minimal scores of 8 in each category. It’s a way to keep a dog actively competing in hunt tests even if it isn’t ready yet for Senior Hunter but you want it to continue training the dog and competing with it.

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