With each new puppy that comes into my home, I set goals. Sometimes those goals change as our relationship develops, but my desire is to push that goal higher with each dog. Status quo means settling. I want to constantly learn, struggle, and achieve something new.
My chosen breed is the Golden Retriever, a very popular, versatile, and capable companion. I always thought I would own an uncommon breed, but ten thousand Elvis fans can’t be wrong! Goldens are fantastic dogs.
There is a wide variety of styles and genetic lines of Goldens; something for everyone in their companion, service, or competitive pursuits. We don’t just have a “breed split” (working versus show lines), we have a breed family tree! Goldens dominate in the show ring, Companion events (Obedience Trials, Agility, Tracking), Performance events (Hunt Tests and Field Trials), as well as Service Dogs for the disabled, Detection Dogs for military and civilian uses, Therapy Dogs, and, of course, they are extremely popular family pets.
It is no accident that Goldens are so well suited for these tasks… they were specifically developed two-hundred years ago to hunt waterfowl and upland game side-by-side with their master, to take direction and achieve the goal of hunting as a team with a human. All the skills that make them a great hunter and teammate allow them to excel in the many competitive venues and real-life service occupations that they do.
There is a wide variety of styles and genetic lines of Goldens; something for everyone in their companion, service, or competitive pursuits.
My interests from day one with my own Goldens was always to do both Conformation and Hunting. To me, that just felt like the right thing to do. I have since learned that until you put the time and effort into training a dog for a Performance venue, you really don’t know what kind of dog you have. A show judge can’t evaluate what is between the dog’s ears—or in his heart.
It is up to the owner to discover this, and you can only do that by training and interacting with the dog on a daily basis. I encourage everyone showing a hunting or working dog in Conformation to pursue training in their breed’s original function. You will not only discover what your dog is capable of, it will also add another dimension to your breeding program now that you have a good perspective on why the conformation of your breed is so important… it’s function!
The Golden Retriever Club of America has established a Dual Dog Hall of Fame for dogs competing in both AKC Conformation and Hunting venues. The requirements to enter the DDHF are concise and lofty: a “bench” Championship and Master Hunter title on the same dog, or any dog major-pointed or finished in the show ring and having received a ribbon at an AKC licensed Retriever Field Trial. As of this writing, there are 138 Golden Retrievers in the history of the breed to achieve DDHF status.
Golden Retrievers were accepted into the AKC in 1932. For fifty years, the only field event available to Goldens were Retriever Field Trials. Field Trials are competitive, meaning that the judges select first through fourth on that day; the rest of the field is eliminated.
Field Trials through the decades began to lean toward the extreme, with professional trainers becoming commonplace and the success of the “weekend warrior” with his hunting dog dwindling. AKC developed the Retriever Hunt Test program in the early 1980s to give the amateur trainer, who just wanted to prove he had a good hunting dog, a place to test his dog on their innate abilities and trained responses in a non-competitive way.
Hunt Tests are pass-or-fail. The dogs are not competing with each other, but rather, against a standard. The skills required at a Hunt Test mimic what a dog might see in an average day’s hunt. The titles offered by the Hunt Test program are Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter, and Master Hunter.
Field Trials, on the other hand, have morphed into the canine Olympics, an exaggerated version of the skills required to be a good hunting dog. There is no distance limit in the rulebook for how far away birds may be thrown, and 400-plus yard retrieves are not uncommon. (Of course, very few people could knock down a flying duck at 400 yards while hunting!)
Field Trials are the showcase of the ultimate athlete, of dogs at the pinnacle of training and conditioning. It is, however, rare for a truly amateur-trained dog to win. The know-how, land and water needed, and time required to train a Field Trial Retriever are immense. There are just three titles offered to AKC Retriever Field Trial competitors: Field Champion (FC), Amateur Field Champion (AFC), and QA2 (or Qualified All-Age x2).
Of the 138 Golden Retrievers inducted into the GRCA Dual Dog Hall of Fame, 55 of those dogs are Champion-Master Hunters, all coming after the inception of the Hunt Test program in the early 1980s. The last Dual Champion Golden (“bench” Champion and Field Champion) was a dog named “Quar” (Dual CH AFC Tigathoe’s Funky Farquar OS DDHF FDHF), born in 1971 and achieving his Dual Champion status in 1979.
Since Quar, in the 1970s, only six Goldens have been show Champions and Qualified All-Age (also called QAA or “Three Star” as we Golden people call it), a distinction given to Field Trial dogs winning either first or second place in the Qualifying stake. This alone is an amazing accomplishment, given not only the wide gulf between working and show-bred Goldens but also the intense difficulty of modern Retriever Field Trials today.
While pointing breeds commonly produce Dual Champions (Brittanys being the leader of the pack in this regard), it is almost unheard of in the Retriever breeds. A CH-QAA Retriever, still a far cry from a Dual Champion, is indeed a rare dog. This phenomenon is not due to breed splits, the predominance of professional show handlers, or the difficulty in finishing a dog in the show ring. It lies squarely in the remarkable skill and talent required to succeed at Retriever Field Trials. Modern training techniques have allowed dogs to advance in their abilities to an astounding degree.
Another important aspect of Field Trials is that all Retriever breeds compete against each other. A Golden goes head-to-head against a Labrador and Chesapeake; there is no division among breeds. Labrador Retrievers absolutely dominate AKC Field Trials, perhaps 95 percent of the field at any given trial will be Labs.
Let’s come back to goals and dreams and that new puppy. My “Bally,” whelped in 2013, sired by my CH Fisher MH DDHF out of the wonderful CH Sophie MH DDHF, had big shoes to fill from day one. Bally earned his show Championship at two years old, and his Master Hunter at three. Master was too easy for him, so I began training with Field Trial people—which was a whole new world. Bally began competing at the Field Trial Qualifying level, a steep step up from Master Hunter tests. He soon started earning Qualifying ribbons… an Award of Merit here, a third or fourth placement there… and I began to believe that my dream of a Champion, Qualified All-Age Golden was possible.
In January of 2022, we entered the Treasure Coast Retriever Club Field Trial in Okeechobee, Florida, and after two days of competition, Bally was awarded a second-place ribbon out of a field of 45 Retrievers. This made him the first Golden in nearly 20 years to be Champion, Qualified All-Age. All of his training and handling in both the show ring and field was done by me, making it extra meaningful. He is a wonderful dog and a tremendous example of just how capable Golden Retrievers are, especially when their owners believe in them.
Keep pushing, keep setting goals, and strive to help your dogs to become their best versions of themselves.
Golden Retriever Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the friendly Golden Retriever dog breed with articles and information in our Golden Retriever Dog Breed Magazine.
Golden Retriever Breed Magazine - Showsight