Tal­ent, or sheer luck?

Any tri­aller knows that the best dog doesn’t al­ways win

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - GUNDOGS - Email: dhtom­lin­[email protected]­in­ter­net.com

Iwas chat­ting to a friend, a pas­sion­ate tri­aller, who was rem­i­nisc­ing about past tri­umphs and dis­as­ters. “Of course,” he said, “you should never for­get that tri­alling has lit­tle to do with find­ing the best dog: it is all about es­tab­lish­ing which is the luck­i­est dog.” He was jok­ing, but what made the joke funny was that there was so much truth in what he said.

Of all the sports I can think of, there is not a sin­gle one I know where luck plays such a ma­jor role as it does in tri­alling. In many ways it is part of the at­trac­tion, and it is cer­tainly a ma­jor slice of the chal­lenge. There is no doubt that a tal­ented dog with an ex­pe­ri­enced han­dler al­ways stands the best chance of suc­cess, but it is also true that the best dog doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily win. never failed to come back and has never shown any in­cli­na­tion to run away, some­thing that some spaniels are prone to do.


How­ever, we want an in­stant re­sponse that we are not get­ting, so have re­sorted to what are eu­phemisti­cally called re­wards and which we re­fer to as bribes. Uni­ver­sally used by own­ers of pet dogs but scorned by most gun­dog train­ers, re­wards do have their place in train­ing. And switch­ing from bis­cuits to of­f­cuts of ham has cer­tainly sharp­ened up her re­sponse.

Phys­i­cally, Emma re­sem­bles her liver-and-white English springer dam rather than her lemon-roan cocker sire. She is small and though at nine months she may still grow, I doubt if she will get much big­ger. I ex­pect her to put on a cou­ple more ki­los in weight as she ma­tures — she cur­rently weighs a mere 10kg. She is much the small­est dog I have ever owned, and I am start­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate the ben­e­fits of her com­pact size. Not only is she easy to pick up, she can com­fort­ably share a trav­el­ling crate in the car with Rowan.

An in­door dog, she still spends much of her time in her crate — usu­ally

The at­trac­tion of tri­alling was, I thought, cap­tured per­fectly by cocker en­thu­si­ast An­drew Robin­son in a re­cent post on Face­book. “Field tri­als should not all be about win­ning. Some­times tri­als should be about be­ing happy with your dog’s per­for­mance. The trial I ran in yes­ter­day was about be­ing in good com­pany in a nice place. It was also about watch­ing two judges do­ing their ut­most to give ev­ery dog the very best op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed.

“I was de­lighted for the very pleas­ant guy who pipped me to the post (Jay was sec­ond) and, on the long drive home,

I was able to con­tem­plate how lucky I am to be able to do this, and to have a lit­tle dog I think the world of.”

An­drew has made up five field trial cham­pion cock­ers and judged the Cocker Cham­pi­onship twice, so he writes with the wis­dom of many years of ex­pe­ri­ence. He had been run­ning his cocker Jay

in a novice trial held by the Kint­bury Gun­dog Club. He re­ported that the fol­low­ing morn­ing called her cage — in our kitchen, though of­ten with the door open.

If there is one thing that has trans­formed puppy own­er­ship it is the crate. In­stead of hav­ing a puppy that can free-range in your house, you can keep the an­i­mal se­curely in the crate, pre­vent­ing it from caus­ing may­hem else­where. The crate gives the puppy a safe haven; Emma read­ily re­turns to it on com­mand. She has never been a de­struc­tive puppy — the only se­ri­ous ca­su­alty has been a pair of pre­scrip­tion spec­ta­cles — but the crate is re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing such losses to a min­i­mum.


Read­ing this, you might well be fooled into think­ing that Emma is a paragon of a puppy. Un­for­tu­nately she is not. She has a re­mark­able cat-like abil­ity to jump and her party piece is to leap on to the laps of any­one sit­ting on the sofa. This, I reckon, is a re­minder of her cocker parent­age. As we have al­ways had a rule of nodogs-on-fur­ni­ture, we are not too pleased with this.

It was funny the first time but now the joke is wear­ing thin and the cure hasn’t been found. Any sug­ges­tions will be grate­fully re­ceived. Jay was stiff and sore af­ter hunt­ing in heavy bram­bles, but still en­thu­si­as­tic to be out pick­ing-up. An­drew thought he de­served the day off but he doubted if Jay would agree.

It is al­ways sat­is­fy­ing to win and most of us com­pete in our cho­sen sports with the aim of do­ing just that. How­ever, in our quest for vic­tory, we should never for­get the plea­sure and priv­i­lege of sim­ply tak­ing part.

I don’t think that I have ever had a dog that has made me laugh quite so much as Emma, as she is an en­ter­tain­ing and hugely so­cia­ble spaniel.

The chal­lenge now, as she moves into the equiv­a­lent of her teenage years, is to turn her into a re­spectable gun­dog. I am work­ing on it.

an­drew Robin­son’s cocker spaniel, Jay

emma (left) and Rowan have be­come firm friends

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