Copyright © 1996-2024, The
American Hunting Dog Club


The American Hunting Dog Club (AHDC) is a non-profit organization committed to the preservation and improvement of the American Hunting Experience and Heritage. One of the main supporting activities is promoting game conservation. The AHDC believes that this objective is best met by providing educational resources to dog owners and by promoting hunters' use of well-bred and trained hunting dogs. The related testing activities of the AHDC are not intended to replace or dilute any other system of testing hunting dogs, nor to interfere with the activities or desires of any breed club, but to complement them by providing a program to evaluate the performance of sporting dogs of any breed. The AHDC conducts tests that realistically simulate actual hunting conditions.

In addition to contributing to better game conservation, the use of well-bred and trained hunting dogs will add to the enjoyment of the hunter, and promote a better public image of the sport. The AHDC provides a sound system for training dogs that the average hunter can use with success. The most accurate and impartial system available is used for the evaluation of the abilities and characteristics of field dogs that are pertinent to training and hunting. The organization maintains a computerized data bank of all the tested dogs. The AHDC makes this information available as an aid to all in the selection and breeding of hunting dogs.

Hunting Dog Types

The hunting dog must find upland game, produce it effectively for the gun, and retrieve all shot game. The hunter's responsibility does not end with the shot. He cannot, in good conscience, fail to retrieve shot game. Therefore, the hunting dog must be able to work on land, in the marsh, and on open water. While any particular dog may be able to perform such hunting tasks, there are three basic types that are born with instincts and physical capabilities that are most suitable to this work: spaniels, retrievers, and pointer-retrievers. The term "versatile" hunting dog is correctly applied to all three types. They all can do the same basic work with one major difference. Some point, while others flush upland game. Our primary interest and sense of aesthetics in hunting will be major determinants of the type and breed of dog that we choose as our personal hunting companion. Regardless of the breed, we are highly pleased to see any dog do outstanding work.

Introduction to Tests

American Hunting Dog Club tests are open to any breed that is registered, or that meets the requirements for registration, by any recognized breed or kennel club as listed in the by-laws of the AHDC. Other restrictions having to do with each test are listed below. Membership in the AHDC is not a prerequisite for entering a dog in any AHDC sanctioned test. However, anyone interested in joining or becoming affiliated with the AHDC may do so by contacting the Club secretary or any Club member.

The AHDC will conduct tests that are consistent with an actual hunt. In all tests sponsored by the AHDC, dogs will not compete against each other for placements or prizes, but against a specified standard.

All handlers, judges, marshals, gunners, and bird planters will wear hunting clothing that is harmonious with the hunting environment, such as camouflage while waterfowl and dove hunting, white while snow goose hunting, or a game vest when upland hunting. A hunting attitude will be assumed by all judges, handlers, marshals, bird planters, gunners, and spectators during all AHDC tests.


If every hunter had a dog well trained to hunt the game he was after; was himself well trained and disciplined; and, conducted himself afield as a true sportsman, the impression many people now have of hunters would be greatly improved. Therefore, in all hunting and working with dogs, we must conduct ourselves accordingly. Any handler who conducts himself in an unsportsman-like manner at a test will be immediately barred from the test and be asked to leave the grounds. Any dog that exhibits overly aggressive behavior will be excused from the test and confined.

Good manners, sportsmanship, and gun safety must be displayed at all times. Only break-action guns will be permitted during testing and training. The use of alcoholic beverages or non-medicinal drugs will not be allowed.

Testing Program

The testing program is set up to evaluate the usefulness of a hunting dog as he progresses from the hunting instincts of a youngster through his apprenticeship to a fully trained hunting dog. Only superior breeding coupled with extensive training and hunting experience will lead to the polished performance of a master hunting dog. Therefore, each test becomes progressively more inclusive and each tested item requires a higher level of performance. The evaluations described here will indicate the dog's strong and weak points; ease or difficulty in training; items to emphasize in future work; and, suitability for future training and hunting.

