Gearing up for Hunt Test Season [Back to Monthly Pro Staff Articles]
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Hunt tests are by far one of the greatest dog games ever created. In hunt tests, the dog is competing against the test rather than other dogs. There's a certain standard that has to be met, and the dog is tested to see if it meets that standard. There are many things to consider before showing up to a hunt test which can make the process overwhelming! Pro Staffer JD Babb helps break it down so you and your gun dog can step up to the line with confidence!
Training a solid gun dog takes time, consistency, patience, and love. The team work developed is what makes the hunt test game so fun. Unfortunately, being in the game, I see a lot! From what I've seen, it seems as if some people try and "cram" with training, just like before a big exam or work meeting. When people cram it usually doesn't go as well as if they had spent weeks in preparation. By "cramming" training with a dog, it usually means putting pressure on the dog. A lot of pressure before a test can create attitude problems. A bad attitude is one of the last things you want as a handler! No one wants a dog that walks to the line and looks beat down or has a poor attitude. This is a team sport, and by adding pressure, you're being an unfair team captain. Steady and consistent training is always advised, but the week leading up to the test is extremely important. The week, and especially the day before a test, I try not to put too much pressure on the dog. For instance, I wouldn't try and make a dog hit a 10 foot key hole on 150 yard blind the Friday before a test or throw cheating singles with a junior to senior level dog. Try and stay in that dog's comfort zone for several days prior to the test. Build Confidence, maintain control, and you will be all set!
So now that it's test day, here is what you can do to help your team become successful. Make sure you arrive a little early to check-in and if you have a female, you will need to go through bitch check to make sure the dog isn't in heat. Ask for directions to your stake and show up in time to watch the test dog. The test dog is designed to show handlers the test and what your team will be asked to do. Before it's your turn to run, be sure to let your dog out and give them plenty of time to use the bathroom. This is called airing, and it is important for you to do. If you don't air your dog, they may decide to go during the test, which breaks concentration, and could lead to mistakes on their end. Do your job, and let them go before you step to the line.
Once you and your gun dog are in the holding blind, try to stay as calm as possible! This is easier said than done, but your dog will feed off of your energy. If you're high strung and nervous, the dog will probably become "giddy" and may lose focus. At the line, slow down and take your time. Focus on one bird at a time.
Hunt tests are a family atmosphere and a great hobby. I have met some of the nicest people at hunt tests, and have been fortunate enough that some of those people have become my best friends. If your dog doesn't do well, just shrug it off. Evaluate what you need to work on, go back to the drawing board, get it fixed, and go kick butt at the next test. Remember to always be a good sport and always be humble.
You and your gun dog are a team. This is a sport you can enjoy while you're waiting for duck season! Get outside, train, and test your teamwork for a weekend! You'll be glad you did!