Dip your toe into work­ing dog com­pe­ti­tions

New to the gundog world and want to get some ex­pe­ri­ence in work­ing your dog? Ryan Kay goes along to a lo­cal scurry – the per­fect place for begin­ners to pick up tips and in­for­ma­tion

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - with Ryan Kay

I’ve seen quite a few ad­ver­tised here and there: lo­cal scur­ries, char­ity re­triev­ing events, fun re­triev­ing days. If you’re new to the gundog world, but are keen to learn more, th­ese events are per­fect. Ev­ery­one has to start some­where, and many of us en­ter the gundog world via the shooting side of things. But I think that the hard­est route in of­ten comes from get­ting the dog first and then de­cid­ing to ven­ture into the world of work­ing gundogs and shooting.

To be hon­est, the ma­jor­ity of my cus­tomers come via the lat­ter route. There’s sud­denly quite a lot to learn and it can be a lit­tle daunt­ing – and some­times a tad in­tim­i­dat­ing when faced with not only learn­ing about how to train a gundog but also how that fits into what will also be a new past­time for the han­dler.

Af­ter those ini­tial steps have been made to start the dog train­ing jour­ney, there comes a point when you may want to see where you are with it all – just how far you’ve pro­gressed since that puppy pur­chase, a lit­tle test out­side of your com­fort zone per­haps!! Well, a fun re­triev­ing day or scurry will help you enor­mously and will un­doubt­edly be another tran­si­tional step for­ward.

Off to a Test

Early June, I went along to a lo­cal event, held at Ever­ing­ham Park in York­shire by kind per­mis­sion of Mr and Mrs Guest. Bev Ether­ing­ton and Jane Han­shaw of Wolds Gundog Academy put to­gether two well-planned tests, open to one and all, and of any stan­dard. They also ar­ranged a com­pan­ion dog show along­side. Any­one could turn up on the day and have a go at the re­triev­ing chal­lenges laid out in the fab­u­lous grounds.

If you’re won­der­ing where to start in the gundog world, this is the kind of event for you. Even if you don’t yet have a dog, you can learn a lot by sim­ply be­ing there.

There’s of­ten a ter­mi­nol­ogy con­flict or mis­un­der­stand­ing on what folk call ei­ther scur­ries or Work­ing Tests. At Ever­ing­ham, there were two types of re­triev­ing el­e­ments avail­able.

The first was a timed scurry: a seen re­trieve and a blind, both against the clock with a few dis­trac­tions thrown in on the course.

The sec­ond was a se­lec­tion of three static tests, spread out across the park, each at­tended by a very help­ful and ex­pe­ri­enced judge. Th­ese were more in line with a re­triever Work­ing Test.

Judges based it on a ‘no fail’ ethos. This meant that ev­ery­one who turned up to have a go would be en­cour­aged to com­plete the tasks no mat­ter

‘The vizsla did well to stay fo­cused on the area of the re­trieve, rather than waste en­ergy hunt­ing like a de­mon in all di­rec­tions’

what. I re­ally liked this idea, and it’s just what a be­gin­ner should be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

The wa­ter test was a sim­ple re­trieve off the wa­ter, just 10 yards out, with a max­i­mum of 25 points for the per­fect re­trieve. Many dropped the dummy com­ing out of the wa­ter, and some even strug­gled to ac­tu­ally en­ter the wa­ter, but it didn’t mat­ter, this day was about achiev­ing on some scale no mat­ter how small. And that at­ti­tude was the same when I vis­ited judge Jane Han­shaw at her ad­ju­di­cated sce­nario.

A seen re­trieve was thrown out at about 50 yards, land­ing at the edge of some rough cover, fol­lowed by a blind off at 90° laid at the base of a small tree. There were many dogs com­plet­ing the tasks very well, but prob­a­bly a higher per­cent­age strug­gling to fin­ish. That’s where Jane would kick in with ad­vice and en­cour­age­ment, of­ten tak­ing the han­dler closer in, so they were able to guide and as­sist their dog a lit­tle fur­ther.

The judges con­sis­tently gave feed­back to ev­ery han­dler, of­fer­ing train­ing meth­ods and tips along the way. Not only was ev­ery­body get­ting a day out, but they were get­ting free tu­ition as they went along.

The third re­triev­ing task was judged by HPR man John Nay­lor. John’s test in­volved a mem­ory re­trieve with an added heel­ing task, be­fore turn­ing and send­ing the dog back for the dummy.

Again, I could hear words of en­cour­age­ment from John, mak­ing it all clear to the un­doubt­edly ner­vous first-timer. He would go through ev­ery­thing twice to as­cer­tain that the han­dler un­der­stood. At the end of the task, John also gave valu­able feed­back so the han­dler could im­prove on what they’d done. And that def­i­nitely seemed to work as ev­ery­one was given the chance to have as many goes as they wished on each el­e­ment. The dogs then grew in con­fi­dence as the day pro­gressed, as did their own­ers.

Don’t get me wrong, some of th­ese oc­ca­sions can be quite com­pet­i­tive, but gen­er­ally speak­ing they’re a chance to gently test your dog in a more re­laxed sit­u­a­tion and with­out the pres­sure of­ten ex­pe­ri­enced in a strict test or trial – plus, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to learn a lit­tle in the process. Both the timed scurry and the tests brought cash re­wards and a tro­phy up for grabs, plus rosettes to fourth place.

It was a very warm day and, to be hon­est, too much re­triev­ing in the heat isn’t re­ally a good op­tion, but re­triev­ing with wa­ter in­volved is much more ap­peal­ing. If you have the choice at th­ese events, my ad­vice is to head straight to the wa­ter el­e­ment first, then once com­pleted, try and keep your dog in the shade while wait­ing at the next el­e­ment. Then per­haps another dip at the end if you can.

Va­ri­ety of breeds

What I found en­cour­ag­ing on the day was the va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent breeds hav­ing a go. I spot­ted the usual Labradors, springers and cock­ers, but there were also Clum­bers, Ger­man short-haired point­ers, a flat-coated re­triever and even a Slo­vakian rough-haired pointer from the HPR sub-group. The lat­ter was grey-roan in colour – I’d only seen the solid grey be­fore, so this strik­ing lass re­ally caught my eye. It was in­ter­est­ing to see how she went about the task dif­fer­ently to the spaniel that had pre­ceded her, ar­riv­ing at the area of the seen dummy head aloft as she care­fully air-scented be­fore suc­cess­fully pick­ing it.

The even­tual win­ner of the re­triev­ing tasks was Mau­reen John­son’s Hun­gar­ian wire-haired vizsla. In the warmth of the sun, it needed a me­thod­i­cal, sen­si­ble ap­proach, and the vizsla did well to stay fo­cused on the area of the re­trieve, rather than waste en­ergy hunt­ing in all di­rec­tions.

Mau­reen John­son works her Hun­gar­ian wire-haired vizsla It is about achiev­ing on some scale, so keep it fun and re­laxed for your dog

In with a splash!

The Slo­vakian rough-haired pointer makes a suc­cess­ful re­trieve

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