The trials of Ted
The time had finally come for Ted to enter his first working test, and the little cocker certainly held his own against some strong powerful-looking springers
To be quite honest it had not been a good night. Mrs R kept tossing and turning because she was very excited about taking part in a 10-mile sponsored ride on “Bertie”, her Irish cob, and I was getting a tad worked up about my entry into the working test. Consequently, when the alarm shrieked at 4.45am we were both wide awake. Over the previous few weeks I had put in a lot of time with Ted’s training. I had hunted him most days in a variety of cover and he had come on in leaps and bounds. The main difference was that he would now cast off straight away without jumping up at my hand, which apart from being annoying could be quite dangerous if I had a gun in my hand – so I was pleased we had worked through that habit. His hunting has become more consistent and although there has been little scent to really get him fired up on the ground where I train, he is starting to get a bit of pace about him. So all in all I was happy that our preparation had been as good as it could be.
Nothing to hide
It was a two-and-a-half hour drive down to the test, so I had plenty of time to contemplate what may or may not happen. The test was an “Any Variety Spaniel” test and I had entered the puppy class for dogs up to the age of 18 months. At just 13-months-old I assumed Ted would be one of the youngest dogs entered. I had already seen from the running sheet that the 12 pups were pretty well split half and half between springers and cockers. On arriving at the ground I quickly realised that I personally knew very few people, but plenty of the other handlers recognised
Ted and that ramped up the pressure even more. Quite a few handlers came up and said how much they liked the “Ted Cams” and my diary pages in Sporting Gun. I was just grateful that I have always been
honest in my musings about all of my cockers. I have never been afraid to write about or show the embarrassing things that can happen during training or a shoot day – my dogs are not perfect so I had nothing to hide.
After formal introductions and instructions from the organiser, we headed off to the test area. Despite my nerves, Ted appeared quite chilled. As we walked down the track to an area of rushes and rough grass I realised that my little cocker would be running up against some strong, powerfullooking springers and it was at this point that doubt started to creep into my mind. I had to have a quiet chat and remind myself that the reason I had entered the test was to see how Ted would react in a totally different environment, he had never been with this many dogs before and I wanted to see how he would cope with the situation. He was doing significantly better than I was!
We had been drawn number four, so we had a chance to watch what was going on before we had our run. On the face of it the test looked quite simple, a short hunt up with either a shot or a clap of the hand (depending on the dog’s stage of training) and then a straightforward seen retrieve. Once the dog had made the retrieve it was then hunted on and tested on the stop whistle. Ted was very interested in the goings on and in fact he started to get a little worked up, which surprised me because he is normally such a calm level-headed little dog. The first three dogs were all springers and one in particular was very impressive with his hunting, it was a dry day and the pups were having a bit of trouble with the retrieve and I suspected that there was going to be very little scent about.
We were off
Before I knew it, we were being called forward. The two judges explained what they wanted and told me to take the lead off Ted and cast him off when I was ready. Incidentally the three previous handlers had all taken off their leads and put them around their necks and one of the judges had pointed out that this was against Kennel Club “J” regulations, these are the rules that govern field trials and working tests. Funnily enough this is something I have never done and I surmised it was because I do a lot of shooting over the dogs and the lead would simply get in the way of me mounting my gun. Anyway, back to the test, despite Ted getting a bit excited he stood stock-still until I was ready to cast him off, a quick click of my tongue and we were off. In typical
Ted fashion, he cast out like a kangaroo on speed – bouncing around and having a thoroughly good time. I had already anticipated that he would do this so I gave him a quick pip on the turn whistle and he came back across me and got his nose down. The area we had to hunt was not very big and I knew Ted would need a bit of time to settle into his pattern, so I tried to cover every little piece of rush and white grass. I quickly realised that this was going to be a bit scrappy and I was going to lose some points so I decided to just keep him under control and hoped that I could make it up on the seen retrieve.
The dummy thrower fired the shot and Ted stopped in his tracks, perfect, but unfortunately what should have been a straightforward seen retrieve ended up going behind a tree and as I glanced back at the dog I realised that he hadn’t seen it.
At this point I should have stopped taken a quick breath and thought about what I needed to do, but I didn’t and I could kick myself for not doing what I know I should have done. I gave Ted the “get out” command and he shot out to the area, he knew something was there for him to find and I should have let him get on with his job, but no I decided that I would handle him onto the dummy – why? – because I knew I could and that was my mistake. It was a seen retrieve and to score maximum points the dog should have seen it and picked it without any intervention from the handler. The two judges stood behind me and I heard one of them say to the other: “That dog is over-trained… he shouldn’t be doing anything like that at
The nemesis of my training regime had come to haunt me again, after we had completed this part of the test the judges very kindly gave me some feedback. They commented very positively about Ted's delivery to hand and his sharpness on the stop whistle, however they did say that I needed to keep him tighter to me when hunting him, something I have taken on board and I'm already working on, and that I should have let him use his natural ability to find the seen retrieve. Deep down I was gutted, I knew I had made a hash of that part of the test – it was so obvious. The really galling thing is that I am quite confident that had I let Ted get on with matters he would have found the dummy and perhaps we wouldn’t have dropped more points. Lesson learnt.
