The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Sunday, August 10, 2014


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 (of the required five) 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 again focus on Ries, who has already completed his Junior Hunter certification (at 7 months of age), and what the earning of the title of Senior Hunter will require.

What are the judges looking for?  Senior Hunter competition, like Junior Hunter is still about the dog’s instincts and motivation to hunt.  But now we add in the criteria of trainability and having the required skills to hunt with minimal guidance from the handler.  At Senior Hunter level 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.  On top of these skills the judges are looking for the fundamental skills of the trained bird dog – steady to wing, and the honor.
 At Junior Hunter, the judges looked for the dog to show they wanted to go out in the field and search for birds.  The judge looked for the dog to demonstrate using its nose and searching for birds by their scent.  The handler could help the dog, using voice commands to “whoa” the dog when it found a bird and to continue gentle voice commands to encourage the dog to hold its point for long enough.  At Senior Hunter the dog is not yet expected to be perfect in all aspects of hunting, but now they need to demonstrate mastery of all of the required tasks mostly on their own.

The Process:  In hunt tests each dog goes out with another dog, often a complete stranger.  The pair is called a brace.  Most of the dogs competing at this level are young adults or mature adults.  They are expected to have some, or a good deal of, experience hunting.  The Senior Hunter must demonstrate that he or she is there to hunt for the handler, not for the dog’s own entertainment.  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.  However, the dog must show his training here in the backfield if he comes across a bird.  If your dog finds a bird in the backfield and breaks on point or disrupts the other dog in their brace, your dog may be “picked up” (at the judge’s discretion), which ends his/her opportunity to continue into the bird field for that day’s hunt test.  The handler eventually brings the dog to the bird field, and from there 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?  This is the same skill set as Junior Hunter, but the judges are looking for more.  Does the dog cover a lot of ground in the allotted 20-30 minutes?  If there were birds in the field where the dog was working, did the dog find them?  If the dog finds additional birds, do they perform at the same level each time?  A single significant mistake (see below), even if it’s on the fourth bird the dog finds, can get it disqualified.

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 finds a bird, does it establish and hold a point until the handler flushes the bird?  This is called “steady to wing”, and requires a lot more training than at the junior hunter level, where just establishing the point was enough. In order to earn the coveted perfect 10, the dog must show style on point.  He must be rock solid and picture perfect.

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 can shoot a bird it was pointing if we were actually hunting?  At the Senior Hunter level the birds are shot by trained gunners who seldom miss the bird after the handler flushes them.

Additional skills not needed for Junior Hunter:

Category 5-Retrieving:  Now we add retrieving the bird into the required skill set for the dog.  The dog has to mark where the bird falls after it is flushed and shot, go out, retrieve the downed bird, and bring it back to the handler.  The dog will pass if it drops the bird within a step of the handler’s feet, but the judge is looking for the dog to understand he’s working for the handler here and retrieves the bird for the handler.  The dog is expected to show he’s not keeping the bird to play with but retrieving the bird efficiently and in a timely manner to the handler.  Many dogs at the Junior Hunter level have eaten (or thoroughly chewed upon) birds.  Senior Hunters must retrieve for the hunter, not themselves, and must retrieve the birds in the condition they found it, not half eaten. 

Category 6-Honoring:  An additional skill the dog has to demonstrate at the Senior Hunter level is honoring, which means learning to respect their brace mate and to stop hunting and to point the other dog when its brace mate establishes a point.  This is an important skill as the dogs will be visible and stationary in the field when a bird is shot, preventing accidental shootings of dogs in the field.  A passing score in honoring requires the establishment of a point on the other dog in the brace whenever that dog points a bird, and holding the honor until the bird is flushed, shot, and the pointing dog has completed the retrieve.

Grounds for Disqualification:

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.  If a dog is picked up in the backfield, is not steady to wing and breaks his point prematurely to get the bird, or fails to honor its brace mate properly, it will be disqualified.  If the dog doesn’t find and point a bird in the allotted time, it will not qualify.  If the dog receives any score below 5, or an average score below 7, it will not qualify.

There is an optional intermediate stage between Junior and Senior Hunter 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 to continue training the dog and competing with it.

Rationale for the Senior Hunter Level:

Senior Hunter is a lot more difficult to achieve than Junior Hunter.  There’s a lot more training required, as we are now asking the dog to go beyond its instincts and to work under control for the hunter.  The training for the Junior Hunter level competition is a foundation for the 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. Many of the dogs we see hunting in the field with contented bird hunters are trained only as far as the Junior Hunter level.

A lot of hunters would be thrilled to hunt over Ries right now with the skill set he brings to the field.  He’s currently learning the new skills he’ll need for Senior Hunter competition, but has some maturing to do before we can expect him to be able to consistently put all the necessary skills together to qualify at the Senior Hunter level.

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