Competition attracts dog owners

BLOOMINGDALE – Pointer owners from around the country descended on Bloomingdale Saturday for the inaugural American Kennel Club Gun Walking Dog competition.

Organizers say in all, 59 dogs took part in the competition at the Mingo Sportsman’s Club.

“A lot of the dogs out here doing the walking competition are the same dogs that were being handled off horseback last week,” said Trish James of Phoenix City, Ala., secretary of the Walking Gun Dog Championship Committee. “These dogs are smart enough to know to behave differently when they’re handled by (someone) on foot.”

In walking competition, dogs need to stay closer to their handler, “but you still want the dog to have good range. They need to be able to walk with their handler and, of course, they have to be able to find and point birds,” she said.

The dogs go out in pairs, each with his own handler and judge and with a gallery that saddles up and follows along. The handlers and their dogs follow a predetermined course that, if all goes well, takes them about an hour to complete. A quick return typically means an animal has been disqualified for “bad behaviors,” like chasing a bird without permission.

“The first dog out today had an unauthorized retrieval” and was disqualified, she said. “You can’t blame the dog, the dog has no idea this is a national championship, they’re just out there doing this.”

Judges look at everything from the intensity of the dog’s demeanor to its bird-finding ability, it’s style on point, whether they’re hunting birds properly and stamina.

“When a dog stops and points, they’ve got to hold that point” until the handler catches up, locates the bird and flushes it out. “They’ve got to hold steady and not move. They can turn their heads to watch the bird fly away, but any movement is considered poor manners and when they see it, the judges will tell you to leave.”

The competition drew a range of breeds – everything from German short-haired pointers, German wire-haired points and Vizla’s to English Setters, Irish Setters, Brittanys, Weimaraners and traditional pointers.

Doug Lungren of the AKC’s Performance Committee said going forward, they’ll rotate locations for the championship. Mingo Sportsman’s Club was chosen because “it’s a good facility, and it’s laid out well.”

Up to now, the focus was Horseback Walking Gun Dogs, but he said fewer and fewer people have their own horses nowadays.

“When you’re handling on horseback, you can go quickly over the hill and (command) the dog,” he said. “When you’re walking, there’s a little more teamwork. The dog has to pay more attention to the handler, the handler’s not going to get there as fast.”