Despite their image as house pets with beautifully long coats, Cocker spaniels enjoy a long history as a capable hunting dog, and they still retain their hunting instincts. All spaniels are natural flushing dogs; their purpose is to find birds, flush them from marshes or bushes and retrieve them, all in an efficient manner. If you enjoy bird hunting, don't rule out Cocker Spaniels as a formidable hunting partner. If you have a Cocker spaniel and you want to get involved in hunting, hunt tests are not only an excellent way to train, but they are also a great way to meet other hunters and to test your Cocker against a field standard.
Working Certificate Tests
Working Certificate Tests are offered through the American Spaniel Club and can serve as an excellent introduction for hunters and their dogs to field work. This program is designed to test spaniels for their natural hunting and flushing skills and is non-competitive in nature. Not only are they an excellent way to start your training, but the ASC sees them as a step towards American Kennel Club hunt tests, which are performed at a higher level.
In a land test, the dog works a field with his handler, who can direct him with signals or whistles but without being overly urged. The dog has to show a willingness to hunt and be able to retrieve birds directly to the hunter without damaging them. In the water test, a dead bird is thrown into the water about ten to fifteen yards from the shore and a gun is shot at the same time, simulating a kill. The dog has to retrieve the bird by swimming to the bird and returning directly to the handler without damaging the bird.
AKC Hunt Tests
The American Kennel Club offers hunt tests on three different levels. Like the Working Certificate Tests, they are not competitive in nature; instead the dog is competing against a written standard for spaniels. The first level is the Junior Test, which is almost identical to the Certificate Test. The next level is the Senior Test, which adds one element in which the dog must find a downed bird that he has not seen placed and retrieve it without damaging it. The highest level is the Master Test, in which the dog must show a truly polished an intelligent approach to hunting. Master Tests include the elements found in the other tests but at longer distances.
How to get involved
There are several ways to get involved in hunt tests with your Cocker spaniel. The best way is to find an ASC or AKC chapter near you. Both clubs offer training seminars and are great resources for learning more about Cocker spaniels in the field. Plus you can attend a hunting test in your area to see some other dogs in action and to get a feel for what happens at a hunt test.
Hunt tests are a great opportunity for those that are interested in hunting with their Cocker spaniels to not only learn more about this area, but to earn a title that you and your Cocker can both be proud of.