A Simple Answer to a Tough Question
by Joe Pilar, Executive Field Representative
I have been an AKC Field Rep for almost 3 years, traveling our great country from coast to coast observing Retrieving, Flushing, and Pointing events. The Retrieving events are unique to the other events because the Judges not only judge dogs but have the added responsibility of setting up the tests that the dogs will be tested on. I have also been training, running, and judging field trials for the thirty plus years prior to my taking my current position with the AKC.
The main reason that I am writing this article is because the most asked question I hear is "how do I set up a test." My 1st piece of advice is to visit EVERY test and EVERY series and watch how the dogs are performing. Ask yourself why the dogs doing what they are doing. If all of the dogs are "stomping" the mark(s), what could be done to lend a higher degree of difficulty to an individual mark(s) (i.e., changing the line, throwing the birds in another direction, or in a multiple mark situation, tightening or opening up the proximity of the other bird(s)).I have always believed that the basis for a solid test begins with a good single. Once you can figure out what drives dogs to react the way they do, it is then and only then that you will discover what a "good" single is.
Remember that the 2 biggest factors that will determine a dog's performance are wind (direction and strength) and terrain (cover, water, contour of the land and/or ponds). This a learning experience for you and your dog. The best advice that I can give you is to have someone throw walking singles for your dog and watch your dog's reaction to the varying wind and terrain conditions. If you are fortunate enough to have other dogs available to do the same pattern, note their reaction as well. This basic beginning will be an enormous help in finding that "good single". Quite obviously, these exact same components can be applied to blind retrieves.
You new guys, get out a pencil and paper and draw a down wind mark. This doesn't have to be fancy. Now draw what you would perceive as the scent cone. It should be obvious to you that you are not giving anything away. The dog is not going to wind the mark from behind the gun or on its way to Burger King. You have to admit the dog has to have a pretty good idea where the bird is to use its scent as an aide to finding it, right? Now, turn your piece of paper 90 degrees. (Why isn't there a little "o" on the keyboard for degree?) No matter which way you turn the paper and draw your blind(s) it will be crosswind. You now have the option of lining the dog over, deep, or short of the mark across the return scent. This sound basic information, combined with hard work and experience, should help you create a solid foundation for your training and judging assignments.