Summer is coming, and with it the competition season. Are you and your dog prepared? Ian Clinton writes for iShoot.
At this time of year I expect many of you with working gundogs are thinking of entering a gundog working test or one of the have-a-go competitions held at game fairs and country events during the summer months.
Should you wish to enter your dog into an official, Kennel Club Registered event then there are a number of considerations to think about. Judges will be marking specific points to find the best dogs. Simply put, dogs such as retrievers and spaniels should be steady to shot and fall, and retrieve only on command. They must walk steadily at heel. Good marking of thrown dummies, combined with a quick pick up and a fast return, is essential.
Dogs may gain extra credit for showing exceptional marking ability and initiative. It is a Spaniel’s primary role to find and flush game within range of the handler, so they will be judged on natural hunting ability, nose, style and control. Again, credit points are awarded for speed, drive, style, marking and quiet handling.
If your dog is not used to this environment, then it may be off-putting, so make sure it is exposed to such distractions before attending the event
Serious faults shown and marked down can be listed as a refusal to retrieve, whining and barking, running in or chasing, failing to enter water, being out of control or changing retrieve. Such faults will inevitably lead to elimination from the awards. It is therefore essential, if you harbour any desire to do well, to pay attention to these matters and adjust training to match. Working Tests are usually held outside of the shooting season. They enable gundog clubs and societies to simulate a shooting day without game being shot and competitively test the working abilities of the various gundog breeds.
If you are attending a game fair this summer and are thinking of entering a have-a-go event you should consider the training and experience your dog has. There are likely to be many distractions including noise, people and other dogs. If your dog is not used to this environment, then it may be off-putting, so make sure it is exposed to such distractions before attending the event. A good strategy is to take the dog into town on a busy day to experience hubbub and traffic. This prepares a dog for hustle and bustle, and may help it remain unflustered in the busy atmosphere of a Game Fair.
Your dog will need to demonstrate a number of key attributes to attract good marks. In the lead up to competition, prepare with sessions that go right back to basics. Obedience is the foundation of success, so practice the drills that improve it.
On the day, try to enjoy the experience. If this is your first attempt at competing with your dog, watch the other handlers; there are many things you can pick up just by observation. At game fairs watch the handling demonstrations in the arena. The top handlers will give a running commentary during their display, so take on board the tips they provide. Often they are available to talk after the display. Take advantage of any advice you can glean from their vast experience.
Have fun, learn from what you see and do and afterwards evaluate carefully. Take time to build on strengths and improve weaknesses. Who knows? It might just give you the spur to get on the track to success and have a well-trained gundog.
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