AKC Performance Events:
Breed vital working characteristics into the
"mind, heart, and spirit" of your dogs.
By Doug Ljungren
The American Kennel Club provides three types of events in which owners may compete with their dogs: conformation, companion events, and performance events.
Performance events are those where dogs are evaluated as to how well they perform the function for which they were originally developed. For example, how well does a Labrador Retriever retrieve or how well does a Border Collie herd. As such, performance events are often referred to as being “breed specific.” The AKC offers 15 different performance events in which 125 breeds may test their functional skills.
The results of performance events provide valuable feedback to the serious breeder. How well does a dog perform the function for which its breed was created-what could be more basic than that?
There are two major types of characteristics that make a breed unique from others. These are often referred to as “the essence of the breed.” These characteristics are proper conformation and breed type, and the ability to perform its function. If a dog has lost breed type or lost the ability to perform its function, it is not a good candidate for breeding since it fails to demonstrate the characteristics that make the breed what it was meant to be. Maintaining and enhancing these characteristics is vital to preserving the essential character of the breed.
German Wirehaired Pointer on point.
Form Follows Function, But ...
Many breed standards were developed to ensure the breed is built properly to do its job. Maintaining proper conformation and health standards are important components needed to accomplish a greater purpose: the ability of a working breed to perform its function. We often hear that form follows function; however, the reverse is not necessarily true, function does not necessarily follow form. Why? Because there are performance characteristics (in addition to structural characteristics) that a dog must possess before it is able to properly carry out the function for which it was developed.
Working breeds must possess the basic inherent ability to perform their function. Pointing dogs point, herding dogs herd, scent hounds smell tracks. An owner can enhance these abilities through exposure to situations that let these traits come to life, but the dog, in the most basic sense, does these things instinctively.
A good working dog must also possess the desire to do its job. Desire is also an inherited trait. It can be fueled by making a dog’s training experiences enjoyable. But if a dog lacks the desire to do its job, it is almost impossible to instill it through training.
Intelligence makes training much easier. It is the lucky owner who can enjoy the rewards of training when the dog “gets it.” Intelligence is an important characteristic for any dog that will be trained extensively, as is required for most performance events.
A dog’s temperament will influence many desirable traits. For working dogs, one of the most critical is the delicate balancing act between cooperation and independence. Each type of performance event requires its own unique blend of cooperation (dog listening to its handler) and independence (dog deciding how best to handle a situation). Training can shift this balance to a degree, but fundamentally, a dog will have a difficult time performing its job properly if it is uncooperative or overly dependent on its handler. Temperament is an important inherited characteristic and should be a major consideration for any serious breeder.
There are other characteristics, such as the ability to handle intensive training and the willingness to work with other dogs (particularly significant in pack sports), which are important to the success of a working dog. While perhaps not as obvious as some of the other performance characteristics, the lack of these traits will diminish a dog’s ability to perform.
Maintenance and enhancement of these inherited traits are the responsibility of the breeder. No small task. These characteristics cannot be seen in a conformation ring. They must be evaluated in the field.
Tests in your area can be found by visiting the AKC's Event Search.
To obtain regulations pertaining to the different performance events, call the AKC order desk at 919-213-9767 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
AKC Performance Events
AKC Performance Events provide a means to evaluate a dog’s ability in the field. Performance events include both tests and trials. In tests, a dog’s performance is judged against an established standard. It is a pass/fail event. In trials, a dog’s performance is judged against that of the other competitors. Dogs are placed first through fourth.
Most people new to performance events enjoy entering a test as the first step. Tests are divided into skill levels in order to accommodate different degrees of training and experience. A good way to get started is to watch a test in order to become comfortable with the setting and requirements (see sidebar).
Evaluating Performance Characteristics Takes Time
As one progresses through the testing program, test levels become increasingly difficult. It takes time for a dog to gain the experience and training necessary to pass. As the skills required become more difficult, some dogs will reach the limits of their potential. It varies among sports, but it is not unusual for it to take three to five years to obtain a true picture of a dog’s performance characteristics. This provides important feedback to the serious breeder. It also does not lend itself to a fast cycle in one’s breeding program.
Dogs and their owners who are committed to reaching the highest levels of accomplishment should be held in the highest regard. These animals can potentially play a valuable role in the enhancement of the breed.
Build Upon What Others Have Done
Once a conscientious breeder decides that paying attention to performance characteristics is important, the question becomes “How do I start?”
A logical first step is to test your dog. However, to build a line with proper conformation and performance characteristics is a long-term project. No matter which working breed you have, there will have been others before you who have stressed the importance of performance characteristics in their breeding program. It makes sense to jump-start your program by building upon the work others have already done. The other breeder will be flattered, and your program will be generations ahead.
In addition to proper conformation and breed type, there are performance characteristics a working breed must possess in order for it to perform the function for which it was originally developed. Only by putting the dog to work can one determine the degree to which these characteristics exist. Allow the dog to awaken its instincts and gain experience, and then make a truthful evaluation of its abilities. Performance characteristics reside in the most delicate of places—the mind, heart, and spirit of the dog. Serious breeders, those interested in maintaining and improving the essential character of the breed, will give significant consideration to performance characteristics when contemplating their breeding program.
Breeders bear a significant responsibility: the stewardship of the breed. For working breeds, that means maintaining the breed’s ability to perform its function.
Dual Wins Gun Dog Championship
It is difficult to become a Dual Champion in the pointing-dog world. A dog must possess the proper conformation and breed type, retain hunting instincts and drive in order to perform at a competitive level, have the disposition to work cooperatively with its handler while also maintaining its independence, and have the temperament and intelligence to accept intensive training.
The owners of these dogs are striving for the ultimate accomplishment: the dual dog.
DC/AFC Up n' Adam's Super Sioux, CDX, SH (Sioux), a German Shorthaired Pointer owned by Katie and Tom Tazza, won the 2009 AKC Retrieving Gun Dog Championship and took fourth place in the Non-Retrieving Championship, held in March near Danville, Virginia.
Katie's advice for those wishing to strive toward a dual dog: patience.
Start with a structurally sound dog. Make sure it has a high desire to hunt and possess style on point. You can't put these in the dog; they must be "in the genes."
Hunting tests are a good place to start. Field trials will take a while longer if you want to handle your dog yourself since it takes time to become a good handler. Always look for the positive, even when things don't go as planned. Study those pedigrees, and with patience, hard work, and a little luck you may end up with a dog like Sioux! - D.L.
Doug Ljungren is AKC assistant vice president of Performance Events.