Does Your Retriever Love Fetch? / by Larry Saavedra

    Fetch is a game that every dog owner has played at some time in their life. The dog chases the dry rubber ball and returns it back to the thrower, somewhat more slimy than before. Simple. It’s a great game and most dogs happily play it. 

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    But in the Retriever world you can step it up a notch. Because it just so happens that Retrievers were bred to fetch and play the game especially well, hence their breed’s name. 

AKC Hunt Tests

    Because of their natural retrieving skills on both land and water, the AKC devised a test for Retrievers and their owners, in the mid-1980s, to determine a dog’s ability to retrieve against what’s called the “AKC standard” for Retrievers. The AKC calls it a Hunt Test, a very authentic scenario that mimics an actual waterfowl hunting environment, where birds are downed and dogs are released to fetch them and bring them back to the owner. If you are terribly uncomfortable with birds like ducks being shot and retrieved, maybe this is a good time to recommend the AKC Agility game to you. But if you are good with the whole shot duck thing and you don't mind holding guns, then definitely READ ON. 

    Interestingly, a large percent of those that enter their Retrievers in AKC Hunt Tests are not hunters. Backyard Retriever owners love the sport and find huge benefits to playing the game. Likewise, AKC registered Retriever breeders, love the AKC Hunt Test too. If they do well enough to pass a Hunt Test they can add this distinction (often in form of a Ribbon or Band) to their dog’s pedigree through the AKC. 

    The concept of the AKC Hunt Test is for the owner (who is called the handler when testing) and the Retriever to fetch downed birds (usually ducks) on command. The birds may fall in the water, or on land, but the object is for the owner and dog to work as a team to locate and fetch the bird from where it landed. There are beginning levels of the sport for young dogs, to much more advanced levels called Master Hunt Tests, these dogs are steered toward the downed bird by hand and whistle commands and it can take years before a Retriever and handler become proficient enough at a Master Hunt Test to actually pass one (qualify).

    I won’t go into the details of the AKC Hunt Test, there are way too many rules and regulations to follow, but I am going to address its value in my eyes. 

Value of a Hunt Test for Retrievers

    For the past 15 years I have been actively involved in AKC Hunt Tests and became a judge about 10 years ago on the encouragement of fellow competitors. What I have come to realize is how vital it is for Retrievers that are of good health to play the game. It is the exact type of mental and physical stimulant that Retrievers want and need to keep their spirits high, their muscles strong and their weight under control.

    I noticed immediately that my dogs responded positively to Hunt Tests. They couldn’t wait for the next one and they loved being able to be rewarded for doing something that came so natural to them. Competitors come from all walks of life, there are doctors, lawyers, teachers and artists. AKC Hunt Tests are all inclusive, welcoming anyone with a love for dogs. So besides it being a healthy workout for your Retriever, it is also a great place to meet like minded people that care deeply about animals. 

    All hunt tests are strictly monitored by the AKC, and all judges must meet certain requirements before they are allowed to judge an event. These requirements for judges extend beyond simply knowing how to set-up a test, judges must understand gun etiquette, and recognize how to showcase a dog’s ability in the field without risking injury to the dog or the handler in the process. Dogs do not complete against each other as I mentioned, they compete against the AKC “standard” for the breed. Here’s an example: If the breed standard for any particular level of Hunt Test suggests that the dog must be able to swim across a body of water with the bird in its mouth and release it upon command to the handler, then that must happen. 

    If you ever get an opportunity to see an AKC Hunt Test you will be amazed by the intelligence of these dogs. Some dogs are fast as a red Ferrari in the field and others are as cunning as a fox, but what they all have in common is their love of the game of fetch. 

    To learn more visit the AKC.