The field trial is a planned competition wherein dogs locate and handle game in the field and are judged on the performance. Theoretically the judging determines which dogs are the better hunters, just as bench show judging theoretically determines which dogs are better breeding specimens.
A beagle trial uses rabbits as quarry; handlers, judges and spectators follow the merry hounds on foot. The beagle trails mostly by foot scent.
A bird dog trial uses feathered game only-pheasant, quail, partridge, grouse; setters, pointers and Brittany spaniel compete by locating the hiding bird, indicating this by freezing into point, the handler comes up, flushes the game, and fires in air but not at the game (except that at a shooting stake, game is shot by the gunners and retrieved by the dogs). The entourage rides horseback.
A retriever trial uses pigeons and pheasant for land work, ducks for water work. Birds are shot while the retriever (the retriever breeds and Irish water and American water spaniels) looks on, marks the fall, then rushes into the cover, locates bird and brings it back to handler. On water, the duck is released and the dog leaves the bank, goes into the water and retrieves the live, swimming bird.
A spaniel trial (all spaniels except Irish, Brittany and American water, and of course, English toy spaniels) emphasizes land work tho water work is required also. Either natural game in the woods or released game, usually pheasant, is located by the spaniel, who flushes the game (does not point), the gunner kills it, the dog retrieves it back to the handler. On water work, the duck or pigeon is shot down over the water, and the spaniel, entering the water, retrieves it.
In general a dog is judged on these points-eagerness to hunt, ranging or covering all the ground, giving more attention to spots where game likely is hiding, speed in his work, obedience to command of handler, holding point or hupp until told to retrieve, not breaking point, and general style in work-an intangible quality but very evident by its presence or absence.