by Hilarie Erb
AKC Hunt Tests and Field Trials are events designed as a way for sporting breeds and hounds to earn titles for performing the jobs they were bred to do. There are many ways to hunt for all sorts of game, and there is a specific event for each one. In non-competitive tests, dogs can earn titles that go at the end of their names, proving that they have what it takes to carry out their jobs. Trials are competitive, and the goal is to become a Field Champion – a prestigious title that goes at the front of the dog’s name.
Events for Sporting Breeds
Sporting dogs include four basic types: pointers, retrievers, spaniels, and setters. They work closely with hunters to locate and/or retrieve game. Some are multi-purpose, and others have very specific jobs.
Pointing Breed Hunt Tests – Pointing Breed Hunting tests are non-competitive pass/fail tests which assess each dog independently, based on attributes such as display of desire, boldness, independence, and speed with a useful pattern of running across difficult or confusing scent patterns to pinpoint the location of birds. Other categories that judges score include bird finding ability, pointing, trainability, and in Senior and Master tests, retrieving and honoring. The teamwork between dog and handler is essential.
Pointing Breed Field Trials – Pointing breed field trials allow a dog to work in the field and be judged in a competitive setting covering a lot of open ground in a short time. These trials allow dogs to display qualities like their keen desire to hunt, their intelligence, ability to find game, style and courage. Some trials will have handlers on horseback while others are considered a walking trial.
Retriever Hunting Tests – Each retriever is assessed based on his own merit (as opposed to competing in a field trial where a winner is chosen). There are three hunt test levels – Junior, Senior, Master - and titles can be earned at each level. Judges score dogs on their natural ability to mark and remember a fall, on their hunting style, perseverance or courage. They are also scored on learned abilities such as steadiness, control, response and delivery.
Retriever Field Trials – Retriever Field Trials measure how well they can retrieve in the field at longer distances than in hunt tests and are judged in comparison to other dogs entered rather than pass/fail. Judges look at dogs’ natural abilities such as marking a fall, memory, intelligence, attention, style, courage, and perseverance. They will also examine proficiency in learned abilities like steadiness, control, and response to direction.
Spaniel Hunting Tests – Spaniels are flushing breeds, and their primary purpose is to hunt, find, flush and return birds to hand as quickly as possible in a pleasing and obedient manner. Judges evaluate the performance of each spaniel entered according to a specific scoring system based on their natural ability to hunt, find game, flush, and retrieve. Judges also score a spaniel’s work in the field based on their learned abilities – range, pattern, gun response and response to commands. Spaniels can be tested at three levels: Junior, Senior and Master.
Spaniel Field Trials – Spaniels competing in trials will be judged on game-finding ability, steadiness and retrieving. The idea of the trial is to simulate as close as possible to a real day’s shoot. The function of the hunting spaniel is to seek, find and flush game in an eager, brisk, quiet manner and when game is shot to mark the fall or direction thereof and retrieve to hand.
Events for Hounds
Basset Hounds, Beagles, Coonhounds, and Dachshunds use their excellent noses to find rabbits, hares and raccoons, and the Bassets, Beagles, and Coonhounds use their voices to let their owners know that they are on the trail. Hounds are determined, independent workers when it comes to their jobs. Learn more about these opportunities for Hounds here: Field Events for Hounds
Basset Hound Field Trials - Dogs run in packs of two or more after a rabbit or hare (The rabbits and hares are never touched.) The purpose of the event is to exhibit the dogs’ scenting skills, not their actual hunting skills. To become a field champion, a Basset must have placed in Open All Age classes at four or more trials, have placed first in at least one, and have won a total of 60 championship points.
Beagle Field Trials – There are several types of trials for Beagles: Brace, Small Pack and Large Pack Options, Gundog Brace field trials, and hunt tests. Dogs run in packs of two or more to follow a rabbit or hare. The goal is to follow the trail of a rabbit or hare, not to harm them. Depending on which type of trial, the hounds will be judged on ability to search and explore, to pursue and keep control of a trail, accuracy in trailing, endurance, adaptability to changes in scenting conditions, patience, determination, and more.
Coonhound Events – The AKC Coonhound Events Program consists of Nite Hunts, Hunt Tests, Field Trials, Water Races and Bench Shows. Nite Hunts are the most popular of the events and are one of the only competitive sports where dogs hunt in natural areas where native game must be trailed and tracked and has not been planted. There are seven Coonhound breeds which participate in these events: Black and Tan, Bluetick, American English, Leopard Hound, Plott, Redbone, and Treeing Walker. These scent hounds are used to hunt raccoon and date back to early American settlers who developed the breeds from colonial foxhounds brought in from Europe. Each breed was developed with its own hunting style of trailing and treeing raccoons. Visit AKC Coonhounds to learn more about this program.
Dachshund Field Trials - Dachshund trials are not very unlike Beagle trials. They are held in fenced-in areas, and the objective is to track the game - to follow a scent trail that a rabbit or hare has left behind. The goal is not to actually catch any prey, and no animals are harmed in field trials. Dogs run in packs of two (a “brace”) and are judged on their ability to search and explore, to pursue and keep control of a trail, the accuracy in trailing, obedience to commands, their willingness to “go to earth” (into a tunnel or underground), courage, and more.
Hilarie Erb is a dog trainer and a member of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline team. The Helpline offers seven-day-a-week dog telephone training support by a team of professional dog trainers who practice positive reinforcement methods. For more information: https://www.akc.org/products-services/akc-gooddog-helpline/