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Tips For The Amateur Gun Dog Handler Field Trialing Under The Ukc Rules by Fred Overby and Butch Nelson
Posted on 12/11/2005 in Notes From The Field.

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By: Fred Overby* and Richard A "Butch" Nelson**

The following are practical suggestions for a handler considering running a dog in a Novice Field Trial under the field trial rules of the U.K.C. Pointing Dog Program. Many of the suggestions are also applicable to an Open stake as well, but the focus of this article is to help the amateur handler entering a Novice stake.

1. First and foremost, don't be afraid to participate! This is a field trialing format designed specifically for amateur handlers. Even the best dogs and handler can make a mistake and get ordered to be "picked up," so don't be intimidated or embarrassed at the prospect that you or your dog might make a mistake. The judges and other handlers are there to help and encourage you--not to criticize you. This trialing format is not so much about winning the First Place trophy, as it is about participating with your dog and seeing how well he will perform under a set of rules designed to present a realistic hunting situation, having fun outdoors, and meeting other folks with a similar interest in pointing dogs and upland hunting. If your dog has a great run in his heat and gets a Pass from the Judge, which is a fine achievement. A First Place or Reserve placement involves not only a good dog and good handling, but some measure of good luck as well.

2. At the beginning of the heat approach the judge and field trial marshal or guide with your dog ON A LEASH. Listen to the judge --try to do what he says in terms of hunting a certain area or direction and unleash the dog only when he tells you to do so. Some people release their dogs at the breakaway to the blast of the whistle, and others do not. Either way is acceptable.

3. Remember, if your dog is under three years of age, and has not yet received a TAN, the judge can award a TAN by way of equivalency during your field trial heat. However, you are expected to tell the judge prior to the running of the heat that the dog is under three years of age and does not have a TAN so that he may be so judged. To receive a TAN by way of equivalency, the judge will be looking to determine that the dog handles reasonably (is not out of judgment), that the dog exhibits the natural instinct to point game, and that the dog is not gun shy (upon the blast of the shotgun). Theoretically, a young dog can receive a TAN by way of equivalency, a Pass and a Placement in a single field trial heat, if he handles game properly.

4. Remember there is a one minute relaxation period at the beginning of the fifteen minute field trial heat, where if your dog makes a mistake such as barking, making a back cast (behind), or going to the bathroom, it does not count against your score. On the other hand, if he does something good during the first minute, it counts in your favor. The judge may solely in his discretion extend the fifteen minute heat if the dog has not encountered game, but otherwise performed well.

5. Make sure your dog has located a bird, before you as the handler call a "point." If you call a point and the dog relocates, then the judge will take that unproductive point into consideration in scoring your heat. Repeated false points will result in the dog being ordered picked up.

6. When a dog points, follow the directive of the judge. In a type L (Liberated Bird Trial) you may tell the designated gunner at the start of the heat or when the dog points, how to preferably approach the shot. The judge will instruct the gunner when to flush the bird in a type (L) liberated bird trial and prefers that the handler stay back with the dog on point. This is both for safety considerations and also to see if the dog will hold when a little pressure to break is applied.

7. Under the rules, you are not supposed to whoa a dog on point or otherwise give any coercive type command. You may elect to do so in a Novice heat, but the judge will take that into consideration in scoring for a prospective placement. While you may still win a pass if you whoa your dog, you will forego a chance to receive a placement if you whoa or verbalize a command to the dog on point. A dog that wins a trial should properly handle game by himself, without being “whoaed” or receiving any other coercive command.

8. In a type (L) liberated bird trial, when a bird is shot, you should tell your dog to retrieve or "hunt dead." You also may direct your dog to come to you when he picks up the bird. He is supposed to retrieve shot game to hand in an open field trial stake and within a reasonable distance of the handler (judge's discretion) in a novice field trial stake.

9. After a point and/or retrieve, you are supposed to leash the dog, approach the judge, and wait for further instructions (such as "turn him loose again"). If you dog takes off after another bird without being placed on a leash, the judge will take that into account in the scoring.

10. You should make every effort to keep the dog hunting and making casts out in front and to the side during the entire heat. Repeated back casts behind the judge and handler will count against your dog, as the judge scores the heat. The dog is supposed to work out front and to the side, but not behind the handler.

