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The "Point" of the AKC Junior Hunting Test
for Pointing Breeds
by Steven Wagle


This article was  found in the May, 2000 edition of “The Checkcord” ( http://www.radiks.net/~swagle/gsp.html ) reprinted with permission.


"Say, what was up at that hunting test you were at last weekend? I heard those judges were really tough on the junior dogs! Is it true that only 2 of 11 dogs passed even though only 3 of them didn't find birds?"

Ok, hands up. How many of us have been on one end or the other of this conversation lately? It's funny how we accept the "judges being tough" at the Master and even the Senior level of the AKC hunting test program. It's not supposed to be easy and it's not. The pass rate is usually something like 30% at those levels. So what is up at the Junior level to bring out this kind of a reaction when the pass rate starts to dip anything below 50%?

What I have observed is that this anomaly is a function of several things that gets this "the judges are hammering the Junior dogs" ball rolling. Number one; at the junior level you have alot more folks participating in the junior as an "entry level" activity into pointing dog field events. This is great and the more new folks when can get involved in our tests and clubs the better. The Junior test was designed to be exactly that for handler and dog. Number two, I think at the junior level you have alot of folks running pointing dogs who are not hunters per se. I am always delighted to see new faces at the tests, but I think some of us more experienced hands do not always give as clear a picture of the performance requirements to our new friends entering dogs at the Junior level as we could. We were all beginners once and we need to do a good job of presenting this sport to folks who don't know all the ropes yet.

For instance; What's the first thing someone hears when they ask an old hand "I'd like to enter my bird dog in a Junior test, what does my dog have to do to qualify at Junior?" Right! The pat answer is "Well, all the dog has to do is get to the bird field and point one bird, that's all..." Hmmmm...well...that answer is right, but it is not a complete answer. I think the question posed at the top of this piece comes about because there is a misconception getting passed around out there (and it probably didn't start with the new folks!) that if a Junior dog finds and points a bird, the dog has earned an automatic pass. In fact, a quick read through the rule book will tell you that it is entirely possible for Junior dog to find and point not one, but several birds in a given test and still not earn a qualifying score. One would do well to remember this point that I will illustrate clearly from my own experience later in this piece.

Most importantly, we would all do well to remember that this is a HUNTING test, NOT a POINTING TEST! Also, one needs to keep in mind that this is a progressive testing program with the Junior, Senior and Master levels being logically interconnected to follow the progression of a dog through it's hunting and training career from green neophyte to a finished bird dog.

It is a pointing dog's job to "get out there" and find the birds for the handler. This is the reason that the Hunting and Bird Finding requirements are virtually identical at all levels of testing. The Junior test was not developed and should not be scored as a lessor or easier test and we should not present it to newcomers as such. Each dog has to be judged in each brace according to the standards that are set for the entire hunting test program. The logic of this thinking is borne out in the function of the test title system that a Junior title can be counted as one leg of the Senior title and on down the road in a dog's career one leg of the Senior title can be counted towards a Master title. Therefore, those hunting and bird finding compenents of the test have to be met as completely at the Junior level because there are the exact same elements being scored against the exact same criteria at the higher test levels. In fact, these scores are some day going to count for that Junior dog at the higher test levels. Since we have started down this path, let's look more closely at how the Junior test fits into the whole scheme of the hunting test program. A dog in a Junior test is scored from 1-10 in four categories by the judges. Pointing being only one and not even the most important of those categories at any test level. Hunting, Bird Finding Ability and Trainability being the other three categories for judgement. The Junior dog must earn an average score of 7 for the test (the lowest possible qualifying score then is 28 pts total for the 4 categories) with no single score in any category being scored less than a 5. (So, even if the dog does earn 28 points through the 4 categories, the dog will still fail if any one of the 4 scores given by the judge is less than a score of 5). So, we can clearly see that while the POINTING of the birds might be the hardest thing for a JUNIOR dog in a test, it is not the biggest part of what he is being scored on at this or any level.

Lets look at each category separately to get an idea of what the Judges of Junior dogs are doing with these scores and therefore why dogs that are pointing birds in these tests at the JUNIOR level are still not passing these tests.

The first category of judgement is HUNTING and the rulebook reads; "scored on whether or not the dog evidences a KEEN desire to hunt, boldness and independence and a fast, yet useful pattern of running". Right away it is evident where a young dog can fall short in this category. In short, the dog must be applying himself to searching the available cover for a significant amount of the time under judgement. HUNTING is listed as the first item of judgement for a reason. In fact, the requirement for HUNTING at the Senior and Master levels reads exactly the same in the HUNTING category as it does at the JUNIOR level.

Second category; BIRD FINDING ABILITY. The rule book reads; "a dog must find and point birds in order to receive a qualifying score...scored based upon intelligence in seeking objectives (bird holding cover), use of the wind and the ABIITY TO FIND BIRDS.

It is a pointing dog's job to "get out there" and find the birds for the handler. It must cover ground in that search so that the handler does not have to cover it himself. Too many times at all levels I observe dogs that are continually barely out of shotgun range and worse, are being hacked to death to boot. So, just because a dog stumbles across a bird and tries to point it, it does't mean the dog will automatically be taking home a ribbon. How can such a dog hunt anything? If in the judges mind the birds the dog finds are birds that the handler would've flushed himself just by walking along through the cover anyway, those finds won't count nearly as highly for scoring in this category as finds made by a dog that is casting out and more completely covering the back course and bird field. This element needs to be made much clearer to participants at all levels of the hunting test program. A pointing dog's job is to hunt and locate birds that the hunter could not produce for the gun on his own, period.

