Judging the Retrieve in Pointing Breed Hunt Tests

Written by Tom Maneely and Gary Sadler – AKC Field Representatives

There seems to be much confusion about judging the retrieving category in the Pointing Dog Hunt Test program. What would seem to be a straight forward, simple category to judge often times is made more difficult for Judges to score by unexpected circumstances. This area probably generates the most questions about the proper judgment calls when these circumstances come up.

Let’s first take a look at what a normal retrieve would be. The bird would be flushed cleanly, be shot at a distance of 25 to 50 yards, the bird should fall in an area that would allow the dog to positively mark the fall of the bird, the dog would go directly to the bird, and return directly to the handler to deliver the bird. As a Judge this is the type of situation that I am hoping for, it is easy to judge and is a straight forward, fair test of the retrieving ability of the dog. Now in real life the “normal retrieve” situation does not happen very often. Any number of things can happen to make the retrieve more difficult for the dog to execute and for the judge to evaluate.

The rulebook is fairly vague when describing the retrieve. The few guidelines that are given are that a dog must retrieve to hand in the Master level and within a couple of steps in the Senior level. The line in the rulebook that causes much confusion is “If the handler of the retrieving dog assists that dog by walking towards the fallen bird, the handler will run the risk of having the dog’s Retrieving ability scored less than 5.0”.  This is often interrupted as meaning that the handler cannot move once the dog is sent. But during testing many things can happen that make the retrieve more difficult. What is meant here is that the handler should not progress towards the dog while the dog is returning with the bird. There is a section that gives guidance of how to handle un-retrievable birds, which can be interpreted to apply to many different situations. But for the most part the criteria are written loosely so as to allow the Judges the ability to judge the situation that they are observing.

As stated before, the rulebook gives us direction when it comes to un-retrievable birds, such as a bird that is hit very hard or falls in a location that would not allow for a dog to finish the retrieve.  In those cases the dog should be given another opportunity to demonstrate their retrieving ability either on course or in a call back. When in doubt it is best and fairest to the dog to give it another bird to demonstrate this ability. This does not tell us how to handle the numerous situations that happen when real life testing is going on but the logic used can apply to many situations that take the retrieve beyond the “normal retrieve”. A Judge must rely on their previous experience and their common sense to best handle these situations. If a Judge has not seen these situations before it is quite difficult to know how to handle them with only the rulebook to fall back on.

The use of bird fields, especially smaller bird fields, leads to several possible problems that are often encountered while a dog is completing the retrieve. Most often the dog encounters another bird while in the process of the retrieve. It is impossible to list all the situations that might arise while judging HT’s but here are a few common situations that occur and the best method of dealing with these situations.  When judging you are tasked with evaluating these situations and scoring the dog based on what you have observed. The following is a list of a few possible situations that come up frequently with the best method to handle these situations.

  1. The dog is sent for retrieve and points a bird on the way to the area of the fall. Answer. If this it is believed to be a bird other than the shot bird, the handler should go to the dog, flush and shoot the new bird, and send the dog to retrieve this bird. The handler then should take the dog to the area of the fall for the first bird and ask the dog to hunt for and retrieve that bird.  This is a tough situation for the dog and I believe some latitude should be given on the retrieving of the first bird as the dog has had another retrieve since the first bird was shot for it.
  2. The dog is returning to handler with a bird and points a bird. Answer. The handler should go to the dog take the shot bird then flush shoot and retrieve that bird. I would expect the dog to have a style let down when the bird is taken by the handler but a dog that handles this situation has demonstrated the retrieving ability far above the “normal retrieve” explained earlier.
  3. The dog is sent for a retrieve and flushes a bird in the area of the fall. Answer. If the dog chases the bird and is able to retrieve that bird this should count as a retrieve. If the dog stops to flush the handler should go to the dog fire a shot, (the shot is optional in the Senior level) and then ask the dog to hunt for the downed bird. This situation might take some “handling” to get the dog’s mind back on the shot bird. The dog probably does not know that the flushed bird is not the one that it was sent for, so extra help from the handler is likely necessary. 
  4. The dog is sent for a retrieve and points the wounded bird before retrieving. Answer. As you cannot be sure the dog is pointing a wounded bird or a live bird the handler could ask the dog to retrieve or go to the dog check for a live bird, then resend the dog for the downed bird. The handler could go to the dog for a physical release or use a verbal command. Advancing towards the dog for a physical release should not be a disqualification as the dog is not in the process of returning with a bird.
  5. The dog stops to flush with remaining birds present. Answer.  The handler should go to the dog flush and shoot the new bird and have the dog retrieve the bird.  
  6. A bird is shot and the dog can’t see the flight or fall of the downed bird (Blind Retrieve). Answer. We do not require to dogs to preform blind retrieves. The handler should take the dog to the area of the fall and ask the dog to find and retrieve the bird.

Of course this does not cover all the situations that could come up while evaluating the retrieving ability of our dogs. This list does give a Judge guidance in handling unusual situations that happen during testing of our dogs. The logic applied here applies to any number of situations that can occur. 

I would like to conclude by saying that as a Judge you should not ask the dog to do more than is require for the level in which they are being tested. If a dog can perform a “normal retrieve” and receive a passing score, should not a dog that encountered an unusual situation be given credit for performing a retrieve that goes beyond the difficulty of a “normal retrieve”? If the retrieve is so far beyond what is required should the dog not be given the opportunity to perform a normal retrieve? Remember you are there to judge the dog under the conditions and situations that occur during the test. A Judge needs to be a fair, observant evaluator and not just a score keeper.

Reviewed by Bonnie Hidalgo AKC Field Representative