New to field trials?

Black Labrador running with dummy
Cleo Bolt Photography ©

Field trials were 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, while Pointers and Setters ranged over the fields helping us seek out birds and rabbits for the table. A great many of them still help us in shooting 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, this friendly and relaxed discipline may be just what you are looking for.

Is my dog suitable for field trials?

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 a working line. Some dogs which have been bred for the show scene, or simply as pets, may have lost some 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 which will require a lot of training. A working gundog can also be more demanding than a pet, or a show dog. They need plenty of exercise off the lead and their minds need to be kept active by constant training and working in the field.

What do I need to know to take part?
  • You will need the following basic equipment: slip lead, whistle with lanyard and dummies/balls
  • Your dog must be registered on The Kennel Club Breed Register as a pedigree gundog under any of the four sub-groups
    • Retriever
    • Spaniel
    • hunt, point and retrieve
    • Pointer and Setter
  • You and your dog must be fit and healthy to be able to walk across some of the rough terrain encountered on some country shoots
  • Before you decide whether you want to get involved with this discipline, you should find out as much as possible about countryside activities from a number of sources – large game and country fairs are a good source to find out more and ask advice from the people involved
  • You will need to read a copy of the J Regulations. You can either download a pdf version or or buy the Field Trial (J) Regulations booklet from our online shop
  • If your dog comes from working lines, 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
  • It is worth reading specialist publications which are filled with articles and tips about training your gundog and the role of the dog and owner in the countryside. Titles include The Shooting Times, Shooting Gazette and The Field. These magazines also have activity calendars which list when and where game and country fairs are being held
When can I start training my dog?

Play training commences

Puppy training/playing/retrieving can take place from 8 weeks to 6-8 months

Basic training

Basic training can start at 6 to 8 months and involves:

  • walking on a lead (as opposed to walking to heel) 
  • teaching your dog to sit and stop on command 
  • stopping on the whistle 
  • sitting and staying 
  • recalling to whistle 
  • retrieving 
  • steadiness to a thrown dummy, from a sitting position and then on the move 
  • quartering 
  • walking to heel (once good hunting/quartering is fully established)

Advanced training

  • Steadiness to flushed/moving game 
  • Handling game 
  • Introducing gunfire/bangs 
  • Dropping to shot/marking 
  • Direction handling 
  • Jumping fences/walls 
  • Swimming/water work 
  • Laying retrieving lines/simulating running game
What are the first steps to training my dog?

If you decide that this discipline 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 must be fairly robust to be able to walk across some of the rough terrain encountered on some country shoots. Breeds of gundog fall into four groups:

  • Retrievers
  • Spaniels 
  • Pointers and Setters
  • 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. One of the first steps is to join a field trial society or gundog club who can offer a range of training opportunities. Use Find a Club to find gundog training and clubs near you or alternatively look at our list of field trial societies. Field trial societies will 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 can take many years of hard work and includes developing a good rapport with your dog to ensure they are ultimately 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 techniques. 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 a field trial society is also a beneficial way to in which to able to enter gundog competitions. Over 700 field trials and many gundog working tests are held every year, and they can be oversubscribed. Preference is always given to club members, so if you want to go into competition you may 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.

Finding a training club

Plenty of regular practice is essential when preparing for field trials. There are a number of training clubs across the country, many of which can be located via Find a Club.

My dog is docked. Can I still compete?

Yes, working breeds, including Spaniels and hunt point and retrieve breeds, which have been legally docked can compete in field trials and gundog working tests.

What types of field trial are there?

There are field trials held for all four sub groups: Retrievers, Spaniels, Pointers and Setters and hunt, point and retrieve breeds.

Retrievers

At a field trial, dogs will be required to be steady by the handler whilst being shot over until commanded to quest for dead or wounded game, from land or water, and retrieve tenderly to hand.

At GWTs, 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

Spaniels will be judged on how well they quarter the ground at a field trial, hunting for game and other quarry species, to be steady to flush, shot and fall and to retrieve tenderly to hand on command.

At tests, exercises are set to try and assess a Spaniel’s retrieving and game finding abilities using seen and hidden dummies. The judges will also be looking for good directional control.

Pointers and Setters

At a field trial, dogs shall be required to quarter ground systematically with pace and style in search of gamebirds, to point gamebirds, to be steady to flush and shot. Dogs should not be gun shy. The dog should work its point out freely, on command, without the handler either touching the dog or moving in front of it.

