Once in a lifetime you may be lucky enough to share your life with a simply amazing dog that nature has smiled on and who excels in every way. I am incredibly fortunate to share my life with such a dog, CH Rosewood Little Giant UDX VER RA MHU SH MXP MJP T2BP XFP DJ, “Tito”. While I bought him originally as “just a pet”, it quickly became apparent that this boy has it all and would do well in anything we tried. He has taken me places I never dreamed of, and to date has accumulated 35 titles. Our most recent venture has been in the AKC Flushing Spaniel Hunt Tests.
Our road to the Spaniel tests was unique. Until fairly recently I had never heard of field events, let alone tried any. But after Tito quickly earned his bench championship with three big major wins, and breezed through his UDX at age 3 despite being my first dog in higher-level obedience competitions, we were looking for something else to try. A friend suggested that we give field events a try, and since the Golden Retriever breed standard states that Goldens are “primarily a hunting dog” I thought I would see if he had any interest in or talent for field work.
Thus at age three, Tito was first introduced to birds, and we were both hooked. There was no early exposure to birds or feathers, nor early training, so his performance in the field is clearly representative of what nature has given him. And wow, what he has been given! Tito has massive prey drive, and an innate love of birds. From day one he has never refused to pick up and bring back any bird, any time, anywhere, from pigeons to chukkar to quail to pheasants to ducks to geese; live, dead, crippled, days old and smelly, even underwater. We began training for the AKC Retriever Hunt Tests, where he quickly earned his JH and SH titles, plus some breed specific titles.
Realizing his love for birds, I decided to also let him try some upland hunting and once again was amazed by his natural abilities. He has an incredible nose, courage, persistence, boldness to heavy cover, the intelligence to work a field and the wind, and a great love of the water. On top of all this, he is extremely willing, agreeable, and biddable. Tito is simply everything a Golden Retriever is supposed to be.
While we enjoy the control and efficiency of the Retriever Hunt tests, what we enjoy the most is upland hunting, which lets the dog use his instincts and natural abilities. I was very excited when I read that the AKC had written that, “The history of….Golden Retrievers indicates they were developed to be versatile hunting dogs, proficient in both upland and waterfowl hunting…their upland heritage is still very much in use today…” and therefore as of July 1, 2013 Golden Retrievers would be allowed to participate in Flushing Spaniel hunt tests!
After talking to several people who are very familiar with the requirements of the Spaniel tests, I believed that the discipline that Tito had learned for the Retriever Hunt tests, coupled with his natural abilities in the field, had prepared us to enter directly into Master Level Spaniel tests. So I quickly memorized the rulebook, bought a blaze orange vest and hat, and entered a couple of Spaniel Master Hunter tests.
Our experiences with the Spaniel hunt tests have been fantastic. The tests themselves are great fun, and come as close to an actual day in the upland field as it is possible for a test to come. They truly do test a dog’s ability to intelligently hunt and to find birds, to flush them, and his courage and persistence to go into heavy cover and retrieve the birds when sent to do so. Unlike the retriever tests, no two downed birds will be in the same place, and the dog has to be able to use his nose to locate the bird, often trail it through formidable cover, and frequently show the ability to come back with a feisty cripple. The “blinds”, or “hunt dead”, closely replicate a hunting scenario where the handler only knows approximately where a bird has gone down, and the dog is sent in that general direction and then expected to locate the bird.
The people we met at each and every one of the Spaniel Hunt tests could not have been any nicer or more encouraging. We were warmly welcomed, and everyone was patient and helpful with us despite our newness to the sport and the fact that I was not running a spaniel. Like Tito, nearly all of the dogs are trained and handled by their owners, and the sense of camaraderie is remarkable. Countless people came to the Master Hunter field to “watch the Golden run”, and made it a point to seek me out later to compliment me on his performance. Several even managed to make positive comments when, at one test, Tito soundly failed himself by taking off full speed after a pheasant on which the gunners had missed the shot!
The only problem that we encountered was finding tests to enter! We did, however, manage to find some within a reasonable driving distance, and on August 31, 2014 Tito became the first Golden Retriever to earn the AKC Master Hunter Upland title.
So what’s next for Tito? Well, he did earn his first Master Hunter Advanced pass the same weekend he earned his Master Hunter Upland title….
CH Rosewood Little Giant UDX VER RA MHU SH MXP MJP T2BP XFP DJ