Field trials are competitions designed to simulate the conditions of actual hunting. Of the many different types of field trials, the most popular are those for hounds, bird dogs, and retrievers. According to their age and experience, the dogs usually compete in puppy,derby, or all-age classes. Championship points are awarded to those reaching the winner level in open all-age trials.
Hound trials comprise field tests for beagles, dachshunds, and bassets. Each of the three breeds competes separately under slightly different rules. In hound trials, the dogs must run down and corner hares or cottontail rabbits. The hounds usually are released in teams of two, known as braces, or in packs and are followed closely by judges mounted on horses. Skills on which scoring is based at hound trials include keenness of scent, willingness to push through punishing thickets or undergrowth, and perseverance and accuracy in the pursuit of game.
Pointing breed trials test the dogs' ability to scent and seek out game birds such as pheasant, partridge, grouse, and quail. Typical bird-dog breeds include the Brittany; the English, Irish, and Gordon setters; the weimaraner; and various breeds of pointer. In competition, as in actual hunting, bird dogs range back and forth in the field until they scent a game bird. The dogs then track the bird to its hiding place in a thicket or other undergrowth and aim, or point, their bodies directly at the bird, standing still until the bird is flushed out of its hiding place and is fired at by the hunter. Bird dogs accumulating ten points in AKC trials become field-trial champions.
Retriever trials test the ability of trained hunting dogs to find fallen birds and to fetch them from both land and water locations. Depending on the type of trial, the dog may or may not be allowed to observe the bird's fall. When the fall is blind, the handler directs the dog to the bird's general location by means of various signals. The dog depends on scent to find the bird. There are also spaniel trials that test the ability of different spaniel breeds to flush game.
Breeds eligible for retriever trials include Irish water spaniels and Labrador, golden, and Chesapeake Bay retrievers. One or more of these breeds may compete in the same trials. The prize classes, or stakes, at retriever trials are based on the age and experience of competing dogs. To qualify as AKC champions, retriever-trial competitors must amass a total of ten points.