What are Field Trials?
Field Trials have developed to test the working ability of Gundogs in competitive conditions. Trials resemble, as closely as possible, a day's shooting in the field and dogs are expected to work with all manner of game, from rabbits and hares, to partridges and pheasants.
Many of our best loved breeds were traditionally developed to help man in hunting. Labrador Retrievers gathered game in the field; Cocker Spaniels flushed and retrieved game; Pointers and Setters ranged over the fields helping us seek out birds and rabbits for the table. A great many still help us in shooting and hunting today. Field Trials are very popular, attracting hundreds of competitors and are still very much part of our countryside sports. If you have a love and understanding of the countryside and like to see dogs working as they were intended to, Field Trials and Gundog Working Tests might be just what you are looking for.
If you want to own a dog capable of performing at a day's shooting you are more likely to succeed if it comes from working stock. Some dogs which have been bred for the show scene, or simply as pets, may have lost much of their working and hunting instinct, which is vital in working Gundogs. You will need to be dedicated to developing your dog as a working animal as, not only will it require a lot of training, working Gundogs can also be more demanding than a pet, or show dogs. They need plenty of exercise off the lead and their minds need to be kept active by working in the field.
Finding out about the sport
Before you decide whether you want to get involved with this sport you should find out as much as possible about countryside sports from a number of sources. Our glossary of terms may be a useful starting point.
If your dog comes from working stock, the breeder should be able to advise you about how to start to develop your dog into a working Gundog and introduce you to other people in your area with similar interests.
There are many large Game and Country Fairs held all around the country every year which are well worth attending if you want to find out more. There are usually working Gundog demonstrations at these Fairs and you should take time not only to watch the displays, but also to talk to those people involved and ask their advice. The Kennel Club also sends a stand to some of the larger Fairs and the staff are more than happy to discuss the sport with you and help to clarify any rules and regulations you need help with.
There are plenty of specialist publications which are filled with articles and tips about training your Gundog and the role of the dog owner and dog in the countryside. Some titles include 'The Shooting Times', 'Shooting Gazette' and 'The Field'. These magazines also have sporting calendars which list when and where Game and Country Fairs are being held. The Kennel Club also produces a Field Trials Newsletter filled with gundog news and helpful information. The latest issue can be downloaded here.
If you decide that this sport is for you, you can begin the process of training. You should remember that not only must your dog be fit and healthy to do a day's work, but you need to be as well. You will need to be fairly robust to be able to tramp across some of the rough terrain encountered on some country shoots! Breeds of Gundog fall into four groups:
- Retrievers and Irish Water Spaniels
- Sporting Spaniels other than Irish Water Spaniels
- Breeds which Hunt, Point and Retrieve (HPRs)
The training you do must bring out the traditional working abilities for each category of Gundog in the shooting field. The first step is to join a Field Trial society or gundog club who can offer a range of training opportunities throughout the summer months. Use the 'Find a Club' tool to find gundog training and clubs near you or alternatively look at our list of Field Trial Societies. Field Trial Societies will be able to help you with specialist Field Trial training and can suggest trainers who may be willing to train you to the gun on a one to one basis. Training a working Gundog is really a sport in itself and can take many years of hard work, developing a good rapport with your dog to create a dog capable of working in the field.
Field Trial Societies may organise members' competitions and training assessments which are designed to develop your dog's ability and help with your training technique. These are helpful as your dog should learn to work surrounded by other people and dogs, as it would do out in the field. Clubs may also publish newsletters and magazines, and organise a range of social events.
Joining Field Trial Societies is also the only way you will be able to enter gundog competitions. Over 600 Field Trials and many Gundog Working Tests are held every year, and they are nearly all over-subscribed. Preference is always given to club members so, if you want to go into competition you will have to join several clubs to stand a chance of getting a run. Once you have joined a Field Trial Society you should ask to attend as a guest at one or two Trials to see the standard required of dogs working in the Field, and also to try to pick up training tips from top handlers in competition.
The majority of Field Trials are held in the autumn and winter during the shooting season, with Pointer and Setter "circuits" in April/May and August/September.
What are Gundog Working Tests (GWTs)?
Most Gundogs aren't ready to work in competition for at least two years and the first sort of competition you will probably enter will be a Gundog Working Test. These competitions are for members of the organising club only. They are designed to further good, sound, Gundog work and encourage dogs' natural working ability, but do not involve shooting live game. Work is done with dummies, and these friendly competitions are a natural extension of the training you will already be doing with your dog. Gundog Working Tests are designed to suit the different working abilities of three of the four Gundog groups, Spaniels, Retrievers and breeds which Hunt, Point and Retrieve. There are no GWTs for Pointers and Setters.
Retrievers are tested on their game finding ability and the speed and directness of the retrieve. Judges will be looking for quick pick ups and fast returns, natural nose and marking ability, quietness in handling, control, drive and style.
Spaniels are set test exercises to try and assess their retrieving and game finding abilities using seen and hidden dummies. The judges will also be looking for good directional control.
HPR breeds will be tested and judged on their quartering, hunting and retrieving skills in similar ways to the Retrievers and Spaniels. It is difficult to assess pointing through artificial tests and there are limitations to how this can be done in a Gundog Working Test.
For more information on Gundog Working Tests click here.