Do we really understand the goals of hunt tests? Sure, we are bettering the breeds by constantly measuring performance and ability in the field. We are putting titles on pedigrees to show generations of success, and giving people and dogs alike a platform to enjoy dog work and have something to train for other than just hunting season. Hunt tests have given us a reason to form clubs and organizations that are dedicated to hosting training days, events and fundraisers to give people the chance to enjoy the fellowship of others who share in their passion for dogs, training dogs and hunting with dogs. I would venture to say that these clubs have given people great memories and lifelong friendships, which is fantastic. Sure, there are negatives. We often hear about “bias judging”, politics, problems with rules, tests not being welcoming to newcomers or amateurs, but those issues are to be discussed another time; I want to focus on what the true and underlying mission is of a sincere hunt test organization.
It is my opinion that our mission through hunt tests is not titles or ribbons, it is education. Education is key to not only the growth of hunt tests (both organizations and the sport in general), but key to a much larger picture. Let me explain.
Until I started training dogs with people who participate in hunt tests, I never truly understood what a “good” dog was. Like anyone just starting, I had no idea just how advanced the sport was, and how far these dogs could go, what they were capable of. I learned quickly that training dogs for hunt tests required a lot of special ingredients, both on my part and the dog. The importance of quality genetics in a dog can often be the difference between success and failure in training. You also learn that training a dog for the field is very technical (not as difficult as it seems at first, but definitely more complex than you ever imagined), and can be intimidating at first. Like anything, if you take the time to learn correctly, and put the effort in (it is a LOT of time), you get more comfortable with the process and understand on a much deeper level how the training process goes. Why is this significant? Imagine if we could get more people who are interested in dogs to hunt test events. We could teach them the importance of quality genetics and quality training tactics through the best tool in the world; live demonstration. If people understood how important genetics and quality training were, and knew how to identify where they can find both, then we could help the right kennels, breeders and trainers of the world by sending them clients who truly wish to develop a great dog, and give them a great home. In turn, we can steer people away from “backyard breeders”, or kennel programs that simply breed dogs for profit and pay no attention to exactly what kind of dogs they are producing. If the backyard breeders see a drop off in clients, they go out of business, it is that simple.
Furthermore, by helping people learn about quality genetics and proper training, we will see a much higher percentage of happy dog owners, which leads to lifelong commitments to their animals. We would see less shelter dogs, less dogs being sold because they “didn’t work out”. Please do not get me wrong, there are plenty of people who will drop the ball and not see through the rigorous effort and commitment of training their dog properly, but by making sure they are dealing with a dog with exceptional genetics, the dog can have a higher chance of working out with their next owner. Genetics matter, more than anyone can ever explain!
Another underlying benefit to educating people about the training process and what it takes to get an advanced dog (regardless of whether an advanced dog is their goal or not), is that consumers (amateur or inexperienced dog trainers looking for professional training assistance) have a much more comprehensive understanding of what a program should entail. They can meet and discuss their needs with a trainer and immediately know whether that program is a good option for them or not. Again, this allows the trainers and kennels that do a great job to stay busy, keep their businesses going, and makes it difficult for trainers who do a poor job to exist. Is it as simple as I am making it sound? No. But this is a great start; educated consumers seeking puppies, started or finished dogs and professional gun dog training would be great for the industry as a whole as well as our issues with full shelters and abandoned pets. It is a great way to begin eliminating unethical and poor quality breeding or training programs out there as well.
This information does not only exist in the sporting dog world, we could make this argument for all types of dogs. My thought is that at the very least, if someone buys a dog from a reputable program out of quality genetics, and has proper help or guidance in training (even if a hunt test is not their intended goal), they will have a dog that is well trained in the home, and a pleasure to own. This is just as important as producing advanced field dogs when it comes to larger issues we face regarding dogs and their owners. All of this can stem from hunt tests; sharing our knowledge and experiences and letting new people witness what dogs are capable of when trained correctly. I see a lot of underlying benefits from growing the hunt test area, and do my best to promote all hunt test organizations, not just the UGA.
Make sure to bring someone to a training session or hunt test event next time you go. Let’s do our part in educating the public about how important it is to know where to get our dogs from, how to train them (or how to find the right training assistance), and I think we can make immediate positive impacts on large issues that exist between dogs and their owners.