I attended an AKC Hunt Test this past weekend and had been called back to run my dog in the water series during the junior stakes. Upon return of my dog with the bird from the first mark thrown to water, he did have a delivery issue. As is known, dogs must deliver to hand in Junior stakes, but are not required to heel and sit to deliver. I require my dog to heel then sit to deliver. For some reason (not clear) he came to heel, sat and then spit the bird before I gave him the release command. The bird was quite water logged and several commands to fetch and hold met with him picking the bird back uo and spitting it before I could grab the bird. The wind direction was blowing from the gallery toward the line where I had been working my retriever. My male dog who is 10 months old left the line and sucked over to the gallery where a handler and her female dog that had already ran water were sitting. The two dogs interacted (not aggressively) and I was able to recall my dog back and made two more attempts to have him pick up th duck, but all concentration had been disrupted by this point. Completely frustrated, I said to the judges, "we are out", and pulled my dog. Needless to say, I was not pleased. This was the second day of a two day HT. My dog had breezed through the land and water series on day one, and had performed very well during the land series on day two.
I am a huge advocate of "good sportsmanship" and very much struggled internally as to whether or not to approach the judges in voicing my dismay. Other handlers had approached me and were saying "that NEVER should have happened or been tolerated". This is far from my first time handling dogs in hunt tests (both AKC and HRC) and I have never participated in one where dogs were allowed to sit in the gallery while other dogs were being handled on the line??? At one point, there were uo to three dogs in the gallery during the judging of the series. During this weekends test, I saw judges admonish people in the gallery for talking loudly, and I saw one woman warned that she would need to put on clothing of more subtle coloration so as not to distract dogs being handled (and that should happen), yet dogs were allowed to sit in the gallery, that being tolerated as not distractive???
I waited until the water series had finished and asked to approach the judges to "air my concerns". I started by explaining that I was not expecting any personal resolution specific to the failure of my dog, noting that there had been delivery issues that I was displeased with in his performance. I did explain that I thought it was grossly unfair to allow dogs to be sitting in the gallery while other handlers were still running dogs in a series (perhaps even more so during Junior stakes, the dogs generally being more prone to potential distractions). I explained that I felt in NEVER should have been tolerated and one judge said that she was not aware that there had been a dog in the gallery. I explained that during the series there had at one point been up to three dogs in the gallery. The judges then went on to point out that my dogs initial dropping of the bird was unrelated to the dog in the gallery, and I concurred with them on that. I still contended that it should not have happened and wanted it addressed so that it did not happen at future tests. I also noted that judges are there to judge dogs at the line and should not need to be distracted with control of the immediate venue of the series, in fact, the Marshalls should have never allowed that to happen on their watch!
It was quite apparent that other handlers were not pleased with the entire situation and I believe the handler that had brought the offending dog into the gallery was aware of the general lack of courtesy in doing so as well, in fact, her dog titled. After awards were distributed, I went up to that handler and congatulated her on the title earned by her dog. I thought she might reciprocate with an apology for the faux pas, yet no apology came forth??? I then offered to help the host of the test if they needed help picking up equipment before starting my 300 plus mile journey home (lots of time to think). My question to any who care to comment, am I being unreasonable to expect there to be NO toleration of any dogs in the gallery??? Is there anything that specifically prohibits this practice within AKC HT regulations??? If not, is this something that should be considered going forward? Also, have other handlers witnessed this at other tests? I have attended and worked at a number of test venues and this is a first for me. As stated from the start, this is not about my dog and I failing this test, rather, it is about a fair playing field for ALL handlers and their dogs.