Korthals Griffon at field trial

Korthals Griffon performing at a field trial

Field trials and working tests measure the ability of a gundog in a competitive arena. They are designed to resemble a day’s shooting as closely as possible, to compare gundogs in the discipline they have been bred for.

If you’re interested in trialling your dog you’ll find out what you need to know here.

Questions about gundog tests and trials

How can I get involved in field trials? 

Start by getting to know some like-minded people by joining one of your local clubs or societies that run field trials for your breed of working dog.

Details of all the UK clubs can be found here.

There are, of course, regulations and a certain etiquette around the sport of field trials, and it must be understood that it is not a spectator sport.

However, that does not mean that you will not be made welcome to attend, though your dog will have to stay at home unless it is entered for a trial.

As you become more involved, you may be invited to help in some way, and perhaps to go into the line to watch some of the dogs competing.

This provides a great way to learn what will be required of you when eventually you start competing.

Do you have to be an adult to enter?

Many young people compete successfully against adults. There is no minimum age limit for any competitors, whethe it is field trials or gundog working tests. Professional trainer and handler Ian Openshaw started his successful career in his early teens.

Can I use voice commands when handling my gundog?

You should only use directional control to get the dog in the area of the fall on unseen retrieves. Once there, the dog should work on its own initiative to try to locate the retrieve. The quieter you handle your dog, the more credit you will receive from the judges. A whistle command is far less disturbing and certainly more audible to the dog when it is working at distance, whereas you would need a loud voice to have the same effect.

Could a friend take over my gundog to finish a test or trial?

The regulations are very clear that there shall be no substitution of handler once a stake at a field trial has commenced. Though the awards are won by the dog, it is a combination of dog and handler that is competing and that partnership should not alter once the competition has begun.

The regulation is there to make sure that the competition is absolutely fair for every one of the competitors taking part. A change of handler can make an amazing difference to how a dog is performing and if substitution was allowed then it could be perceived to be a very unfair practice.

Do I always have to wait for the judge in working tests? 

When you go under the judge, he or she will explain the test and what is required.

It is usual for the judge to give you the order when to send your dog for its first dummy and you should make sure that you do not send until told, otherwise a zero score will be the consequence.

However, when the test is a double retrieve, the judge may say that once your dog has retrieved the first dummy you may send the dog for the second in your own time. This means that you do not have to wait for a second order from the judge after the first has been delivered.

If the first placed dog gets disqualified, does the dog in second-place then become the winner? 

The Kennel Club (KC) will make the decision regarding a disqualification, whether it is the winner or another dog that was placed at a trial.

However, the KC will not know the judges’ opinions as to whether the dogs placed below the one disqualified were of sufficient merit to be placed higher.

Therefore, dogs are never subsequently or automatically moved up to fill the place of a disqualified dog.

Can I still compete if I am late? 

The regulations are clear: All competitors, judges and officials must be present when the secretary or chief steward has announced the trial has commenced or when the trial is deemed to have commenced.

The only time you would be allowed to run is if you have been delayed by circumstances that are exceptional in the opinion of the chief steward of the organising society.

It is courtesy to get there in plenty of time. Allow  an extra hour for your journey. Latecomers will not be allowed to run once the trial has commenced.

Are all breeds expected to work at the same speed? 

Judges at a hunt, point, retrieve trial should recognise that each different breed has its own style, and they should be fully acquainted with the differences.

Credit will be given to a dog that embraces grace of movement and stylishness when pointing and retrieving while showing competence in what it is doing.

Each breed has unique characteristics and obviously some are fast and athletic, but the judges’ prime objective is to find the dog which pleases them most with the quality of its work from the shooting point of view.

Gamefinding ability is far more important than speed.

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How can I get involved in field trials?

I have an 18-month-old cocker spaniel, which I work, and I am considering going to a field trial with a view to spectating and, at a later stage, taking part myself. I live in Lancaster — could you tell me what I need to do to get involved?