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Standards for hunting dogs?...I think not

This article appears in the Jan/Feb 2002 issue of Quail Unlimited Magazine

No standard necessary

Several weeks ago while trolling some of my favorite internet message boards, I fell into an interesting debate regarding field trial dogs and hunting dogs. Debates on these message boards can get pretty heated, especially over subjects like breed superiority and forced retrieve training. But by the time I noticed this particular discussion, it had generated over two hundred responses, an unusually high number even for controversial topics.

The initial post simply asked "What is wrong with the games?", games meaning field trial and hunt test competitions. Without detailing the first few hundred posts whose content consisted of much "he said, you said, I said", I'll get to the point and note that toward the end of the long list of responses, the debate evolved into a question of whether or not standards such as those used to measure field trial dogs should also be applied to hunting dogs. Several very vocal contributors to the debate argued that my bird dog, even though he never has and never will compete in a field trial, should be held to a certain set of standards. I could feel the steam leaking from my ears.

To me, hunting is not a spectator sport nor is it an excuse for a group social (with the exception of the occasional dove shoot). I see hunting as an opportunity to spend some time in the woods with my dog and occasionally with a few quality friends. No judges, no gallery, no scorecards. The application of standards to this type of recreation seems absurd to me. Would you apply standards to a hike in the mountains? To a swim in the lake? How about to a walk through the neighborhood after dinner?

The more I thought about it, the more ludicrous it seemed and the more offended I became that someone would dare to tell me how my dog should behave in the field. This has overtones of Jerry Falwell telling me what books my children should be allowed to read. He's my dog, and if he makes me happy, that's all that matters.

Certain people are so hyper-competitive that they cannot be happy unless all of their activities are measured against a model of perfection, or at least against another individual. This is what field trials and hunt test competitions are designed for, and let me make it painfully clear that I have no problem with field trials and hunt test competitions. Some trainers work very hard with their dogs and these competitions provide a venue to measure how well their work has paid off. Standards are critical to events such as these and I have no objection to either the event or the system of measurement. What I do object to is the field trialers who insist that my weekend excursions into the brush with my dog and my friends be subject to similar measurement.

Knowing that these people won't be content unless something is put to the test of standards, I'll propose a simple set of guidelines by which to measure both dog and hunt. Here is my set of "standards" which are based on a simple YES/NO scoring system. A scorecard is not necessary. Answering YES to any of these questions would qualify the hunt as not very good:

    Did the dog run away and never come back?

    Did the dog or anyone in the hunt party get shot?

    Did the dog or anyone in the hunt party sustain any other type of serious injury?

All three of these questions relate, in part, to the dogs. None of them remotely resemble the type of standards you'll see in a field trial.

Here is a list of questions that some people feel are important, but in reality, aren't. The correct answer to all of these questions is "doesn't matter", so once again, no scorecard is necessary:

    Did we find any birds?

    Did we shoot any or all of the birds we found?

    Was the weather nice?

    Did the dog hold every point?

    Did the dog creep on point?

    Was the dog steady to shot?

If you must take an enjoyable sport like hunting and turn it into a contest, so be it. But don't ever, under any circumstances, try to force your preference upon me. Keep it to yourself, and do not criticize me for holding an opposing point of view. Spend your time making out scorecards, refining your standards and putting them on paper, not trying to convince me to do so.

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