Again, this BIRD FINDING element reads the same for the JUNIOR, SENIOR and MASTER levels. Again, much is expected here of the JUNIOR dogs in this category. Granted, Junior dogs, especially young Junior dogs will not exhibit as complete or extreme a performance as the dogs at higher levels. However, I see more handlers handicapping their dogs in this category than all other combined. Too often inexperienced handlers spend the bulk of their brace hacking their charge back in to them. Whether they are trying to keep the dog in "gun range" or simply not wanting to allow the dog to get out where he can make mistake, I am sometimes not sure. Sometimes it is evident that a young dog has no idea what he is even looking for. Several times a handler has beamed to me "that was his first time ever on a bird" and I just had to bite my tongue instead of saying "Yeah!... I could tell, he wouldn't have found that one had he not stepped right on it!". A young dog that has been introduced properly to birds and worked even a little bit on them will exhibit an active, joyful search of the available cover. A dog that is simply on a walk waiting for the handler to lead him to a bird is not a dog that is exhibiting good bird finding ability. The dog must demonstrate that he knows that he will be rewarded with a bird by seeking them out in the likely places, working a good spot and then when assured it holds no bird immediately seeking the next logical objective and applying himself with a certain amount of fresh resolve for the handler.

It takes some training on birds in cover to demonstrate this effectively over even a short 20 minute length brace that Junior dogs are usually run in. I was dumfounded recently when a handler took his dog's entire 8 minutes in a 10 acre bird field to have the dog wallow around in a path about 50 yards long and about as wide as my living room. Despite my encouraging this handler that the field was full of birds to be found, he never allowed his dog to break into even a good trot. The handler himself hardly ever took more than 3 steps in turn or stopped vocally badgering the dog for more than a few seconds at a time. This was not hunting. In fact, this test is completely unfair to such a dog who I am convinced had never encountered a live game bird in his life before that day. Clearly, good marks cannot be given to a dog that is simply doddling about, waiting for his handler to walk him back to the truck because he has no idea of the fun that is to be had out hunting birds in a field.

Third category: POINTING!

The rule book states "..the dog is scored on the basis of the intensity of it's point and it's ability to locate game under difficult scenting conditions and confusing scent patterns." A dog that is out hunting effectively will find and locate birds from a great distance, even if the young dog roads in on them quite close before pointing them. There would be little to detract from the score of a Junior dog handling a bird like this as long as the dog locks up on a effective, reasonably intense point without bumping the bird out first. Where I see dogs falling down in POINTING is with dogs that are either A) already handicapped in one of the first two categories by their handler as described earlier (really, how could a dog miss a bird that is right in front of the handler if that is the only place the dog is allowed to hunt?) and B) simply too afraid to make a mistake on their birds by early rough handling in training and not exhibiting a natural hunting and pointing response, i.e. they acknowledge the bird at distance and are then command into a sloppy point by the handler, the dog left uncertain if they were really supposed to find that bird or not. So, just because a dog stumbles across a bird and tries to point it , it doesn’t mean the dog will automatically be taking home a ribbon. The JUNIOR dog must HUNT, FIND and then POINT the bird, pretty much the same way a SENIOR or MASTER dog would. Remember, the requirements in the first two categories are the same at all test levels and the only element added for SENIOR and MASTER to the POINTING category is the degree of steadiness after the flush. Which brings us to the least component of the Junior test:

TRAINABILITY

This category is not nearly as problematic as the first three categories seem to be for Junior dogs. If a dog is hunting effectively and finding and pointing birds for you and allowing you to blank them after the flush, the dog is demonstrating acceptable performance in this category at the Junior level. A reasonable response to commands is expected at this level along with positive gun response. Although a handler and dog can run afoul of the requirement here at the opposite extreme of the spectrum from the faults I pointed out in the previous three categories. As an example, I wish to present that I am the owner of a young dog, not a year old yet, who as a six-month old, had the distinction of running in two separate Junior tests on one weekend and while without question demonstrating that she is a "hunting machine" and did, in fact, point and allow her handler to flush not one, but two quail in the running of each test. It did occur to the one observant judge that this dog's manner of hunting in these tests would have been "counterproductive" as applied to an actual hunting situation and this dog did not earn a passing score on either day.

This was a nice way of saying that this young dog basically just raised hell all over and then was seen to point, chase, catch and then eat whole, several of the pen raised quail in the bird field. Enthusiastic? For sure! Talented? Without question!! Effective?...not hardly. "How can a Junior dog point two birds and not pass?", some might ask...Oh let me count the ways....! Sometimes too much is too much.

Again, I believe a lot of what is experienced in terms of the misconception of the scoring of JUNIOR test dogs to be handler inexperience in the area of actual hunting performance and conditions. I think a lot of handlers would be well served to join a club of experienced hunters and train with them, even if the handler never intends to pick up a shotgun themselves. Also, there are several good video tapes of hunting dogs in action available that would quickly demonstrate to a novice handler just what effective hunting dogs are all about. The AKC puts out a wonderful series of tapes covering the field performance events, including the Hunting Test program. There are also commercially produced tapes available with marvelous action of bird dogs on wild birds. Some titles that I would recommend are "Grits Gresham on Pheasant Hunting" and Tom Huggler's series of tapes; "Pheasant Hunting" and "Quail Hunting" .

A better understanding of just what is involved in this sport from the hunting aspect and not so much concentration on the "pointing" elements of the Junior test will serve the handlers and ultimately the dogs much better and ultimately provide superior performance for those same dogs as they progress through the Senior and Master Hunting test levels as well.


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