I've written about working dogs for more than a decade. They are my passion. And if I can shed some light on the subject I like to do it.
As the owner of a beautiful and smart (she's both!) working dog named Jersey, I've been on both sides of the fence at AKC Hunt Test competitions, as a competitor and secondly as an AKC Hunt Test judge.
From my perspective as a judge I've noticed that certain dog handlers tend to get real jittery under pressure as they approach the start of a test. Those jitters often lead to major issues in a hunt test competition. But there's a way to be in control of your nerves.
The Girl Who Did Big Things:
Last week I judged a Hunt Test in Chino Hills, California and in that test there was a small 11 year-old girl and her trusty yellow Labrador. From what I heard, she had never entered an AKC Hunt Test prior to that day. I learned she begged her parents to give it a try and they reluctantly agreed.
After months of preparation and training with her yellow dog, according to her mother, the girl seemed to be ready to enter her first Junior Level AKC Hunt Test.
Sure she was scared, petrified probably, her parents said to me when I asked. But she also looked happy to be there. She appeared to be full of life, but not foolhardy. The girl was focused. I watched as she approached the start of the test, one foot after another, she walked her dog by the water's edge to the line where the dog must heel by your side.
She looked out at the terrain in front of her, both of them steady as an old oak tree. She glanced down at her yellow dog. The dog looked up. He was ready to go to work and so was she.
The girl stood there against the backdrop of wild hills, and carefully studied the calm waters where the bird had fallen. Her faithful dog crept forward, but didn't move any further than the young girl had allowed. Then the girl quietly called the dog's name to release it from its heel position and the dog splashed into the bluish green pond.
It was a good distance to the fall of the duck, but the dog got there without a struggle and the girl watched from shore as it plunked the bird up in its soft Labrador mouth. She smiled, and went on with the next test. Loving every minute of the day, like it was the most fantastic thing she had ever done with the dog.
She proceeded to repeat the skills she and her dog had learned at the next series of tests that afternoon, until all the birds were retrieved and all the scores entered in our judge's books, obviously to the delight of those watching from the sidelines, who burst into applause whenever she left the line.
The girl smiled each time, getting more confident as the day grew long. At the close of the event, this young girl had earned the coveted AKC ribbon for her efforts, which she shyly accepted from the AKC Hunt Test committee.
The moral to this story is that when you get nervous at an AKC Hunt Test and everything is going wrong, try channeling your "inner child" and learn how-to let go of those adult pressures we put on ourselves. Try it sometime... I think you'll be glad you did.