History of the AKC Field Trials

A Field Trial refers to any competition among different sporting dogs held under conditions that imitates or recreates a real hunting situation’s characteristics or appearance. The dogs competing in trials don’t need to belong to the same breed. In fact, the more dogs of different breeds participate in the trials, the better. The objective of such trials is to find out the best hunting dog breed in the country.

As we know, the American Kennel Club is the official governing body of the dog events. It sanctions and promotes several dog events held by different clubs in the country. According to the AKC website, in 2001, 237 licensed field trials for diverse Retriever breeds were held by almost 142 clubs across the USA. The number of events crossed the benchmark of 300 in 2018.

Even though the AKC field trials’ original philosophy was to find out the best hunting dog breed in the nation, the competition no longer seems to be committed to this objective. Consequently, the trials are no longer given a realistic touch. Instead, the dogs are required to retrieve too long throws with hand movements and whistles.

Before we proceed to the origin and evolution of the AKC field trials, you must keep in mind an important point. Field trials and hunt tests are not the same things. The latter is just an examination or assessment of your dog’s retrieving skills. While the former is a competition.

Some of the Notable Breeds that have achieved success in the AKC field trials

The American Kennel Club allows many different dog breeds to compete in the field trials conducted by it. The names of those breeds are given below:

  1. Curly-Coated Retrievers
  2. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  3. Golden Retrievers
  4. Flat-Coated Retrievers
  5. Irish Water Spaniels
  6. Labrador Retrievers
  7. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Dogs enrolled under the Purebred Alternative Listing or the Indefinite Listing Privilege are not permitted to participate in the AKC field trials.

Nonetheless, if your dog doesn’t belong to any of the seven breeds mentioned above, but you want your dog to compete in the AKC events, you can think of participating in the AKC Hunt Tests. Apart from the breeds mentioned above, the Hunt Tests permit the following dog breeds to participate.

  1. Barbet
  2. American Water Spaniels
  3. Drentsche Patrijshond (Drent)
  4. Boykin Spaniels
  5. German Wirehaired Pointer
  6. German Shorthaired Pointer
  7. Small Munsterlander
  8. Miniature Poodles
  9. Standard Poodles
  10. Spinone Italiano
  11. Weimaraner
  12. Vizsla
  13. Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

What is the objective of the AKC field trials for the Retrievers?

Only those clubs can organize the AKC field trials that have been primarily instituted for the betterment of any of the seven dog breeds that the American Kennel Club recognizes. The field trials play an essential role in bringing together the seven dog breeds’ handlers mentioned by the AKC. Competition among these dog breeds is conducted as part of the “retrieving” group to discover the country’s best retriever breeds.

Origin and Evolution of the AKC

Evolution of the AKC

The American Kennel Club was instituted on 17th September 1884. A group of twelve devoted sportsmen from the country’s different successful dog clubs met at the Philadelphia Kennel Club. In this gathering of the “Club of Clubs,” the delegates laid down the by-laws and the shows’ rules. Besides that, Major James M. Taylor, a Civil War veteran, was elected as the American Kennel Club president.

Initially, the organization had no central locations. Therefore, the meetings used to occur at various locations such as Cincinnati, New York, Newark, and Boston.

In 1905, dog events in new categories were introduced by the AKC. These classes included Novice, Puppy, Open, and Limit. Besides that, a point-system was introduced for all dog breeds shows. In 1924, the AKC initiated a classification system under which various dog breeds were to be enlisted. This system included five classes:

  1. Sporting dogs (comprising the Hound breeds)
  2. Working dog’s
  3. Terriers
  4. Toy breeds
  5. Non-sporting breeds.

Over time, the Hound breeds were excluded from the Sporting dogs category. They were enumerated under a category of their own.

History of the AKC field trials for the Retrievers

In 1931, the Labrador Retriever Club was instituted as the Labrador breed’s parent club to preserve its integrity. Mrs. Marshall became its first president, and by December 1931, the club organized the United States’ first trial for the Retrievers. In the next year, the American Chesapeake Club organized the second field trial. However, it was a Chesapeake Bay Retrievers specific trial. A Golden Retrievers specific field trial was organized by the Golden Retriever Club of America in 1940.

Amid all these breed-specific field trials, some clubs were also conducting Open Field Trials. And even though those clubs argued that their competitions were conducted according to the USA and the AKC’s trial guidelines, some rumors claimed that the trial guidelines were, in actuality, based on the British version.

Here is a list of the first champions of the breed-specific  field trials mentioned above:

YearDog NameName of the ChampionshipName of the Handler
1936Blind of ArdenLabrador Retriever Field ChampionO/W. Averell Harriman
1935Skipper BobChesapeake Bay Retriever Field ChampionO/Harry T. Conklin
1939RipGolden Retriever Field ChampionO/ H. Paul Bakewell III

The trajectory of Different dog breeds in the AKC field trials

Among the seven dog breeds recognized by the AKC for field trials, two dog breeds got their official recognition much before the AKC’s institution. These dog breeds were Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Irish Water Spaniels. This statement is further reinforced because the first Westminster Kennel Club event held in 1877 saw four Irish Water Spaniels competing.

Gradually, over time the other five dog breeds were recognized by the AKC. Here is a list of their names, along with their year of recognition.

  1. Flat-Coated Retrievers: 1915
  2. Curly-Coated Retrievers: 1924
  3. Golden Retrievers: 1925
  4. Labrador Retrievers: 1925
  5. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers: 2003

As far as the popularity of the AKC field trials is concerned, there has been an impressive growth in the registration of various dog breeds in the events. The number of Retrievers enrolled with the AKC grew from just 64 in 1926 to 138,975 in 2008.