11. If your dog obviously blows it and intentionally runs up a bird--the judge will appreciate you simply electing to pick the dog up without being ordered to do so. Sometimes the judge may give the dog the benefit of the doubt and ask you to keep him down if the bird flushes wild or if it does not appear that the dog smelled the bird (under less than optimum scent conditions). However, this is a field trial and the dog is being judged under a set of rules. If a rule of competition is clearly broken by the dog, both the judge and the other handlers will appreciate the good sportsmanship and simple acknowledgment that on this day and in this heat, the dog simply made a mistake that will not allow it to pass or place, thus requiring that the dog be "picked up" or discontinued from running the remainder of the heat.

12. On the other hand, don't give up too quickly in the first part of the heat if your dog is not hunting as hard as you would like. Use your full fifteen minutes to try and secure a Passing score. Sometimes a dog can gain a pass or even a placement if he or she has a superb last part of the heat and locates game, exhibiting good manners.

13. Be aware of your place in the running order so that the running of the next heat is not delayed by your failure to be in proper position in the field. If you have a question in this regard, ask the field marshal or another member of the field trial committee as they are there to help you. So long as the members of the field trial committee are doing their jobs to have people in the right place, it is considered rude and inconsiderate for a handler to not be in a reasonable proximity and proper position for the running of the next heat. The judge may declare your entry forfeited or move you to the end of the drawn running order if you are not present or close by when the start of your heat is announced.

14. If you have a question about some aspect of the heat, please ask the judge--- preferably prior to the running of the heat. If something comes up during the heat, such as the course the judge would like the handler to follow, either ask, or the judge will probably tell you. There is no penalty for asking questions, if they are reasonable and appropriate.

15. Do not excessively yell or give your dog commands during the running of his heat. Excessive use of the voice and whistle is discouraged under the rules and will be taken into account in the scoring. On the other hand, reasonable commands and hand signals or use of the whistle are o.k. and can even demonstrate that a dog is well trained, if he properly responds to those directives from the handler.

16. At the conclusion of the heat, call your dog, get him on a leash and approach the judge who will probably have a brief discussion with you about the heat. The judge will conclude your heat by thanking you and releasing you. It is appropriate to thank the judge and any other persons who have assisted in connection with the heat and to then promptly remove yourself so that the next heat can begin. Do not travel through the ground designated for a future heat as you leave the field. The judge normally waits until the end of the field trial to make a final decision to award Passes and Placements. In addition to trying to get the next heat started, the judge will also want some time to reflect upon the various heats and to review any notations he made on the scorecard. Therefore, unless the judge decides at the end of the heat to volunteer to tell you how you scored, it is not considered appropriate to ask the judge about your score at the end of your heat. Most judges are happy to discuss your heat at the conclusion of the trial

17. Enjoy your day and especially the running of your field trial heat. Hopefully, you will learn something, and get a rush from the excitement of watching your dog run and from handling and helping your dog perform his best while under judgment. You and the dog should enjoy the mere experience of taking part in this great time honored sporting tradition. Remember, while there is a challenge for the dog and handler to do their best under the rules, that in the end, field trials under the UKC rules should be as much about fun and fellowship, as winning a Placement or a Championship!

18. A final note about sportsmanship. The UKC Rules for field trialing were derived from the European Rules of Field Trialing. Under the European traditions, both sportsmanship and good manners are paramount. Therefore, the organizers and judges of UKC field trials will not tolerate any unsportsmanlike conduct directed towards participants or towards the dogs. They will remove someone from a trial for this sort of thing on a moment=s notice.

19. Congratulate and compliment your fellow handlers who do a good job, so that others will be encouraged to participate. Encouraging young people and people new to the sport of upland bird hunting to participate in field trialing under the UKC Rules, will not only help build this great program, but will help the participants develop better representatives of their breed of pointing dogs.

* Fred Overby is a gun dog enthusiast and amateur handler who has participated in and helped organize both Type (L) and Type (W) gun dog field trials sanctioned under the United Kennel Club, Inc. Pointing Dog Program. He assisted the United Kennel Club, Inc. and the French Brittany Gun Dog Association of America, Inc. in the drafting and development of the present UKC Rules of Field Trials for the pointing breeds.

** Richard "Butch" Nelson is a professional trainer of gun dogs and has handled and judged field trial dogs in major stakes in the American Field, A.K.C., and N.S.T.R.A. field trialing venues. He is designated as a Senior Field Trial Judge by the United Kennel Club, Inc. and has consulted and assisted in development of the rules for field trialing and the UKC Pointing Dog Program.