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.

Early nerves

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.

Kick my­self

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

his age”.

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”

Springer power

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.

Va­ri­ety Nick has put a lot of time into hunt­ing Ted in a va­ri­ety of cover

Mis­take In­stead of let­ting Ted get on with his job, Nick de­cided to han­dle him onto the dummy

De­liv­ery The judges com­mented very pos­i­tively to Nick about Ted’s de­liv­ery to hand

per­fect stop The dummy thrower fired the shot and Ted stopped in his tracks, per­fect

Eyes on Ted pa­tiently wait­ing for Nick’s in­struc­tions

Proud Ted was the only cocker that was placed – the rest go­ing to springers

Scores Nick and Ted scored 29 out of 40 to claim fourth place

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