Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An Open Letter to AKC and AKC Field Trialers

Should AKC just add a Walking Field Champion Category?

Some time back, the American Kennel Club wrote a small caveat into the rulebook for Pointing dog Field Trials.  Within this change was, as often is in writing a clarification, a fraught with Peril attempt to clarify a difference between walking handling and horseback handling.  The idea, at least to my understanding, was to clarify the acceptable range of a “Walking” Gun Dog vs. a “Horseback” Gun Dog. 

“*Walking Handler Gun Dog range – In walking Gun Dog Stakes, the dog’s range should be suitable for the walking handler.  Horseback Handler Gun Dog range – In Horseback Handling Gun Dog Stakes, the dog’s range should be suitable for a horseback mounted handler taking into consideration the cover and terrain.”

Ummmm…  Ok….  Then please explain me this:

6-V Horseback Handling. The premium list for any licensed or member field trial must specify whether or not handling from horseback will be permitted in any or all stakes. If handling from horseback is permitted in any stake, the club should attempt to provide horses. Mounted and foot handlers are not to be segregated in the drawing.

The Judges shall see to it that any mounted handler uses his horse only as a means of conveyance on the course and never as an active aid in handling. The handlers shall remain on the specified course in front of the Judges and in the Judges’ line of travel, except as necessary to handle a dog that is seen on point. The Judges shall control the pace, whether both handlers are on foot or both are mounted. If one handler is mounted and the other is on foot, the Judges shall set a reasonable pace to accommodate the foot handler. 

So if a walking handler is in a Horseback allowed stake, then does the judging criteria for that brace for a Gun Dog competition, which gives the winner Championship points that are not delineated between Walking and Horseback change to the range suitable for “Walking” Gun Dog? 

What about the Junior Levels?

 When caveats to rules are written, then they often become “inferred” to other areas where they specifically are not written.  Case in Point – the Junior level stakes, Puppy and Derby.
After having experienced judging in Junior level stakes over the past two years in Puppy and Derby at walking trials where the more independent, larger running dogs are overlooked and penalized for being high class bird dogs and the nod going to 30-40 yard dogs that are really more a hunt test or hunting club personal hunting dog range.   Given the past judging we've witnessed in these events and comments made about Juniors that "ran too big and took lines" I decided to ask before I entered the next trial.  I asked the Secretary exactly this in writing.

I know this will seem an odd question but I’ll ask it anyway.
 Are the judges for the junior stakes (puppy and derby) going to be advised to judge these stakes to a “walking” standard?
If so that’s fine -  I just want to know before I submit entries. 

The response was a one word reply.  “YES”.

Well, it’s really NOT fine, but I AM thankful the Secretary let me know and saved me a couple hundred bucks in entry fees, more spiked blood pressure and a waste of my time.

Did I miss something in the rules for judging a Puppy or Derby?  Let’s review the performance standard.

1-A Puppy Stakes. Puppies must show desire to hunt, boldness, and initiative in covering ground and in searching likely cover. They should indicate the presence of game if the opportunity is presented. Puppies should show reasonable obedience to their handlers’ commands, but should not be given additional credit for pointing staunchly. Each dog shall be judged on its actual performance as indicating its future as a high class bird dog. 

Hmmm… No – I don’t see anything there about should be a 30 yard dog or “suitable to a walking handler”, just that it should be demonstrative of desire to hunt, BOLD, have INITIATIVE IN COVERING GROUND and shall be judged on its potential to become a HIGH CLASS BIRD DOG.  Well, maybe it’s in the Derby rules.  Let’s look there.

1-B Derby Stakes. Derbies must show a keen desire to hunt, be bold and independent, have a fast, yet attractive, style of running, and demonstrate not only intelligence in seeking objectives but also the ability to find game.
Each dog is to be judged on its actual performance as indicating its future promise as a high class bird dog for Gun Dog or All-Age stakes. 

I've played this game for a long time.  I don't know how that performance criteria is achieved at a “walking" handler ranger of 40 yards and still demonstrate independence, have a fast and attractive style of run when the dog must change direction in ten or fifteen strides.  How do you have a walking handler range of 40 yards and also have a potential All Age dog?
Do you read anything in there either about judging differently in a walking Derby vs a horseback derby?  I must have missed that part I guess, and still cannot find it. 

What are your thoughts?  

  • ·        Should a walking Gun Dog be able to reach out 200 yards and hold a bird until you get there in a trial, work the bird effectively and then run to front again without being penalized, or should a “walking” handler dog only go 40-50 yards in an easy going pace, find birds just to the front or side of you in a very dependent and mechanical fashion? 
  • ·        Should a Puppy that stays mostly to the front and reaches out, covers ground fast with a smooth animated gait and is obviously hunting be penalized in a walking trial because it’s more than shotgun range away in a puppy stake, instead giving favor to a dog that is very handler dependent, short in range, low to moderate prey drive which translates in areas of intensity and style because it is a “walking” Puppy stake?
  • ·        Should a Derby dog be penalized by bird planters in walking stakes only dropping birds on the horse track so that reaching dogs have no bird contact instead favoring the "minesweeper" 30 yard dog in a walking derby and entirely dismiss an all age or large running Gun Dog prospect?
  • Is this an issue in other parts of the country, or is it just a Northern California phenomenon.  I hope so, but it seems to be growing.
If your opinion is that’s all ok, then I think you are looking at happy days ahead.  If you think that’s a problem and is leading to a degradation of the title of Field Champion, then join me and speak up.  Tell your clubs that you aren’t supporting with entries and why.  Reach out to the AKC reps and help persuade AKC to do something to address it.  Personally, the best thing they could do is get rid of the walking differential.  A Pointing dog should be able to reach to country and objectives that contain game and hold the birds until the guns arrive.  It should be adaptive to cover and terrain to do so.  I want a dog to run out there and check it out so I don't have to unless there's game, and I walk some big Prairie country and wild birds with dogs that hunt it.  You'd be lucky to get much of anything in your gamebag with a "walking" gun dog that I've been seeing at trials put to the test of hunting that country.

As for me – an enthusiast that just finished my 21st year as an AKC judge and competitor for longer - I’m officially speaking up.

If the AKC decides there is more support for the walking stakes and want to judge to a lower standard, then they should also provide delineation between a Walking Field Champion and a Field Champion.  It's only a letter difference, but with the way the rules (and inference of the rules to other stakes)  that letter delineation would speak volumes about the caliber of dog.

Ken Kuivenhoven
AKC Performance Field judge #ZB354

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