Oct 5, 2012, 1:03 AM EDT
By Jerry Sather
The American Kennel Club Master National hunt test will take place near Demopolis, Alabama in a couple of weeks. October 18-28 to be precise. Last time I checked, nearly 700 hundred retrievers are entered!
To qualify for the AKC Master National, retrievers must be AKC MH titled and passed six AKC Master Level hunt tests at Master National affiliated clubs at in the year leading up to the event. Don’t let the large number of dogs entered fool you. Qualifying at six Master events in a year is not easy. And as the number of qualifiers grows, qualifying tests become more difficult each season.
I’m fortunate to be taking three dogs to this year’s Master National, and as we always do prior to hunt test events, we’re training specifically to conditions we anticipate we’ll see at the event. There’s an important lesson here for hunters prepping their dogs for the field, too. To achieve top performance in any specific hunting situation, you’ll need to introduce your dog to those conditions ahead of time, and as thoroughly as possible.
For example, I train fellow-NBCSports blogger Bill Miller’s Lab “Callie.” Back when Callie was two, Bill was invited on a duck hunt in southern Illinois by Down ‘n Dirty Outdoors. He wanted to take Callie along on the trip to show her off and to give her experience on a long, traveling-type hunting trip. Bill knew it was going to be a combination of field and pond mallard hunting, so we focused training in the last couple of weeks before the trip on steadiness and remote handling from the field blinds we normally use for the dogs when hunting picked corn.
What Bill didn’t know was that the club at which he and Callie would be hunting had well-constructed, perfectly concealed pit blinds. They were built so that the first platform step down to the ladder also served as the dog’s assigned spot. Callie had never worked from this kind of set up before. To make matters worse, Bill didn’t heel her as they went to the blinds in the dark the first morning, and, naturally, Callie ran on top of the cover of one of the deep pits and fell in! Her first experience with a pit blind was not pleasant.
Though her retrieving was excellent over the next three days, Bill struggled to get her to deliver the birds unless he got out of the blind. And getting her back into position after each retrieve was a challenge. He had to gather her up in a bear hug and deposit her on the platform – effective, but not graceful.
Because of the number of dogs they’ll have to put through the early series at the Master National, we anticipate the set-ups will be shorter than we’re used to seeing in smaller events. They’ll also have to put some challenging setups in place to start narrowing down the field quickly. We also know that they use large hay bales as blinds, cover, terrain, etc. in many setups so they can stay mobile. In the next blog, we’ll share how we’re incorporating all of these into our training in these last couple of weeks so that the dogs are familiar and comfortable with them before we ever get to Alabama.
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