Certain items of evaluation will be included in all tests, although in different forms, degrees of difficulty, and importance. There is nothing in the testing program that does not have a direct relationship to hunting. If you hunt upland game and waterfowl, you will encounter situations that duplicate each test sequence every season. In order to conserve game, we all have an obligation to use a well-trained dog. Of necessity, there will be times when every hunter must take a young, partially trained dog afield. But, if we have the goal of a trained dog in mind, the end result will be game conservation. The tests outlined and elaborated upon in this document will define these goals for us.

You, the hunter, should not be overwhelmed, when reading about the tests. Any reasonably sound dog can pass the Hunting Instincts Dog (HID) test, and following basic training coupled with some hunting experience, he should pass the Apprentice Hunting Dog (AHD) test. The trained hunting dog (THD) will require a variety of hunting experiences and considerable specialized training. The master hunting dog (MHD) test requires a top-notch, well-trained dog with plenty of hunting experience and a dedicated handler.


The three most important elements in the make-up of a judge are: character, knowledge of dogs, and hunting experience with dogs. The most important of these is character -- the personal integrity that allows an individual to judge honestly and impartially and the mental toughness to do so under all circumstances. Without character there can be no trust. An honest judge with only average knowledge and experience will judge better and, the handler will have more confidence and trust in him and the system, than in the judge who has outstanding knowledge and experience, but lacks personal integrity.

Scoring System

The test system espouses judging each dog against a predetermined standard. Thus, the purpose of the testing program will be to bring each dog to a specified level of performance. The AHDC will use a pass-fail system for evaluating hunting dogs. Although each handler will be given a score sheet and test summary, a dog either passes or fails and the total score is irrelevant. Some dogs may never progress beyond the HID, while the best of the best may eventually become Master Hunting Dogs. A dog's capabilities will be reflected by the title achieved. It is to be understood by all, that, the AHDC does not advocate competition, but the development, training, and testing of hunting dogs.

The judging of each test sequence will be by consensus, since each judge will never see all events occurring during a test. Thus, decisions may reflect specific observations by individual judges.

All scoring is done on a 10 point system. A minimum score of 6 points is required to pass any and all categories of work in the test. In order to pass the test, a dog must achieve a passing score in all categories. The handler will receive an appropriate test record. A copy will be retained by the AHDC as a permanent record.

Rating System

To earn the title HID, AHD, THD, or MHD and receive the appropriate memento, the following requirements must be met:

HID - Pass the test once.

AHD - Pass the test once.

THD - Pass the test twice.

MHD - Pass the test once.

The Hunting Instincts Dog

The dog is untrained and working on instincts coupled with inherent behavior conditioned by prior exposure in the field. To properly evaluate instincts and behaviors that have not been extensively modified by training, the dog should be tested before 16 months of age. Therefore, to pass the test and receive recognition, the dog must not be more than 16 months of age at the time of the test.

The Apprentice Hunting Dog

The title "Apprentice Hunting Dog" implies that the dog is in training and has demonstrated all of the inherent talent necessary to become a trained hunting dog. In addition, the AHD has completed the early steps of training and has some hunting experience. Cooperation with the handler and adequate response to trained commands that allow the dog to be a net asset to the hunt are expected at this stage. Obedience and cooperation should be evident throughout the test, but polished performance is not expected. A dog is eligible for the AHD test up to and including the day he becomes 30 months of age.

The Trained Hunting Dog

The trained hunting dog must have the experience and training required to handle a variety of game before, and after the shot, under varied hunting conditions. Age is not a factor in this test.

The Master Hunting Dog

The Master Hunting Dog must demonstrate impeccable manners, as well as, the skills, training, and experience to produce game under the most difficult circumstances.

Description of Grounds

Ideally, the area used for search should be large enough such that the fastest dog can hunt the full time allowed without the need to rework any ground. Most dogs will not work as well the second time they hunt a piece of cover as they did the first time. The area should include a variety of covers -- wood lots, edges, and fields with good cover. Some areas of the cover should be dense enough that a dog must push through it. This is particularly true when testing dogs beyond the hunting instincts level. The areas required for water work should have enough water to accommodate the longest retrieve required. However, if the emergent growth is very thick, a shorter distance will suffice. There must be an area with emergent growth for some tests. The area used for the HID should have a gradual entry area and be of a size and shape that will not intimidate a very young dog.

