The long standing, more well known Retriever field trials were developed during the depression, in 1932. From the start, the trials were highly competitive, requiring a major commitment of time and money. Retriever hunt tests were developed for and gained popularity with dog owners who wanted to keep working their dogs during hunting off-seasons in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Real life hunting seasons are short. Spencer calculates that if a person hunts regularly with his dog from the opening day of the first season through the closing day of the last, he still only hunts about four months a year. That leaves eight months without much to keep his canine buddy ‘in tune’. Dog owning sportsmen fill the gap with off-season games which, in the past, were the competitive field trials.
That’s where Retriever training tests come in. They are non-competitive dog games with multiple testing levels, each offering an appropriate title for dogs that qualify multiple times at that level. Each dog/handler team achieves their own level of success, not competing against any one else, as in field trials. The multiple testing levels encourages each person to participate at whatever level he (and his dog) find comfortable.
From the beginning, retriever training tests have been promoted as ‘most like hunting’. Hunting decoys, realistic duck blinds and duck-calling sequences are in use while the length of retrieves is limited to practical hunting distances. However, according to Spencer, the continually growing popularity of retriever training tests stems less from the “just-like hunting gimmicks” and more from the non-competitive format, graduated levels and meaningful titles. These features allow all the people who own retriever breeds to participate successfully at whatever levels and frequencies their time allows. Professional training is not necessary. Each retriever owner can set his own goals, train his own retriever at his own speed and, since there are three graduated testing levels, each person can set his own training threshold – low, medium or high.
It took almost forty years to develop, but today there are training tests from the AKC, hunts from the United Kennel Club and field tests from the North American Hunting Retriever Association. There are separate AKC hunting tests for pointing breeds and for spaniels.
Retriever training tests are a great way for a retriever owner and his dog to have fun, learn, and compete at his own level. It’s a great way to keep a hunting dog active and using his capabilities during the off-hunt season and provide opportunities for a dog and his owner to work together.
Jim Spencer is world re-known sporting dog trainer and the author of several more training books besides Retriever Training Tests – Training Retrievers for Marshes and Meadows; Hup! Training Flushing Spaniels the American Way; Point! Training the All-Seasons Birddog; Retriever Hunt Tests; Retriever Training Drills for Blind Retrieves; Retriever Training Drills for Marking; all published by and available at Alpine Publications. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Dog magazine.