The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Saturday, September 13, 2014


The third, and final, entry in my series of posts about hunt tests and our dogs follows. I hope at least some of my readers found this series interesting.  If all goes as planned, the venue of hunt tests will be the centerpiece for the next novel in the series.

Master Hunter is the third, final, and by far the most demanding, title a hunting dog can achieve in hunt tests.  Very few dogs achieve this title compared to the number of dogs who become Junior Hunters.

What are the judges looking for? Junior Hunter is all about the dog’s instincts and motivation to hunt.  Senior Hunter competition adds in the criteria of trainability and having the required skills to hunt with minimal guidance from the handler.  This third and most difficult hunt test degree, the Master Hunter level, adds the requirements of a polished and perfect performance by the dog without guidance in the field.  Now the judges are looking for the trained bird dog in all respects– steady to wing and shot, and able to scrupulously honor its brace mate as soon as it sees the other dog find the bird.  The handler is not allowed to give the dog any instructions in the field; the bird dog’s training has to be complete before the test.

 The Process:  In hunt tests each dog goes out with another dog, often a complete stranger.  The pair is called a brace.  The dogs competing at the Master level are almost always mature adults.  They are expected to have a good deal of previous experience hunting and/or in hunt tests.  The Master Hunter must demonstrate that he or she is there to hunt for the handler, with a high level of efficiency and teamwork.  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”.  This phase doesn’t get scored, however, the dog’s backfield performance sets the judges’ expectations for its performance in the bird field.  The dog must show his training here in the backfield if he comes across a bird.  If the dog finds a bird in the backfield and breaks on point or disrupts the other dog in their brace, the dog will be “picked up,” which ends their 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:  Is the dog working a pattern that covers the field well?   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 they are hunting?  This is the same skill set as at the previous levels, but the judges are looking for more.  Does the dog cover a lot of ground in the allotted 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”.  Does it continue to hold the point until the bird is shot?   This is called “steady to shot”.  But now we ask for more.  Does it continue to hold the point until the handler taps it to release the dog from the point?  And, while holding this point, does the dog mark where the bird fell to facilitate a quick and clean retrieve when the handler releases it from the point?  This sequence requires a lot more training than at the Senior Hunter level, where just establishing and holding the point until the bird was shot was enough. In order to earn the coveted perfect 10, the dog must also show style on point.  It 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 excellent hunting dog in the field.

Category 5-Retrieving:  Now we add retrieving the bird directly into the handler’s hand as part of the required skill set for the dog.  The dog has to mark where the bird falls after it is flushed and shot, wait for a release before it goes out to get the bird, retrieve the downed bird, and bring it directly back to the handler and literally “hand it” to him/her.  The judge is looking for the dog to understand it’s working for the handler here so it efficiently retrieves the bird for and to the handler in the condition they found it, not chewed upon. 

Category 6-Honoring:  The dog has to demonstrate meticulous honoring at the Master Hunter level, which means learning to respect their brace mate and to stop hunting and to point the other dog properly when its brace mate establishes a point.  This is an important skill as the dogs will be visible and stationary in the field behind the dog pointing the bird when a bird is shot, preventing accidental shooting of a dog 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 and 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 shot 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.

Canine and human behavior:  If a dog attacks another dog without reasonable cause in the backfield or bird field, the judges shall disqualify the dog and report this to the AKC.  If the dog has been reported twice for such attacks, they will lose their eligibility to compete in any future AKC-approved hunt tests.  If a dog attacks a person or a dog at an AKC event resulting in an injury and is believed by the club sponsoring the event to be a hazard, it shall be disqualified from any future participation in in an AKC event.

“Unsportsmanlike Conduct” by a human may include “abuse or harassment of a judge or other official present in an official capacity at an AKC event, or kicking, striking, or otherwise roughly manhandling a dog while on the grounds of a hunting test at any time during the holding of the event.”  Any individual who abuses a dog in this way may be expelled from the event by the Hunt Test Committee, or by the Judges.  The abuse is reported to the AKC, which may suspend the individual from future AKC-sanctioned events.

“Conduct Prejudicial to the Sport” is any action by a participant or spectator that might influence a family attending an event for the first time to decide the sport is not for them.  Altercations, fights, demonstration of dissatisfaction with a judge’s decision such as throwing a ribbon to the ground or refusing to accept it, “creating a scene”, abusive or foul language in public, or mistreatment of a dog.  There is a formal hearing process for individuals accused of such behaviors.  Should the hearing committee uphold the charges, the individual(s) involved may be suspended from future participation in AKC-sponsored events.

All of these rules are spelled out in detail in a couple of pamphlets available from the AKC (can be ordered from, or printed from the web site).

Rationale for the Master Hunter Level:

Master Hunter is a lot more difficult to achieve than Senior Hunter.  There’s a lot more training required, as we are now asking the dog to go against its instincts and to work completely under the control of the hunter without having to be reminded or corrected in the field.  The training for the Junior Hunter and Senior Hunter level competitions is a foundation for the more advanced training to come as the dog moves into this class.  Most hunting dogs will never achieve this level.  There are a relatively small number of dogs that will.

            Viña has been hunting at the Master level for several years, but has never achieved the formal recognition at hunt tests due to her unwillingness to honor other dogs she doesn’t respect.  She honors her own pack spontaneously, including her great grandson Ries, when they go on point, and other dogs who earn her respect in the field.  Schöne and Jolie have several legs completed on this title, but each has to qualify five separate times to officially become a MH.  Jolie has qualified four out of the necessary five times (see the fourth event in the photo attached; Jessica Vetter handled her that day)– Schöne has yet to qualify the first time even though she’s got all the parts perfect in practice.  Bitches in season can’t compete in hunt tests and our girls have a knack of always being in heat during hunt test season!

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