So, what are field trials and what is their purpose? There appear to be two main purposes, enjoying your bird dog in the field throughout the course of the year instead of just in bird hunting season and identifying those dogs which best exemplify the traits which make them good hunting dogs so they can be used for breeding stock thereby improving the breed. While dogs have to meet a standard according to the stake in which they are entered, they also have to compete with every other dog entered in that stake. This means field trials are much more selective than hunt tests as far as awarding of titles is concerned.
There are several different stakes, puppy, derby, gundog, and all age. These stakes can be either amateur handled or open handled. Amateur stakes are restricted to only amateur handlers while open stakes include both amateur and professional handlers. Stakes, both amateur and open, may also be limited to dogs which have won or placed in a stake in the past. Open limited stakes are generally considered to have the highest level of competition.
Handlers may be required to handle on foot or they can have the option of handling from horseback or afoot. Puppy stakes are for dogs 6 months to 15 months of age. They require minimal training and are evaluated on their potential to become a high class gun dog or all age. They are not required to point.
Derby stakes are for dogs 6 months to 24 months of age, they also require minimal training but must point.
Gundog and All age stakes are for dogs over the age of six months. These dogs must be fully trained, they must point, be steady to wing and shot, retrieve only on command and honor if the opportunity presents itself. The chief difference between a Gundog and an All age is that the gundog hunts more for the handler while the all age is expected to hunt the course more independently and at more extended range. The All age is generally accepted as the apex of the breed development but there is a significant minority who favor the Gundog.
Every potential field trialer should acquaint themselves with the AKC booklet, Registration and Field Trial Rules and Standard Procedure for Pointing Breeds. Participation in field trials is a wonderful outdoor sport. One can train and handle their own dogs or enlist the services of a professional trainer if their time is limited. While not for the faint of heart, if one can ride horseback, almost anyone can participate or at least observe.
For more information, please go to www.akc.org