There are no GWTs for Pointers and Setters.

Hunt, point and retrieve breeds (HPRs)

At HPR field trials, dogs shall be required to quarter ground systematically in search of quarry, to point game, to flush on command, to be steady to flush, shot and fall, and to retrieve tenderly to hand on command from land and water.

It is difficult to assess pointing through artificial tests and there are limitations to how this can be done in a gundog working test. HPR breeds will be tested and judged on their quartering, hunting and retrieving skills in similar ways to the Retrievers and Spaniels.

What type of gundog working tests are there?

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

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

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.

HPRs

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.

The Kennel Club gundog training days

The Kennel Club offers a variety of training days for each gundog sub-group throughout the year. The training days are conducted by expert instructors and, depending on which course you select, cater for different levels of experience.

Learn more about The Kennel Club gundog training days.

Glossary of terms

Competing in field trials you will hear certain phrases. Learn more in our glossary below.

Glossary for Retrievers
Term

Definition

Sit or hup face wind wind directly blowing into your face.
Back wind wind directly coming from behind.
Side or cheek wind wind direction from left or right.
Pace the speed at which the dog hunts for game or dummies.
Drive the ability and strength to enter and or go through cover.
Style the bodily action of the dog when hunting and working for dummies or game.
Handle the ability of the dog to be directed when at a distance from the handler.
Marking watching and memorizing where birds have fallen and gauging the distance.
Eye wipe to collect a retrieve which another dog or dogs have failed to find. 
Running in  dog leaves the drop without orders for a retrieve.
Pegging catching live uninjured/ or unshot game.
Blinking When a dog locates a retrieve but refuses to pick it.
Giving tongue when a dog makes a noise such as barking or whining, often called squeaking.
Hard mouth when a dog applies sufficient grip to damage game.
Runner wounded game which has moved from place of shot or fall.
Glossary for pointing breeds
Term Definition

Quartering

dog running at right angles to the wind to find game.

Working into wind

working with the wind into handler’s face.

Working downwind

working with the wind coming from behind, also known as backwind.

Working a cheek wind

working with the wind coming from either side.

Turning back on the wind or back casting

turning away from the direction of the wind.

To hold game

to keep game fixed by staunch pointing.

To back

to honour the point of another dog on sight.

To draw on

to advance steadily on point towards game.

False pointing

pointing where no game lies.

Sticking on point

reluctance to flush pointed game.

Blinking a point

leaving a point when game is present.

Flush

cause game to take flight or break from cover.

To road in

to work out a scent from point to production.

Making good the ground

after the initial flush, finding and producing any birds remaining in the immediate vicinity of the original point.

Pegging

catching unshot game.

Ground game

hare or rabbit.

Glossary for HPRs

Term

Definition

Marking

watching and memorising where birds fall.

Giving tongue

barking whilst in pursuit and chasing game.

Running in

moving to shot or to the fall of game without command.

Blinking a retrieve

finding shot game but showing no interest in retrieving it, also known as disowning game.

Hard mouth

damaging game when retrieving.

Runner

game which has been shot but has run from the original point of fall.

Taking a line

following scent from the fall of a runner.

Eye wipe

where another dog retrieves game on which a dog or dogs tried previously have failed.

Glossary for Spaniels
Term

Definition

Hup  sit.
Quartering to hunt ground/wind direction in an efficient manner.
Face wind wind directly blowing into your face.
Back wind wind directly coming from behind.
Side or cheek wind wind direction from left or right.
Pace the speed the dog quarters its ground.
Drive the ability and strength to enter and or go through cover.
Style  the bodily action of the dog when hunting.
Handle the ability of the dog to be directed when at a distance from the handler.
Marking watching and memorizing where birds have fallen and gauging the distance.
Eye wipe to collect a retrieve which the first dog/s tried failed to find.
Running in dog leaves the drop without orders for a retrieve or to chase flushed game.
Pegging catching live uninjured/unshot game.
Blinking when a dog locates a retrieve but refuses to pick it. 
False pointing pointing where there is no game.
Sticking on point refusing to flush on command.
Giving tongue when a dog makes a noise such as barking or whining, often called squeaking.
Hard mouth when a dog applies sufficient grip to damage game Runner = wounded game which has moved from place of shot or fall.

Next steps - attending your first field trial

Once you have decided that you would like to give field trials ago, the first step is to enter your first field trial.