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ANALYSIS OF AKC’s
RETRIEVING CERTIFICATE PROPOSAL

Randy Boggs October 2008

THE AKC RETRIEVING CERTIFICATE PROPOSAL

AKC Performance Events is proposing a “Retrieving Certificate” as an alternate method for obtaining credit for retrieving points towards an AKC Field Championship title. My understanding of this suggestion is that a club may offer a 5 minute callback for retrieve in order to obtain a “retrieving point” towards the 4 retrieving points required for a field championship. Credit for all four “retrieving points” can be accrued in this manner in order to fulfill the four retrieving points required for a field championship. The dog is still required to obtain 10 other competition points in order to earn a field championship title. The stated reason for an alternative method for obtaining retrieving points is due to “lack of opportunities” in “certain regions of the country”.

THE REAL PROBLEM

Lack of retrieving opportunities is a symptom. The real problem is lack of competitors. This problem is not addressed by the “Retrieving Certificate”.Where have the competitors gone? This isn’t a regional problem. This is a national problem! We need to fix the root causes of declining participation. The Retrieving Certificate will likely contribute to declining participation.

Recently, AKC sent out letters suggesting that events be clustered, urging clubs to hold fun days & hunt tests, promoting a junior program for kids 9-18, and reminding trialers about sportsmanship. The catalyst for these letters is undoubtedly declining participation.

Over the years AKC has implemented:

o Amateur stakes and championships to provide additional opportunities

o Hunting tests to help provide participants for field trials

o Seminars for participants and judges

o Oaths signed by judges to follow rules and procedures

o Walking stakes and trials

o DNA tests to substantiate parentage

While these actions may have facilitated and sustained participation, they have not prevented a declining interest in field trials. The sport of field trialing is transitioning. We typically blame demographics. This alibi implies futility and is erroneous. If field trials were appealing, then there would be a multitude of participants.

How could AKC field trials not be appealing? Interest in and activities with dogs have multiplied over the past 30 years. People are energized when watching their dog engage in hunting and it often appeals to men and women who have never hunted! The excitement and enthusiasm exhibited by bird dogs is contagious. Bird hunting embraces the most basic relationship between man and canine. Training a dog for this activity is challenging and requires intellect. The skills and knowledge obtained are applicable to many aspects of our lives. The learning never stops. The challenge and thrill of obtaining a high caliber performance provides immense satisfaction. So why are AKC field trials not appealing to many?

ROOT CAUSES FOR LACK OF APPEAL

Root causes for lack of appeal are embedded in the nature of our dogs and how we engage them. Our dogs have desires that motivate them and behaviors that make them compatible in the field. Their motivations are driven by satisfaction from running, standing point, and getting the bird. Their compatibility is driven by a desire to handle and share the rewards of the search.

Over the past 30 years, field trials have focused on increased range. Active handling has been used in efforts to maximize range and has seemingly become accepted practice. Active handling includes a fast pace, pushing and/or overtly directing dogs to engage objectives, vocals to warn, punish and/or intimidate, excessive whistling/singing, and out-riding scouts. Most of our dogs are highly responsive to humans and do not like or respond well to active handling. Active handling interferes with the search and often creates a hostile environment for responsive dogs, which inherently purges them from field trials.

While our dogs get satisfaction from running, standing point, and getting the bird. Each dog has their own “ultimate satisfaction”. For most dogs of the versatile breeds, the “ultimate satisfaction” is “getting the bird”. And that means the retrieve. These dogs get “sour” from continuous pop gunning. Hunting and killing birds reinvigorates their desire. “Getting the bird” focuses their application to find birds rather than innately responding to terrain features. Under poor scent conditions these dogs make adjustments and find more birds than those dogs whose “ultimate satisfaction” is either running or standing point. The versatile breeds need more retrieving opportunities rather than fewer. Minimizing and/or eliminating retrieving for dogs whose ultimate satisfaction is “getting the bird”, inherently purges them from field trials.

Presently, field trials foster a hostile environment for responsive dogs and a stifling environment for dogs that ultimately want to “get the bird”. This negative environment inherently purges dogs with these characteristics from field trials. Not only are these innate qualities of most dogs in the versatile breeds, but they are also qualities that the upland bird hunter wants and prizes. This disconnect diminishes the meaning and value of the sport. It is a prime source of strife in field trials. This strife is often readily apparent at trials, at club meetings, on blogs, etc.

