The purpose of a field trial is to determine the relative merits of purebred retrievers in the field and, therefore, tests are laid out to simulate as nearly as possible the conditions met in an ordinary day's hunt. The dogs are tested on both land and water, on marked and blind retrieves.
The function of the retriever is to seek "fallen" game and to retrieve any type of game bird under all conditions. The dog should walk at heel and sit quietly when ordered to do so. On command, the dog should retrieve briskly and deliver gently to hand. On marked falls a dog should need no help from his handler. Marking is essential and a dog that marks the fallen bird well, uses the wind, follows a strong cripple, and takes direction from his/her handler is of great value.
Dogs are judged for sagacity, attention, control, steadiness, nose, delivery, courage, perseverance and style. The dog must not be overly rough on game, not retrieve decoys, and not retrieve without having been ordered to do so.
A blind retrieve is a game bird hidden from view of the dog and in which only the handler has seen where the bird was placed. The dog, on a blind retrieve, must obey his handler by taking a line, by stopping to the whistle, to take signals to move to the right or left, or to move back or return. The handler of the dog is also under judgment and must not kick, strike, or be rough on his/her dog in any way.
When retrievers have acquired a sufficient number of points as set forth by the American Kennel Club, they become known as Field Trial Champions (FC for field trial champions and AFC for amateur field trial champions).
A National Championship Stake and a separate National Amateur Championship Stake are set up for dogs which by reason of wins previously made, qualify under special rules approved by the AKC. The National Championship is run once a year (November) and the National Amateur Championship Stake also once a year (June). The winners are designated "National Retriever Champion" and "National Amateur Retriever Champion" respectively for that year.