Copyright © 1996-2024, The
American Hunting Dog Club

The trained hunting dog test will evaluate fourteen (14) areas of competence and three (3) other hereditary characteristics; coat, conformation, and reaction to gun fire.

Heeling Off LeadRetrieve by Trail
Retrieve of DucksDesire
Duck SearchObedience
Retrieve of Shot Bird

Heeling Off Lead

A trained hunting dog should walk at heel off lead in a hunting situation when it is safe to do so. This leaves the hunter's hands free, and he is not encumbered with a lead across his chest and shoulders.

For ease of running, this test will precede the calmness test. This test will require the handler to carry a gun and one (1) shell. The handler will start about fifty to one hundred (50-100) yards, depending on the terrain, from the blind and walk to it. During the walk, he must make at least one ninety degree left turn, one ninety degree right turn, and one turn away from the water after the dog has seen the decoys. He must stop twice and during one stop fire a shot. The fewer commands given the better will be the performance. The handler should walk as if he were stalking or creeping up on waterfowl.


When working from a blind, the dog must be placed outside the blind, where he can mark falls and be sent to retrieve, without the handler going to him. A dog sitting or lying quietly near the blind will not flare waterfowl. The dog must have enough self control to stay quiet while calling and shooting take place.

Since the Calmness test leads directly to the Retrieve of Duck test, everything must be set for that test before starting the Calmness test. The handler will place his dog outside the blind. Where a dog is placed is at the handlers discretion. Nothing may be left on or with the dog. The handler will be given two (2) shells and will step into the blind with one (1) judge. A distraction gunner will be placed a reasonable distance from the blind on the same shore. The distraction gunner will fire four (4) shots as rapidly as possible. The handler and or judge will blow the waterfowl call. After the judges are sure that the dog is ready, a judge will signal for the duck to be thrown. The handler will fire at the duck while it is in the air, and, then fire a second shot in the direction of the blind retrieve as instructed by the judge. The judge in the blind will tell the handler when to send the dog. This test ends with the command to retrieve or when the dog breaks.

Retrieve of Ducks

Many waterfowl hunting situations will require multiple retrieves, including blind retrieves. Therefore, this test will consist of a single mark and a single blind retrieve. The order in which the ducks are retrieved is of no concern. A dog that makes a blind retrieve should know voice, whistle or hand signals. Therefore, any other form of direction will be severely penalized.

All retrieves must be to hand as the handler stands some distance back from the edge of the water. If a dog has a poor hold on the bird coming out of the water, he may reposition his hold. However, the dog must control the duck at all times.

The blind and decoy set (8-10 decoys) should be as realistic as possible. The person throwing the duck must not be visible to the dog. The thrown duck should fall a minimum of seventy (70) yards from the blind. However, it may be less if there is heavy growth between the blind and the duck. The duck for the blind retrieve must be set prior to the start of the calmness test. It will be outside the decoys but on a line that requires the dog to go through the decoys and out at least forty (40) yards.


The trained hunting dog must demonstrate the control necessary to remain alone where he was left while the hunter does something else, such as stalk a pond, set or move decoys, or assist another hunter or dog in the retrieve of game.

The remaining test leads directly to the search for a duck test. Therefore, it must be set near water that provides cover within about thirty (30) yards of shore. The emerging growth must be large enough to contain a thrown, flightless duck, and thick enough so that the dog cannot see the duck. After a short walk with the dog off lead, the handler will place his dog in an area that prevents the dog from seeing the handler when he is at the water's edge. No object may be left with or on the dog. At a signal from the judge, a flightless duck will be thrown such that it lands in cover about thirty (30) yards from the handler. While the duck is in the air the handler will fire two (2) shots at the duck. There will be a wait in order to assure that the duck is not going to come out of cover to open water. The handler will then call the dog to his side.

