I am lucky that I live in a neighborhood that has a lake in it. The tough part is keeping Brody and Saban out of it when we go on our walks. I often see a man working with his Labrador at the lake in the front of the neighborhood and often wondered what he was training for. Well I finally had a chance to meet Dan and his Lab Kayla this past Sunday and got to know them a little bit better and learned a ton on Hunt Tests.
A Guy and his Lab
My Lab’s name is Kayla and she’s a British Labrador, a slightly different breed than the American Lab. Kayla and I compete in what are called Hunt Tests, which mimic waterfowl and upland hunting scenarios. We compete as a team against a standard, not directly with other dogs. Competing dogs are required to run a water test and a land test on one day, and must finish both satisfactorily to receive a “pass.” Each pass earns the dog points toward titles. Kayla is considered a “finished” dog and she has a Champion title attached to her name.
We continue to train to try to pass the Grand Championship, a week-long contest held somewhere in the U.S. or Canada each year. The Grand is considered the Super Bowl of retrieving contests.
The drills I put Kayla through are specifically designed to teach her certain aspects of the tests. In tests there are “marks,” birds that the dog sees and marks the location of, and “blinds,” or birds that are placed that the dog does not see. When released the dog must stay on a “line,” a straight line from the handler to the bird. The line is established by the judges and adhered to by the handler by lining up the dog’s tail, spine and nose with the target mark or blind. Lining is a key component of a successful Hunt Test dog. A dog that goes “off line” must be stopped with a whistle and “handled” back to the line and the area of the fallen or planted bird. Only a well trained, disciplined dog will proceed in a straight line to a fallen or planted bird.
All types of terrain, natural obstacles and impediments come into play in tests. I train on hills, flat land, in woods, open fields, etc. Dogs can go off line when crossing a ditch or a stream, or when jumping over a fallen tree. I often put logs or streams or ditches between my dog and the bird to train for that element. Dogs are also rated for their scenting ability, willingness to take “casts” or hand and whistle commands, and also for their line manners. Line manners are judged from the time a handler and dog leave a holding area until they finish a test. Creeping, whining, barking or breaking, are all grounds for disqualification. All dogs must stay at heel when walking to or from the line. Obedience is the bedrock that this training is built on.
The direction I give my dog and the discipline I exert actually make her feel more comfortable, knowing I’m in charge and capable of leading her. Dogs crave direction and leadership.