Field trials are events that judge a dog's hunting skills. These trials mimic the types of work a dog will be required to do during actual hunting; certain trials involving hunters shooting game. Canines compete against members of their own hunting type, with trials divided by age and experience. For example, retrieving breeds compete against each other but not against pointers.
During a field trial, your dog is judged on his performance as a hunting canine. Field trial classes are referred to as stakes, with dogs working toward championships. The American Kennel Club sponsors many field trials and championships, but other organizations organize field trials for particular breeds. Since each type of dog hunts differently, AKC field trial competitions and classes are divided into those designed for coonhounds, retrievers, beagles, pointing breeds and spaniels.
Pointing dogs run in pairs, known as braces, around a predesignated course on which birds have been released. Dogs must show their ability to locate and then stand pointing firmly at the bird. Followers at pointer field trials often ride horses behind the dogs or move around the terrain via horse-drawn wagons. Motorized vehicles are not permitted. AKC pointing breeds include Brittanys; English, Irish and Gordon setters; German shorthaired and wirehaired pointers; Vizslas; Weimaraners and wirehaired pointing griffons.
At retriever field trials, dogs must retrieve "marked" birds, having heard the shot and seen the birds go down. He must bring those birds back to the handler. Eligible breeds include golden, Labrador, Chesapeake, flat-coated, curly-coated and Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, as well as Irish water spaniels.
Beagle field trials, or beagling, consists of braces, small and large packs and the gun dog option. All are based on trailing rabbits except the large pack trial, in which packs of up to 25 beagles run on hares. During the gun dog trial, a gun is fired while the beagles are hunting to test for gun shyness. AKC eligible spaniel breeds for field trials include the English springer, English cocker and cocker spaniel.
In spaniel field trials, dogs are usually locating pheasants that have been set loose in the trial area. Working in braces but in separate courses, each spaniel must find the birds in his area. He can't poach a bird from his partner dog's course or try to take a bird from the other dog.
In coonhound field trials, no guns or live game is allowed. After a lure is placed in a tree or on a pole with a length of a minimum of 20 feet, a scent is laid down along a course to the lure. Hounds are released simultaneously, with the overall objective of barking up the right tree. Eligible breeds include the black and tan, bluetick, American English, plott hound, redbone and treeing walker coonhound.
- American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: Hunting and Field Trials
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Dog Field Trials
- Union Springs Alabama: Field Trials
- American Kennel Club: About Retriever Field Trials
- German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Illinois: What Is a Field Trial?
- American Kennel Club: Getting Started in Beagling
- English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association: Introduction to Spaniel Field Trials
- Veterinary Partner: Coonhound Trials
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