Fifteen years ago neophytes typically ran their dogs thru young dog stakes. High attrition occurred when transitioning into broke dog stakes. The hostile environment created for responsive dogs and lack of “getting the bird” opportunities inherently stifled success. The ideological strife previously described further exacerbated the appeal of field trials. Regardless, some achieved success and replaced the established trialers that moved on to other life experiences. Today, the information age provides an open window into field trials. There’s no need to sample the sport in order to discover the strife. Finding new participants is difficult and the transition into broke dog stakes is rare. Many established trialers are older and transitioning into the sunset of life. Sustaining previous levels of participation has not occurred. Where the participation level will bottom out is not apparent.

In AKC field trials, placements are based on “what the judges like” rather than rating each performance against a standard. Participants are often left wondering precisely what the criteria was as well as the criteria weightings. Judges should not be able to drive into the sunset without explaining or justifying their decisions. This behavior has enabled active handling and distortion of the rules, procedures, and criteria. In fairness to our judges, present judging practice is from the 1800s and does not facilitate openness or consistency.

In summarizing the present state of field trials:

· Placements are based on “what the judges like” rather than a standard.

· Judges don’t explain their decisions to the competitors. This practice enables active handling, distortion of the rules, procedures, and criteria, and provides roots for discontent.

· Most dogs of the versatile breeds highly responsive to humans and their ultimate desire is to “get the bird”. They are inherently purged from field trials due to active handling and lack of retrieving opportunities.

These are root causes for lack of appeal and strife. Reform is needed to restore value and meaning to the sport.

CONCLUSIONS

Heretofore, a perspective of the state of field trials is provided. The popularity of field trials has noticeably diminished. Reform is needed to either prevent extinction or to prevent the sport from floundering into the foreseeable future and remaining vulnerable to AR groups. This is the environment into which AKC is proposing the retrieving certificate.

The retrieving test approach will have unintended consequences. Historically, other changes to the sport produced unintended consequences. These are summarized:

· Bird fields fell out of favor because they compromised application. Call backs for retrieves became the standard, but only for those dogs in contention for placement. This change inherently restricted retrieving opportunities, thereby compromising those dogs that ultimately want to “get the bird”.

· Scouts were implemented because some standing dogs were unseen and passed by, effectively DQ’ing them. This change somehow evolved into an “extra” handler that engages in active handling, facilitating the destruction of responsive dogs in field trials.

· Collaring was implemented. Reasons for it ranged from ability to “reward” the dog to less training required. This change facilitated the breeding and competing of less trainable dogs. Active handling is used to “get them around the course”, facilitating the destruction of responsive dogs in field trials.

· Locating collars were permitted. “Safety” for the dog was the justification. This concern could be addressed by each dog’s trainer and/or breeder without permitting locating collars. Some handlers that obviously don’t need them feel compelled to use them. The implicit message it sends to judges is “this dog runs big”. Some use them because it helps simulate the weight of the electric collar.

The unintended consequences of the Retrieving Certificate are clear. The Retrieving Test becomes standard practice and retrieving stakes disappear. All stakes become “run and pop”. The breeding and competing of less trainable dogs is again facilitated (only 4 lousy retrieves needed). Dogs whose ultimate desire is to “get the bird” are further compromised. And competitors in “certain regions of the country” that have “lack of opportunities” for retrieving stakes have less incentive to facilitate new competitors.

In conclusion, the retrieving certificate approach exacerbates the root causes for declining participation.

JUST SAY NO TO THE RETRIEVING CERTIFICATE.

ANALYSIS OF AKC’s PROPOSAL TO EXPAND AWARDING OF RETRIEVING POINTS

See the previous analysis on the proposed retrieving test. Awarding retrieving points for all placements in retrieving stakes does not create more retrieving opportunities. It creates fewer opportunities. There will be fewer retrieving stakes since dogs can far more easily get their retrieving points. Nearly all stakes become “run and pop”. The breeding and competing of less trainable dogs is again facilitated. Dogs whose ultimate desire is to “get the bird” are further compromised. And competitors in “certain regions of the country” that have “lack of opportunities” for retrieving stakes have less incentive to facilitate new competitors.

In conclusion, awarding points for all placements in retrieving stakes exacerbates the root causes for declining participation.

JUST SAY NO TO AWARDING RETRIEVING POINTS FOR ALL PLACEMENTS IN RETRIEVING STAKES.

 

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