Among the 138,975 Retrievers, 34,485 were Golden Retrievers, and 100,736 were Labrador Retrievers. As you can see, that’s significant growth. However, if you compare the registration tally of 2008 with 2001, you will find a considerable decline in the number of enrolled retrievers.

In 2001, approximately 233,551 retrievers enrolled themselves with the AKC. Amongst them, 165,970 were Labrador Retrievers. As you can observe, there was a decline of almost 100,000 dogs in just seven years.

You must be thinking about why we are indulging in such old data sets. Unfortunately, the recent statistics of dogs enrolled with the AKC are not available in the internet’s vast arena. Consequently, we are compelled to deal with much more than a decade old numbers.

The Ascendance of the Labrador Retrievers in the AKC field trials

Labrador Retrievers in the AKC

Among all the dog breeds participating in the field trials, only the Labrador Retrievers can be regarded as the most successful dogs of all time. You must be wondering why we say so. Well, you will be astonished to know that since 1941, only four Golden Retrievers have got the National Championships for Retrieving, a  dream title all retriever handlers want their dogs to achieve.

In fact, if you carefully observe the list of champions in the AKC website, you will be surprised to know that after 1951, no breed other than the Labrador Retrievers have won this championship. Can you imagine a breed winning a title consecutively for almost 70 years?

However, several reasons can explain this dominant position of the Labrador Retrievers in the AKC field trials. The most prominent of them is the numerical preponderance of the dog breed over others. If you go by statistics, the abundance of Labrador Retrievers on this earth is almost three times more than that of the Golden Retrievers. But then, that explains only 14 to 15 wins over every 4 Golden Retrievers. What about the other victories?

Fans of Labrador Retrievers will try to explain the breed’s remarkable victories by arguing that they are the most intelligent, eager to please, and trainable dogs. However, one cannot merely attribute these qualities of Labrador Retrievers to their nature. Nurturing has played a significant part as well.

It was mainly the well-off section of the society that mostly took an interest and had the luxury to participate in sports like hunting and field trials. They also had a considerable amount of wealth and time to own land and guns and hunt birds. To retrieve their hunts, these well-off people required good retrievers, and therefore, they started importing Labradors from England in the 1920s and 30s.

Thus, numerical preponderance, their overall temperament, and the sporting nobles’ preference for this breed together contributed to the ascendance of the Labrador Retrievers in the AKC field trials.

History of the AKC field trials

Initially, the AKC field trial’s objective was to test the retrieving capabilities of various retriever breeds in a real hunting situation. Consequently, the hunting environment and situations were imitated or recreated in the competition to find the nation’s best gun dog.

However, as time passed, technology and training equipment became more advanced and so advanced breeding quality. Consequently, the traditional field trials proved to be too easy for the new age dogs.

Therefore, the organizers of the AKC field trials decided to raise the difficulty levels of the competition. Otherwise, it had become too challenging to find the best retriever breed.

To raise the difficulty levels, organizers increased the retrieve length and created unexpected hurdles. Interestingly, you will never face such hurdles in actual hunting situations. Therefore, there is no apprehension in admitting that the current AKC field trials are nothing like actual hunting situations.

Over time, the Retriever breeds gained tremendous popularity all over the United States. People started discovering that these dog breeds serve dual purposes. They are not only good sporting dogs but also serve as perfect family pets. Consequently, even non-training owners wished to test their dog’s hunting capabilities.

However, they did not want their dogs to achieve such absurd feats as prescribed in the field trials. They wanted their dogs to be tested under simulated hunting situations. In response to this demand, the North American Hunting Retriever Association generated field procedures and regulations in 1983. These procedures and regulations were approved by the AKC board, and in February 1984, the first Hunting Retriever Field Test sanctioned by the American Kennel Club was held.

Richmond, Virginia, was chosen as the venue of this historic event. More than two hundred retrievers enrolled in this competition, making the event a massive hit.

The AKC field trials’ future

AKC Field Trials 1

The AKC website argues that expanding the field trials’ reach to the trainers and non-trainers alike has and will continue to expand these events’ popularity base in the future. However, the truth is not that easy to unearth, and the most notable reason is the lack of data.

Unfortunately, there is no data available regarding different retriever breeds’ registration in the AKC field trials after 2008. All that you can find is the ranking of the dog breeds in different championships. When a reputed organization like the American Kennel Club does not furnish such vital information like the annual registration of dogs in different field trials, questions regarding these events’ popularity are bound to be raised in people’s minds.

Besides these internal problems of the AKC, some external factors may also threaten the AKC field trials. One of those factors is political.

Some animal rights activists and politicians are opposed to using live birds in the AKC field trials and hunt tests. This opposition has led them to push for legislation that strictly prohibits such practices. For owners of house pets, these legislations are of no concern. But for those who hunt with their retrievers, these legislations are like reminders that they need to be vigilant to ensure their children’s participation in the AKC field trials and hunt tests.


In case you have never seen a field trial, you must do. It is not something you will like to miss out on. Watching some excellent handlers working with their retrievers is always a treat for the eyes. Besides that, you will get to know and understand the minute details of training your dog to retrieve. You will also realize what needs to be improved in your pooch.

You can also enroll your retriever in field trials to test its skills. It won’t require much hard work to discover an event near you. As the statistics show, the AKC and its affiliated clubs organize several field trials throughout the USA. So, just participate in the events and take pleasure in the teamwork. Who can say? Your pooch may emerge as the next best sporting dog in the country.