Field trials use white coats extensively when testing and training. While
hunt tests emphasize “camo” and hidden guns/wingers. The difference is in
the visibility of the field marking stations. Many train the way they test.
Both emphasize marking. A fair mark generally means the bird's arc and fall
is visible to the retriever. Marking is best taught by using setups that
The hunt test sequence of making this possible uses duck calls and/or
gunshots (AKC) to attract
the dog in the direction of the gunning station.
Another aid is marking off the gun (HRC) which pushes or pulls the dog in the
direction of each mark. In addition, the noise of wingers often offers
another attractant to aid in the dog's “look”. The reason these are
necessary is that the rules state you can't show the dog where the birds are
coming from ahead of time. These
"routines" work well within
the distance parameters of hunt tests.
In contrast, field trials allow the handler to point out gunning stations
which are located via white coats (which may retire).
If one were to examine the geometry of field trial vs. hunt test marks, the
reasoning for each approach may be clarified.
A hunt test dog at the line is 125 yards (max) away from marks which could
be thrown anywhere along 180° arc. The sound of wingers, combined with
marking off the gun from the line or an alternative shot in the field
(again depending upon which venue is involved) all are intended to aid the
dog in locating the full arc and area of the fall of a thrown mark. The
handler may be permitted to give slight, physical cues (at the
In a field trial with a 300 yard mark (see photo), there are usually no
winger sounds. There is no marking off the gun. And many times the sound of
the shot reaches the dog after the bird has hit the ground. However, to
compensate for these factors, the
handler can show the dog each station before the run and push or pull a dog
to the next station during the presentations. It should be noted, the field trial dog
may be asked to scan across an arc of 525 yards while visually searching for
the source of each "presentation". However (in many cases),
marks may be fairly tight (less arc to scan means easier to locate) and yet more
difficult to isolate in terms of large distance variations.
The primary factor to note is that each venue has its own set of rules and routines to allow a dog to
fairly see each mark.
The field trial dog must look at each station before the run because
scanning across an arc of 525
yards with no previous input would make it more
difficult to locate a bird in the air. If the distances vary considerably
looking long and short requires an initial focus and awareness.
In contrast, a hunt test dog would have to scan across an arc of only
125 yards. The "scan" is enhanced by the
previously mentioned routines. In addition, the hunt test dog has more of a
chance of finding the target station with less horizon to scan (375
yards less). The length of the arc at field trail distances of 300
yards is not the only difficult factor in seeing a mark. The field trial dog is
looking for reflected light off a duck that is reduced to almost
one sixth that of a hunt test duck. In
addition, marks are usually thrown more quickly.
The value of
stickmen in training is clearly demonstrated by recognizing what they
a dog to be a successful marker. Skills are attained when the learning dog
is presented with fair presentations. When you are
teaching marking concepts, anything that increases the dog's ability to
focus is of value. My hunt test
dogs are trained regularly with visible stickmen in the field. We do hidden
stations, too. They understand and gain marking skills using both.
The following photo is a marking setup Daisy ran (at 12 months old) while
learning to run marks from a remote line. There were several stickmen in the
field and she needed to be looking in the right direction. With no handler at the
line, noise and a visible gunner in the field were required to make sure she
focused in the correct direction. The stations were fairly tight. Without
this focusing routine in the field, the marks would not have been nearly as fair.
stickmen, remote line marking drill (walking "solo' gunner/handler)
photo is Daisy (hunt test retriever) at 19 months old running field trial
marks. The only way she is going to see the bird in the air is if she is
looking directly at the correct station. There is no help at the line and a
fairly large angle of separation between three stickmen in the field. She looked,
saw and retrieved each mark because the ATV movement focused her "look". If
each station had a hidden winger with a primer load and noise, this would
reduce her chances of looking in the precise direction and seeing the mark
(speed of light vs. speed of sound).
If she wasn't lined up correctly (eyes) or swung late toward the gunshot, the duck
would have already been on the ground.
Young, inexperienced dogs rarely go on what
appears to be a dry shot. There is little possibility of trying "go as sent" with no
handler at the line. A dog must be able to see the marks to react.
stickmen, remote line marking drill (ATV gunner)
On a side note, I've seen really good, finished hunt test dogs be totally
confused with a field full of stickmen. They adjust quickly.....if given a
In addition, I have worked many field trials. With stations at various
distances, it is rare to see any dog looking at a gunner to gauge where they
should be going. To them the station is nothing more than another shrub or
terrain factor. The retired gunner concept must be taught to a field trial
dog. The acquired skill allows them to see the "picture" minus the normal
gunner. The expectation is the "picture" taken earlier can
change some ....but it remains almost the same for the AOF.
Looking at it from the dog's perspective....for starters, they simply need to
see the mark.