This week we’re joined by Jemma Martin to discuss working tests and to share her experiences with her spaniels.
Working tests are a fantastic introduction to the competitive gundog world but aren’t quite as strict as trials.
Where to begin?
Joining your local spaniel club, or gundog club, is often one of the best introductions; they’ll help prepare you and your dog both through training elements and they usually hold training days to help ready you for entering a working test. You’ll likely become involved with people whom will freely pass on their knowledge, a bit like a mentor, as they realise the benefits of welcoming newcomers to the sport.
There’s a wealth of information online, from videos to literature, and joining an online membership (such as the LWDG) is a great way of learning, a safe place to ask questions and to find folk with similar interests in your locale. Going to a gundog trainer will enable you to get advice specific to your dog and situation.
Joining the gundog community will open doors to multiple opportunities such as volunteering at club events and working tests thus enabling you to gain some experience and first hand knowledge of what is expected.
What is ‘in’ a Spaniel Test?
Firstly, don’t panic; there’s no heelwork required in a spaniel test like there is in a retriever test!
A basic test includes everything you should expect from a shoot day; your dog will be expected to hunt an area, covering that area thoroughly and working to a ‘systematic pattern’ (side to side is the norm) rather than racing through it erratically. Stopping to the whistle, or stopping to shot, is usually included as is a marked and a blind retrieve. Many spaniel working test blind retrieves are relatively short (much shorter than that required of a Labrador) and frequently the retrieve is placed at the base of a white post – however, don’t fall foul of always training your dog to retrieve from a post as on day (probably when you least expect it) there’ll be no post and this may trip your dog up.
If you have good control of your dog; they stay close, hunt an area well, respond to your commands and retrieve with your direction then you should be more than capable of entering a novice level test.
How to Covertly Train Your Dog to be Test Ready?
Even if you’re not actively training it’s a good idea to keep your dog close (and there’s a wealth of other benefits that arise from this, not just ensuring you’re prepared for a test).
Providing your dog with regular opportunities to hunt without it being in the next county, and always giving your dog success – providing them with a ‘find’. Every time your dogs ‘wins’ when hunting will further cement his trust in you, his desire to work with you and his ability to listen to your instruction too.
If, as occasionally happens in a working test, there is no find, your dog will keep trying; he’ll believe that you think there’s something there and so his hunting drive will remain the same enthusiastic pace that you’ve trained. One experience of not finding anything will be unlikely to quash his drive whereas if you regularly practice hunting with no ‘win’, you could see his drive decrease or his faith in you dwindle.
It is worth noting though that the breed of a dog can determine their mental stamina, and there will always be variations dog to dog. Springer spaniels tend to be happier hunting wherever and whenever where a Cocker is more likely to be ‘scent savvy’ and therefore can appear a little cantankerous when they tell you “there’s nothing here, I’m not going to waste my energy”.
The Difference Between a Shoot Day and a Test Day.
In essence there is little difference to the outcomes that we train for; both working your dog in the shooting field and entering him in a working test have the same requirements.
Being a competitive environment, when in a working test, the judges will be looking for that little ‘extra’. A flashy pacey dog is more likely to catch their eye than one who covers the ground in a semi lack lustre fashion – both dogs will probably complete the tasks given but the one with more drive and style will be the one most memorable to the judge.
Drive in a dog can be nurtured, progressed and polished but ‘style’ cannot be taught. That’s one of nature’s gifts and much like a person’s handwriting skills, will vary dog to dog and cannot be ‘taught’.
Jemma Shares her Most Memorable Moments.
When entering a working test, you enter a draw and those ‘drawn’ are the ones who get to participate in the test.
On one occasion Jemma and Nuka missed out on a novice draw but were offered a place in an Open test. For Nuka at around one year of age this was quite an ask, but she “tried her little heart out” on one of the hottest days of year and working in the thickest of cover. During that test Nuka completed ‘cross mark’ retrieves (marking and subsequently retrieving dummies that were in front of her neighbouring dog). Jemma and Nuka received a CoM (Certificate of Merit) in this test.
And Her Biggest Challenges..
As a youngster Nuka was incredibly bird obsessed so training her out of the idea that birds were to be flushed when they were a fair distance was quite the challenge.
Jemma’s older Spaniel, Red, tried his paw at working tests in his younger day but had the tendency to occasionally let out a yip when cast off hunting. Unfortunately, any noise from a dog (whether that be barking, whining, squealing or howling, is considered an eliminating fault just as is is in a Field Trial.
Speaking of Faults:
Given that a working test is slightly less strict than a field trial, there are several areas where you can have points removed but it’s unlikely that you’ll eliminated straight away.
Eliminating faults will include:
- A hard mouth – one that leaves marks or even holes in a dummy of bird is not highly received.
- Running in or chasing of retrieves will also see you with less points.
Then you have major faults which are likely to get you marked down but aren’t quite as strict as Field Trials so you’ll probably have a quiet word spoke in your ear but are unlikely to be sent home.
All the Gear and No…
The truth is that you shouldn’t need to purchase any specialised equipment. As long as you have sensibly coloured clothing, a whistle (and a dog that responds to it), and a handful of training dummies the you’re hot to trot.
Using an area of cover (longish grass is scentiful enoigh) and your dog is confident working around shot and has the ability to be steady around other dogs/people, then you have all the equipment you need.
Readying your dog for a working test is just transplanting skills for everyday life and work to a competition scenario. This brings with it a different kind of pressure and often a different kind of anxiety.
If you enjoy working your dog in the shooting environment and have a good level of control then go enter your local working test; have fun and let us know how you’ve gotten on.
Don’t over practice the test scenario – by all means cement and reinforce the individual elements required but try not to fall into the pattern of where you practice the same things in the same order day in, day out. Doing this could create a ‘test wise’ dog who spends more time nose-up, watching the judge/helpers than they do nose-down, actively hunting the ground.
Don’t forget that as soon as your dogs’ lead is removed you are considered “under the judge” – this means you are being marked on whatever your doing. Wait until the judge’s instruction to begin the task required as sending your dog for a retrieve before the judges request will reduce your points dramatically.
Lastly, we how you join us is wishing Jemma all the best for her future dream of trialling with Nuka and later, Nuka’s pup
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