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They’re Called Minus Points!
Posted on 12/09/2011 in Full Circle.

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And yes, they do exist and need to be scored as such when the dogs have earned them!
Minus points are as big of a part of field trialing as any other aspect. Granted, they are not the most enjoyable part, but as competitors and rabbit hunters we need to just accept the fact. Nobody likes it when their dog eats a minus, but - let’s face it - it’s going to happen. You can have a World Champion on the end of your leash and sooner or later he or she is going to make a mistake; just ask the guys that own one. I’ve yet to see one that is not a bona fide rabbit dog, but they still make mistakes. It’s just a fact that we have to live with. Not every track can result in plus or circle points; sometimes the rabbit does win!

Calling “hole” every time a track blows up is malarkey, and you need to hold the dogs accountable for losing the track. If you continually circle or plus all of your strike points, you are cheating, plain and simple. And just so we’re clear, cheating is cheating no matter how big or small the infraction may be. Whether you’re wanting to plus it or circle it, the rule reads the same for both. “Cast must make an attempt to locate hole. Majority of cast (hunting judge) or non-hunting judge(s) decision.”

There is not a whole lot of room for interpretation there. The rules say that the cast must make an attempt, not that they can if they feel like it. If your cast goes into the immediate area where the dogs lost the track and you can’t find a legitimate hole or place of refuge, guess what? They need to be minused. Times like these in the cast are the ones that define the real houndsmen in our sport from the win-at-all-cost weekenders that are not in it to improve the breed or the sport. It’s pretty simple. If the dogs have it coming, give it to them: plus, minus or circle.

If you have been avidly taking your Beagles afield to run rabbits for very long, whether it’s gun hunting or field trialing, you are well aware of the difference between a track that ends in a hole or a place of refuge and one that the dogs simply lose. The summer and winter months, probably more than any others, bring forth some of the most difficult tracking conditions our hounds will encounter all year long. The biggest contributors to this are the dry summer conditions with young half-grown rabbits, and the winter ice-crust that forms on the top of the snow.

As most of us know, young rabbits provide a challenge, to say the least, for even the most experienced hounds to run by themselves. Then we put four dogs together that are competing against each other in a field trial on such a rabbit, and the chances for a loss increase tremendously. Sometimes they can strike a young rabbit and circle it right back around, score speed and drive points on it, and get their strike points locked in. More often than not, however, unless conditions are perfect, it results in the dogs losing the track. This is where the honest person needs to vote to minus them and move on.

Probably the best piece of advice a person could get for running Beagles on cottontails during these times of year would be to have patience. You’ll need it. When we run our dogs at home in the summer and winter, and are closely observing their work, we can tell if they put a rabbit down or if they’ve lost the track and are unable to recover it. Rule 8 states that the handler’s duty is to know their dog’s voice and nature. If, as a handler, you know the nature of your dog, you should be capable of forming an honest opinion based on that and looking for a hole or place of refuge. Whatever the outcome of each individual track might be, whether the dogs run the rabbit until he is scared for his life and finds refuge, or the dogs just simply cannot progress the track and it results in a loss, be fair to the dogs. Don’t give them something they did not earn and don’t vote for a hole or place of refuge when you know the dogs didn’t earn it, regardless of what the other cast members do.

If you sit back and think about it, how gratifying is it to go out on a cast, run several rabbits that you know without a doubt the dogs just lost, and then as a cast conspire to cheat and vote to circle their strike points because you didn’t see the rabbit and you don’t want to take a minus? It sure does seem like a good way to make a bad name for you and your hound. Rule 3(e) is in place to reward our dogs for running a rabbit that has been seen to a hole or place of refuge, and Rule 5(a) is there to protect them from being negatively affected when keeping the track going is beyond their control. One thing that you can do as a handler is to make sure that the cast makes an attempt to locate the hole and minus the dogs accordingly. If they don’t want to make an attempt, question it. The rules say you must.

We would all like to think that we have that “perfect” dog at home that can circle rabbits time and time again under pressure without losing any of them, but that’s just not the case. So quit making excuses for them and vote to minus them if they don’t earn those plus and circle points. At the end of the day, you will feel better about yourself and your dog’s accomplishments because you didn’t give them anything that they didn’t deserve.