Joining a retriever club is great for you and your hunting dog

Amite River HRC members at a recent training day are seen here pitching in on water marks.

Well folks, another waterfowl season is in the books, the gear is put away and the countdown starts till the next opener.

Hopefully most of us found the “X” a few times and were able to put some birds on the water, dinner on the table and our four-legged partners enjoyed it as much or more than we did. With several months until the September teal season, their days outdoors don’t have to end. Training and keeping them sharp are year-round obligations. And that is necessary to make the most out of your experiences together.

Want to know a great way to do that and make them better? Join a retriever club.

Across the United States, there are hundreds of AKC and UKC clubs. Hunting Retriever Club, Inc is a non-profit affiliated with the UKC. For our Mississippi friends, there are four clubs located near Oxford, Southaven, Vicksburg and McComb. There are 7 HRC clubs in Louisiana located near Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Lake Charles, DeRidder, Monroe and Alexandria. Club locations and member contact info can be found at

All experience levels

I’m a member and training day coordinator for the Amite River club in the Baton Rouge area. Amite River, along with the others hold training days for all experience levels of not only the dogs, but their owners as well, at least once a month except during duck season. The focus is to build great dogs with an emphasis on competing in hunt tests, which the clubs put on in their areas, with each usually hosting a spring and fall test. There are a few AKC clubs in the state that host field trials as well as hunt tests. More on that in a later column, since I have more experience on the UKC/HRC side.

HRC tests mimic real hunting situations as closely as possible given the conditions and grounds. Dogs are judged on a set of established standards and not against other dogs as in field trials. Tests consist of both a land and water series from beginner level (Started) through Intermediate (Seasoned) to Champion (Finished) levels. Tests are judged by two judges who have completed a judge’s seminar and have passed dogs at that respective level. Tests are open to any retriever breeds and you earn points for passing tests toward the titles listed above.

UKC registered

To accumulate points toward titles, dogs have to be UKC registered and the owner/handler has to be a member of HRC. Rules and more info about the tests can be found and navigating to the rulebook tab. Also, a “hunting retriever test” Google search will pull up videos of each level.

I’ve run hunt tests at nearly every club in Louisiana as well as most of the ones in Mississippi and even made a trip to Kentucky last spring. They’re always a great time with some amazing dog work, so I’d urge anybody interested in joining a club to check one out. Test dates and locations can be found on the UKC website mentioned above.

Still beneficial

Should someone decide that hunt tests aren’t their thing, getting involved in a club is still beneficial. Doing so will give access to knowledgeable folks to help make the dog and handler a better team.

For first timers or novices, insight and advice offered will help to get off to a great start with a puppy or an older dog with limited experience since most of the club members have trained dogs to some pretty high levels. Chances are, they have faced and worked through the same issues someone looking for help is going through.

For prospective members who come out to a training day, it usually starts with an evaluation of where the dog is in training, as well as the experience level of its owner, along with a discussion of what they want to accomplish. From there, test scenarios along with marks or drills for each experience level are set up. It also is a great place for dogs to get socialization. I’ve run across very few that didn’t love every minute of it.

I’ll admit I was a little intimidated when I first got involved but got over it quickly. The common theme is for everyone to succeed, and the clubs are more than willing to help in any way. I’ve made a lot of great friendships, had a ball over the years and have become a better owner and trainer. It all translates to the hunting blind and having a better dog when hunting. A few other bonuses are the hunts I’ve made with other members. Who doesn’t love a road trip to a new hunting destination or to a test with a fun group?

Check it out and I hope to see you out there!

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