“I gave the command and Ted shot out of the blocks like a golden Usain Bolt”
As we watched the rest of the handlers it was really interesting to see how much more drive the springers had, this could of course be partly down to the training but equally just the different ways the two breeds work. I have seen springers hunt a tarmac driveway, I doubt you could ever get a cocker to do that! Part two of the test was a longer seen retrieve with a shot, the dummy was thrown into a bed of sedge, although this was technically a “seen” it quickly became obvious that the dogs could see the dummy in the air but couldn’t really get a mark on where it landed. Once again this was going to be a bit more challenging for the smaller cockers. I had already clocked that the wind was coming from behind so I would have to make sure that Ted went past the dummy and worked back onto it, I was also determined to keep my hands in my pocket and my mouth shut.
Golden Usain Bolt
By now Ted was again getting a bit excited so as we got called up I had formed a plan of action. The judge asked me to take off his lead and as a precaution I just put one foot alongside of the dog to make the point that I wanted him to stay put until I was ready to send him. Ordinarily I would be 100 per cent confident that he would be totally steady but because not everything had gone to plan I wasn’t going to take a chance. The dummy thrower fired the shot and threw the dummy. I watched it land and looked down at Ted, he was locked and loaded ready for me to pull the trigger and send him out. I took a deep breath and gave him the “get out” command, the little dog shot out of the blocks like a golden Usain Bolt. During his training, I have done a lot of straight line work with him and this really paid dividends and he tore through the rushes. I was hoping his
line would take him straight to the dummy but it had already become apparent that the scent was very poor and there was no way he would have been able to see the dummy land.
He hit the back of the cover and turned back into the wind and started to cast back towards me, I was liking what I saw and as he headed to the right I saw his tail action change and I realised he had winded the dummy. The second judge was level with the area in which the dummy had landed and she indicated with her hand that Ted was in the area, I could see the rushes moving about but couldn’t see the dog and I was tempted, very tempted, to give him a verbal “there” command to let him know he was in the right place but I bit my tongue and kept quiet. Ted normally picks up his dummies really quickly but he seemed to be making a bit of a meal of this and I was getting a bit concerned that he was messing around or even worse blanking the dummy, which to be fair would have been totally out of character. Eventually after what seemed like a lifetime he came bounding back with his retrieve sat up in front of me and made the perfect delivery.
I was still a bit confused as to what had been going on when he was hunting the cover but the second judge came up and told me that Ted had in fact done very well. The dummy had landed end up in a thick patch of rush and although he winded it and he knew it was there he couldn’t quite locate it, but he stuck to the job until he found it, and more importantly he had done it without any commands from yours truly.
Well that was the end of the test and I had no idea of how we had done. As everyone gathered around for the presentations I had no expectations, I knew where I had gone wrong and what I had to work on in the coming months. I was deep in thought when I heard my name called out, at first I couldn’t quite understand why but then I realised we had been given an award – 4th place with a total score of 29 out of 40. As suspected we had dropped points on the hunting and seen retrieve. I was really pleased and just a tad proud of young Ted, I had entered the test without any great hopes, so it was a nice surprise. The highlight for me came just a few minutes later when I realised that
Ted was in fact the top placed cocker spaniel puppy with the first, second and third dogs all being springers. Interestingly enough, out of 20 awards (including certificates of merit) across all the classes; puppy, novice and open – only three awards went to cockers and Ted was the only cocker that was placed, all the other places going to springers.
A long day
So, as you can imagine my two-and-a-half hour trip home went quite quickly and I walked through the door with a rather large smile on my face. Mrs R had successfully completed her 10-mile sponsored ride and after downloading the events of the day we both promptly fell fast asleep – it had been a long day.
Ted patiently waiting for Nick’s instructions
Instead of letting Ted get on with his job, Nick decided to handle him onto the dummy
The judges commented very positively to Nick about Ted’s delivery to hand
The dummy thrower fired the shot and Ted stopped in his tracks, perfect
Nick has put a lot of time into hunting Ted in a variety of cover
Ted was the only cocker that was placed – the rest going to springers
Nick and Ted scored 29 out of 40 to claim fourth place