This has to be one of our favorite AKC games — if you have a bird dog, you should at minimum take your dog to a “fun bird day.” Most local dog clubs hold one of these days at least once a year. Seriously, find one and go! Watching your dog’s instincts turn on is one of the coolest things you will ever witness.
If you catch the bug…and we think you will…you may decide to pursue a hunting title. If you do, here is a little run-down on these super fun events.
First let’s understand the basics. The titles you can earn for sporting dog are Junior Hunter (JH,) Senior Hunter (SH,) and Master Hunter (MH.) There are also some higher end titles if you want to go above and beyond; the Junior Hunter Advanced (JHA,) and the corresponding SHA, and MHA.
We will start at the Junior Hunt level. At this level, your dog will be evaluated on a few things: trainability, hunting, pointing, and bird finding. You will run this test with another “junior” dog, called a brace mate. You are not in competition with this dog, rather all the dogs are judged against a standard. To pass your JH test and earn a “leg” you need to have at least 28 points, with no individual item scored under a 5.
Let’s dive into the categories:
Trainability: Your dog should be able to show he has a decent understanding of your commands and responds to them. If another dog is working a bird and you think your pup will interfere, you can collar your dog to prevent that interference. The judges can’t pass a dog that shows any level of gun shyness, so that too must be trained. Finally, your dog must not show aggression or attack his/her brace mate.
Hunting: For this part, the judges are looking for a dog with some drive and style! This means your dog should have the desire to hunt (not just out for a run) and show some useful application skills…like an actual pattern to their run. They will want your dog to be able to leave your side and not need you to direct it to a bird. On the other hand, the dog should not spend a long time out of sight, after all, it should be a useful hunting partner. Of course, depending on your breed’s range, pace, and style the judge may have different standards to compare your dog with.
Pointing: This is the money maker! Everybody loves a picture of a bird dog on point. Frozen solid and no doubt that they are indicating the location of the bird they found for you. At the junior level, they need to establish point and hold it until you get within shotgun range…in other words, it should not be a flash point. Your dog must also point at least 50% of the birds it comes across.
Bird finding: The nose knows! In other words, your dog should be using their nose to find the birds and you need at least one find to qualify. The judge will score your dog on how it uses the wind and obstacles (aka cover — bushes, grass, trees, yucca…) to locate birds. If your dog just stumbles across a bird, it should not qualify.
…More info on SH and MH tests…coming soon!