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.
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.