Search for a Duck

The possibility of dropping a crippled duck in water and out of sight of the dog is always there. Therefore, the trained hunting dog must be able to retrieve it. That requires that the dog be sent toward the fall, that it searches for and finds the scent, and that it pursues and catches the duck if physically possible. This test requires the utmost in a dog: nose, desire, search, tracking, toughness, intelligence, retrieving and understanding of ducks. The major criterion is the efficiency of the search.

The search for the duck is a continuation of the Remaining sequence. The handler will send the dog to retrieve. The use of anything other than voice, hand or whistle signals to assist the dog will be severely penalized. The handler will direct the dog to the fall area. The dog should make a determined effort to retrieve the duck. A dog that does not continue the pursuit, is reluctant, or refuses to grasp the duck when possible, will fail the test of Search for a Duck.


A trained dog should be able to hunt whatever terrain is available. Any legal game birds may be used and the use of two species will be required. There should be at least four (4) birds in the field when each dog starts. The birds will be distributed throughout the course. All types of cover will be used and there will be no specific area designated as the "bird field."

A trained hunting dog should hunt the area that he is directed to hunt by the handler and in a manner that is suited to his breed. To do this properly, the handler must know his dog's capabilities, and direct him accordingly. The dog is expected to hunt the entire area designated by the judges. The order or manner in which that area is hunted is up to the handler. The key is that the handler directs the hunt and the dog does the hunting.


Pointing will be judged as described in the section "Items Evaluated in All Tests."


Flushing will be judged as described in the section "Items Evaluated in All Tests."

Steadiness: Pointers and Flushers

A dog that is not steady to wing and shot endangers himself, his handler, and any one else in the party. He will always interfere with the shooting and in some cases prevent it altogether. He certainly will not be in position to mark multiple falls and, perhaps, not even a single fall. In either situation, he will flush game which the handler is not prepared to shoot.

In the event a bird is missed, the handler must be able to stop the dog with one command. Before and during the flushing sequence and during the flight of the bird, the dog may move to mark without penalty, but must not interfere with the handler. Delayed chase constitutes lack of steadiness and no bird will be shot when a dog is chasing.

Retrieve of Shot Bird

In order to conserve game, all game shot must be retrieved. Thus, if a multiple fall occurs, all birds must be retrieved. The dog must retrieve whether it marks the fall(s) or not. A trained hunting dog must deliver all birds to hand. A blind retrieve will be required and it will be part of a double fall. During one shooting sequence, a judge will throw a bird, and after the bird hits the ground, a shot will be fired in the direction of the fall. The dog is expected to retrieve both birds.

Retrieve by Trailing

As wounded game often runs off, the trained hunting dog must be able to pick up the trail, follow it, and retrieve the game to hand. To demonstrate this ability, a dog will be brought to within about twenty (20) yards of the upwind side of a trail. The handler will be given the general line of the trail as if he saw the bird run. The handler will then send his dog to retrieve. The dog is expected to pick up the trail, follow it, and retrieve the game to hand.

The area used for the trail should start in the open and move into sparse ground cover out of sight of the handler. A flightless bird will be guided to the sparse ground cover, released and allowed to run.


The trained hunting dog must demonstrate the quality of his nose and that he has learned how to use it to handle various hunting situations to the best advantage. The dog's nose will be subject to judgment at all times.


A trained hunting dog should demonstrate controlled desire. There should be no wasted energy such as needless barking, whining, tugging at the leads or wild running. He should show eagerness to get to the task at hand and accomplish it with spirit and intensity.


Cooperation and obedience in a well trained hunting dog will be very hard to differentiate. Cooperation will manifest itself as a nuance more often than not, e.g., the dog who sneaks a look at the hunter as he approaches him on point. In contrast, the dog that lacks cooperation exhibits it in an obvious fashion.


A trained hunting dog by definition must be obedient. He must do what he is directed to do at all times. Only an obedient dog can be productive all of the time, for one simple reason. He does what the hunter asks him to do, at the time when he is asked to do it. The hunter need not waste time trying to find him or get him out of trouble. Therefore, the hunter will get more productive work out of one well trained average dog than a poorly trained or untrained top notch dog.