The main criterion, however, is safety. If the grounds are safe for the dogs, the judges may compensate for less than ideal covers.

Items Evaluated In All Tests


Desire is that essential element that contributes to any activity. It is an attitude that seems to say that there is nothing that the dog would rather do than the task at hand. It is transmitted from the dog to all who see him, puts a spring in the step of those hunting with him, and lifts the spirits of everyone.

Desire is manifested by an eager, controlled drive, certainty of purpose, and mental toughness. It is not inane barking or whining when restrained, tugging or aimless pacing while on lead, or wild running for the sake of running while in the field. Without a strong desire, no truly difficult work is ever accomplished and, no exhilarating performance is ever seen. Without desire, the dog is spiritless.


Cooperation is the primary element in the dog's character that allows him to do so many things with and for man. Cooperation, by definition, is to work or operate jointly without coercion. Cooperation is an instinctive action, the spontaneous reaction to a stimulus that connects the dog and his handler. Cooperation is that intangible link that allows a dog to work at extreme range or out of sight, while continuing to work jointly with the handler.

Dependence must not be misconstrued as cooperation. The dog has a job to do independent of the handler. The dog that hangs onto the handler and shows no initiative is not cooperative. He is overly dependent, which is equally as bad as the "bolter", who could care less where the handler is, what he is doing, or what the handler wants him to do. Neither the overly dependent or wild bolting dog is working cooperatively with the handler.

That the dog completes a task is not necessarily an indication of his cooperation. For example: a trained hunting dog that points and holds is not necessarily exhibiting cooperation. On the other hand, if he points and deliberately flushes and chases, he is demonstrating a lack of cooperation. The dog that points and checks with the handler is demonstrating cooperation, i.e., the act of pointing is not the determinate of cooperation in this example.

Cooperation is easier to judge in a young untrained dog than it is in a well-trained experienced dog, as training and experience do not cloud the issue.


In order for a dog to be a true asset to a hunter, he must be controllable in all situations, i.e., he must be obedient. He must work when and, in the manner that he is commanded to; quit working and come in when called; and remain quiet when necessary. Such a dog will be a pleasure to have around at all times, and will not detract from the enjoyment of the hunt.

The obedient dog allows the hunter to concentrate on hunting and shooting. There are many potentially good dogs that never become fine dogs because they are never obedience trained. A disobedient dog is nothing more than a nuisance in a hunting situation.

By definition, the HID is never judged for obedience. The AHD must demonstrate that he can be controlled by the handler. The THD must demonstrate that, while he will obey commands, he has also learned control by situation, i.e., certain situations dictate the dog's responses. An example of control by situation is when a dog stops to an unexpected flush.


When evaluating a dog's nose, we must consider its primary components -- quality and use. Of the two, quality, which is the innate ability to distinguish scent in all of its forms and variations, is the more important. Without a top quality nose, training and experience cannot produce good results.

The best use of nose is learned through training and experience on a variety of game in varied circumstances. A clear example of quality of nose is the young dog running at top speed, leaping across a game trail, and turning in mid-air to come down pointing in the direction the game was traveling. This is a clear indication of pure nose quality, because the dog has had no time to learn to use his nose from training or experience.

Now let's look at a dog that has hunted many species of wild as well as planted game. Experience with and knowledge of the various species tells the dog how close he can get to a given bird on a given day, before he must point and not flush the bird. A nervous grouse may have to be pointed at twenty (20) yards, while a dog can walk up and stick his nose on top of a planted quail. Thus, we see quality of nose combined with use acquired through experience.

Variations in scenting conditions must be considered at all times. Wind characteristics, humidity, temperature, and air pollution are all important variables that must be considered when evaluating the quality of a dog's nose.


The search for game by any dog will vary greatly over his life time, from the instinctive urges of the very young dog, through the erratically developing forms of the apprentice hunting dog, to the systematic beat of a trained flushing dog, or the ranging thoroughness of the experienced pointing dog.

