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National dog competition draws from across the country

Posted: April 18, 2014 2:26 p.m.
Updated: April 21, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Owners and fans of the Boykin spaniel gathered in the South Carolina midlands last week for the 2014 National Field Trial. The event was a "homecoming" of sorts for the Boykin spaniel breed that originated in the early 1900s in Boykin. The Boykin spaniel became the official state dog of South Carolina in 1985.

The breed is a retrieving dog used for hunting birds and waterfowl. It is smaller than other breeds such as Labrador or Golden retrievers, which is a desirable characteristic because the larger dogs are prone to overturning the boats often used for hunting waterfowl. So, dog-breeding hunters sought to "design" the perfect dog and the Boykin spaniel was the result.

The field trials are divided in categories based on a dog’s age and experience so the animals are up against even competition. Owners say the training is done daily from the time a puppy is old enough to pay attention. Gregg Miller of Savannah, Ga. had 10-month-old Drake entered in the puppy division, in which the dogs do a simple out and back retrieval. The birds the dogs go after are called "marks" in competition.

"He did great. I think he’ll definitely be into the next round," Miller said after Drake’s preliminary run. "They (judges) want to see the dog going straight to the bird and bringing the bird back to a general area. This is a puppy test, so they make the marks a little shorter and a little easier."

Phil Carroll of Lancaster, Penn. had 11-month old Mallard at the trials. Mallard didn’t place, but received a "Judges Award of Merit."

"This is his first national competition. He’s done only one trial before. He really enjoys it," Carroll said, adding that Mallard and most of the other dogs go on hunts as well as competitions. "He’s a big hunter. That’s mostly all he’s done."

Bob McNeill made the trip from Haslet, Texas with 9-month-old Raider, who also received a Judges Award of Merit.

"This is our first event, the first time to run dogs and we’re very excited. These dogs go through some extensive training. They go through a puppy phase and at about 6 months is when you get really serious about training," McNeill said. "It’s an ongoing journey. You’re never really finished."

Older Boykins competing in the Intermediate Division had tougher tasks. In one, the handler would "shoot" three ducks in different areas of the field and the dog would watch where they fell, then retrieve all three in the reverse order they went down. Butch Herb of Southside, Ala. had 3-year-old Pelham showing his skills.

"Pelham did very well on this particular series," Herb said. "We’re either training or hunting every day."

Five-year-old Hunter came to the national competition from Greenfield, Ind. with his owner, Phil Hinchman.

"I’m thrilled that he’s made it this far. He had to hunt a little for his middle mark and came up a little short getting through the cover but other than that he did pretty good," Hinchman said. "We train almost daylight to dark every day. We train a lot of dogs. I train full time now, all Boykins. We train anywhere from five to 15 at a time, plus I have 20 dogs of my own."

Another intermediate test has birds placed in the field so the dogs don’t see them fall. The handler then uses hand signals to direct the dog to the bird.

Anne Livingston is 1st Vice-President of the Boykin Spaniel Society, headquartered in Camden.

"We really are looking at this as a homecoming. We have not had the trial here in 15 years. This is the 35th year and it took a lot of work to assemble with the gracious land owners to get all the different parcels of land for the trials," Livingston said. "There are so many people who have come from out of state. We have a large contingent from Texas, Pennsylvania, I’m from Tennessee, we have people from Indiana. People love these dogs and it’s this breed that keeps us all together."

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