Monday, March 18, 2019

Cover Dog Trials – Good for Grouse Dogs

by Seth Heasley


For better or worse, this is written from a setter enthusiast’s perspective but still is just as applicable to any pointing dog breed that can compete in cover dog trials (AKC or American Field sanctioned). Many have heard about field trials but far less understand how they work, in their basic form they’re setup like two hunters, with two dogs going for a walk in the bird woods, here’s an attempt to explain how they differ in the particulars…

Earlier this month, I entered one of my setters in a field trial which had the luxury of being close to home. All stakes were “open” meaning both professional handlers (and trainers) as well as amateurs were able to enter as handlers. This particular trial is commonly referred to as a cover dog trial meaning wild birds in grouse and woodcock cover.

Generally, there’s three stakes in an average cover dog trial:
Puppy- younger than 1.5 years old, 20-30 minute course
Derby- 1.5 to 3 years old, 30 minute – 1 hour course
All Age- Any age but requires completely broke bird work – the dog must stand through flush and shot, 1 hour or more.

Stakes are made up of braces. A brace is composed of the following:
Courses- predetermined path that was intentionally timed upon it’s creation to match the length of the type of stake with marked trees to follow
Dogs- each brace has two dogs, if there’s a pulled entry (for example a female went into heat) or there was an uneven entry amount of dogs and a dog does not have a bracemate, that space is referred to as a bye
Handlers- each dog has it’s own handler (two)
Judges- two judges ride behind the handlers, they determine the placements
Scouts- help find dogs believed to be on point deep in cover or as an extra set of ears and eyes if the handler temporarily “loses” the dog.
Gallery- spectators, generally dog owners, breeders other handlers or anyone else who would like to spectate who are behind the judges.

Handlers are on foot, but often in All Age cover dog trials the judges are on horseback. A horse allows judges a better vantage point with eyes ahead on dogs and less worried about their footing. Most importantly, hour-long braces with a 30-dog or more entry would mean 15 hours of hiking to complete a trial.

Cover dog trials are beneficial to just about anyone who is involved with pointing dogs, those looking into getting a grouse dog, present pointing dog owners and of course the breeders. You would be hard pressed to find a group of individuals that have their finger on the pulse of present grouse populations and cycles better than those who actively campaign dogs in cover dog trials. They are in the woods and running nearly all year long.

Read the rest of the Ruffed Grouse Society article