As the dog progresses, he must show a willingness to hunt the ground in the manner required by the handler. The flushing dog must work close to the handler as he must flush the bird within reasonable (approximately 25 yards) shotgun range. On the other hand, the pointing dog should range out, limited only by the need to keep working contact with the handler. A hunting dog's range is determined by the terrain. As the cover thickens, the dog's range must shorten so that proper contact with the handler can be maintained. This is true of both pointing and flushing dogs, and may be accomplished either through cooperation, or by command from the handler.

While no dog should be expected to produce every bird, nor cover every foot of ground in the area, he must hunt in a convincing manner indicating that he has covered the ground well with eagerness and determination.


The most important work that our dogs do is retrieving. The very essence of game conservation is the retrieval of all game shot, especially cripples. We must start with a dog with a strong retrieving instinct and, with the proper training and experience, develop it into a strong determined retriever. The testing program clearly emphasizes the importance of retrieving, starting with the Hunting Instincts Dog test. The AHD is further required to make marked and modified blind retrieves. The THD must make marked and blind retrieves on dead and live game. The most difficult retrieving task required of the THD is the search for a duck. The MHD must retrieve under still more varied and difficult circumstances.

The HID is not required to complete a retrieve. The AHD is required to retrieve. However, delivery to hand is not required. The handler is allowed considerable freedom of movement to help the AHD. But, he can not go to the game. The AHD must go out, pick up the game, and bring it back to within easy reach of the handler on firm ground. A trained hunting dog must deliver all game to hand.

All hunting dogs should properly carry game which they have been sent to retrieve or that they pick up on their own. There is a difference in what is acceptable in a puppy, compared to what is acceptable in a trained and seasoned hunting dog. Therefore, there are varying limits of acceptability as the dog progresses in training and experience. No dog, however, should abuse or mutilate game under any circumstances.

The terms used are inclusive but not exclusively defined as follows:

Mishandle -- paw, mouth, play with, pull feathers or hair, or break ribs.

Abuse -- urinate on, bury or attempt to bury.

Mutilate -- crush, break major bones, deliberately tear skin, puncture with canines, eat, or attempt to eat.

The HID will not be penalized for mishandling game. The apprentice dog will not be penalized for cracked ribs or mouthing game. Similarly, the trained dog will not be penalized for returning game with cracked ribs. The master dog must handle his game flawlessly.

Temperament, lack of cooperation, lack of training and adverse reaction to training constitute the most common causes for improper handling of game. Abuse is generally due to a lack of cooperation while mutilation is a function of temperament.

Any dog that mutilates or abuses game will fail the category of work in which it occurs and, therefore, will fail the test. Such behavior will be noted on the dog's test record.


Pointing: The purpose of a point is to allow the hunter to approach closely and get set to shoot before the bird flushes. If the dog flushes the bird, there is obviously no point. However, the HID may flush after the point and will not be penalized for doing so. If no game is produced or observed by the judges, the dog will not be given credit for pointing. The pointing attitude should be intense, convincing and established without cautions or commands from the handler. However, speaking to the dog in a low calm voice as you approach the point is normal and acceptable. The position of the dog is not important since many dogs will turn their heads to check with the handler, flag the tail, or make some movement. The most important aspects are a productive point and a handler induced flush. The dog should move with a running bird, on his own, and re-establish the point. The dog that will not move with a running bird will lose birds. Some dogs, with experience, will learn to circle and pin running birds, but this is a skill achieved only following vast experience and by the best of the best. Judgment of pointing ceases when the handler attempts to flush the bird.

Flushing: The flushing dog is at his best in extremely thick cover or on birds that prefer to run or sneak out rather than fly. The dog must move in quickly and decisively without stalking, hesitation or pointing. He must flush in a manner that clearly indicates that he is trying to flush the bird and not catch it. To be effective, a flushing dog must flush the bird within reasonable gun range, i.e., within a maximum of twenty-five (25) yards from the handler. In most instances the bird will have flown ten to fifteen (10 to 15) yards prior to gaining a safe shooting height.

As young dogs, the HID and AHD may become overly exuberant at times in the presence of game. The handler may help the dog in order to allow the gunners and himself to get within gun range for the flush.


