Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 2023 Super Retriever Series Crown Championship in Shreveport/Bossier City, Louisiana. What I witnessed during this five-day event left me with a newfound appreciation and excitement for retriever training.
In this blog post, I've detailed the challenges presented in the five series, each demanding a unique set of skills from dogs of various levels. From a hunt test scenario with hidden guns to an organized confusion drill on steroids, the event showcased exceptional bird placement and handling skills.
The five series I observed presented challenges to dogs of various levels and backgrounds, each requiring a different set of skills. Below, I've included diagrams for all five series.
The first series resembled a hunt test scenario with hidden guns, but the marks and blinds were longer than what you'd typically find in most hunt tests. If this test were run with visible guns and then retired, it would have closely resembled a challenging first series in a national competition.
The second series was referred to as a field trial test. It featured a land triple with a legitimate long-retired gun and another well-placed mid-distance retired mark.
The third series combined land and water blinds with two poison birds. The water blind presented a particularly challenging re-entry from a point, with a visible poison bird about 15 feet off the line.
The fourth series turned out to be a hybrid test. The first bird thrown was a 300-yard long-retired gun with a demanding re-entry, and the other two marks were set up like hunt test-style hidden guns. This series proved to be very exciting.
The fifth and final series was an organized confusion drill on steroids, featuring five marks and a full-grown water blind. This is the one test that took me a while to get used to. Handlers had to pick up one mark, run the water blind, and then retrieve three of the other four marks. One of the marks was designated as a poison bird, making this test quite challenging.
Upon further reflection, I concluded that the event showcased some excellent bird placement and handling skills. My measure of a quality marking test is that dogs don’t stumble on the birds randomly. Every good job I witnessed, I was convinced the dog marked or figured out the retrieves. I watched and commented on the action for five full days and never once found myself bored. The atmosphere at the event was friendly, welcoming, and captivating. These dogs can be likened to decathlon athletes, excelling not in a single skill but in the combination of all necessary skills.
The mechanics and scoring of the event stood out as different from traditional field trials. The scoring system, akin to golf, awarded penalty points for faults, and the dog with the lowest score at the end emerged as the winner. Scores were posted after the first five dogs ran, and then after each subsequent dog, offering transparency in the scoring process and keeping the audience engaged.
The starting dog in the first series was determined through a drawing held the day before. Each handler drew their own number. Following the first series, the dog with the most penalty points initiated the next test, with the best score running last. The judges provided clear explanations of what they expected, eliminating any mystery about the ideal line to the blind. Contrary to my initial impression, dogs were not rewarded for handling on a mark, but rather for their ability to dig out a challenging retrieve. Dogs that wandered around and disturbed excess cover were penalized more than those with a timely handle. There was a time in field trials when a good handle was preferred over a long random hunt. After the second series, the field was narrowed down to the top 18 dogs in both the Open and Amateur levels. Further reductions occurred after the third series, leaving only the six top dogs going into the finals. Although the Open and Amateur contestants ran together, they were scored separately.
The use of the Avery True Bird instead of real birds did not seem to deter from the event. However, it presented tougher scenting conditions. Video coverage of the event was outstanding, with a professional film crew akin to a team at a major sporting event capturing every dog's performance. The footage was transmitted to a truck with multiple monitors and additional crew who decided on camera angles for the broadcast. A camera man with a Jib Camera provided unique aerial perspectives, while J. Paul Jackson and I provided commentary throughout the entire event. The gallery also had a monitor to watch and listen to us during each series. The entire event was live streamed on a YouTube Channel. Handlers could review replays of their runs each evening, and the coverage received positive feedback for its educational and engaging nature. While the camera presence posed distractions, it was uniform for all dogs, akin to how professional athletes face media attention.
The fact that scores were posted while the test was ongoing created opportunities for handlers to adjust their strategies on the fly, making for compelling television. Some rules differed from traditional field trials; for instance, handlers were allowed to communicate with their dogs while marks were being thrown, and a verbal "Here" could be used as a cast. The SRS Rules Committee continually adapts the rules to improve the event. I was thoroughly impressed by the judges' commitment to ensuring that each dog had a fair shot. They consistently gave dogs the benefit of the doubt. My favorite judges over the years have always been the ones who root for the dogs. Shannon Nardi and Matt Emerson did an excellent job of keeping the event moving smoothly.
Overall, my impression of the event was overwhelmingly positive. I was treated to a fantastic group of people, exceptional dog work, outstanding handling, and an exciting finish. Plus, I had the chance to make new friends. What's not to like?
Cheers, Pat Burns PS Did you enjoy my commentary at the 2023 Super Retriever Series Crown Championship? If so, get ready for more exclusive insights, tailored guidance, and a deeper understanding of retriever training by joining The Retriever Revolution Membership Wait List! Click the link below: details are just around the holding blind.