There are many good reasons why the dog should be steady to wing, shot and fall -- the foremost being safety. A steady dog will not get himself shot nor will he jar a handler in the act of shooting. A steady dog allows the hunter to concentrate on his shooting. Any dog can mark better if he is not in motion. Therefore, the minimum requirement for the pointing dog is that he remains steady through the flush, flight and shot. In a similar fashion, the minimum requirement for the flushing dog is that he commits to stop immediately and remains steady through the shot. The HID will not be judged on steadiness. The AHD may require voice, whistle or hand signals before and during the flush and shooting. However, the handler can not physically block or intimidate the dog. The AHD will not be judged for steadiness unless the bird can be shot. The THD may be given no cautions or commands until after the shot. The MHD is expected to be steady under all circumstances and no cautions or commands should be necessary. For safety, no bird will be shot if the dog is chasing.


The reason for evaluating temperament is that it is one of the major determinants of trainability and usefulness of a dog. The dog with good basic instincts and sound temperament can be readily trained and will be a dependable worker in difficult situations. A dog with good instincts and a poor temperament will be difficult to train and frequently unreliable in difficult situations.

Temperament will be under scrutiny any time the dog is in sight of the judges during a test, regardless of whether he is working or not. Temperament manifests itself in many ways, including: reaction to gunfire, reaction to strangers, crowds, situations, objects, interactions with the handler and manner of handling game.

For uniformity of evaluation, we will use the following designations defined as follows:

Over aggressive -- predisposed to attack or encroach unreasonably in situations that do not warrant it.

Dominant -- ruling or controlling, overbalancing.

Bold -- very forward, prone to take undue liberties.

Confident -- totally assured.

Soft -- yields to applied pressure too easily, over reacts to correction.

Shy -- avoids a person or thing through timidity, distrustful, wary, anxious.

Fearful -- full of fear, alarm, apprehension, "hyperalert".

Fear Biter -- fearful to the extent of biting as a reaction to perceived stress, aggressive display.

In temperament, dogs are much like men, and to paraphrase an old saying, "Their actions are a sure sign of their basic character. They do the things they do because of what they are."


A dog's coat must give it protection from all the elements that he will encounter in doing the work for which he was bred. This is not for a few moments, or occasionally, but for a full, hard day's work. All breeds have coats that will protect them - if the coat is proper. Some, of course, are better in one aspect or another, but all proper coats will serve as adequate protection.

The three principal elements of all coats are: density, length and texture; with some having additional features such as undercoat or water resistance. Special emphasis will be placed on the areas of the body that take the most pressure while hunting, e.g., forelegs, toes, chest, etc..

For better understanding, coats will be described as: dense, lacks density, open, long, normal, short, hard, lacks hardness, soft with any other features noted. Coats will be evaluated immediately after the dog comes out of the water.


The primary work of any hunting dog will determine its most effective conformation. Without proper conformation a dog cannot efficiently perform the work for which it was bred. We primarily deal with three basic types - pointer, retriever, spaniel and combinations of these. Their conformation will necessarily vary from type to type and from breed to breed to enhance certain characteristics. However, the basic fundamentals of conformation apply to all dogs. The variations allow the pointer to cover large areas rapidly and effortlessly, the spaniel to energetically work dense, almost impenetrable cover, and the retriever to powerfully handle cold rough water.

Evaluation of conformation will be all inclusive and any deficiencies will be noted on the score sheet.

Reaction To Gunfire

Any good hunting dog must react positively to the gun. A negative reaction is generally a hereditary defect in the dog. A dog that panics at the sound of a gun has a severe temperament deficiency. By contrast, a dog with sound temperament cannot be made to panic with incidental gunfire - it takes a concerted effort. A hereditary characteristic can never be "cured," it can only be suppressed.

For purposes of evaluation, a dog will be rated as follows:

Positive -- reacts alertly, maintains disposition, positive orienting response.

Wary -- stops working, drops tail but does not come to heel, can be sent back to work, or resumes activity quickly.

Shy -- comes to heel but can be sent back to work, regains former disposition slowly, shows extreme nervousness, avoids the gun.

Panic -- leaves field, comes to heel and refuses to re-establish a hunting attitude, cowers.