The Purbeck Gun Dog School held their annual working tests on Sunday 23rd February at Staple Hill Abbey Estate. The judges were Neil Varney and Richard Caines for the Labrador retriever tests. The organisers for the event were Chris Walton and Sandra Blake.
The day started with refreshments in the car park. The backdrop of the Abbey and a sense of Stape Hill's peace and tranquillity was the perfect way to start the day. After a quick briefing by Sandra all entrants moved off in convoy to the main fields for the first puppy Retriever and Spaniel working test.
My first test was in the Novice Retriever class with my 17 month old black Labrador Retriever, Ivy. The test involved a walk up off lead, dropping the dummy so the dog can see it and continue to walk 20 yards with the dog at a heel. The judge then asked me to sit the dog up, stay and walk 30 yards away, turn and face the dog. I was then instructed to walk back to the dog and turn the dog to face the dummy and send her out to retrieve the dummy. This test aimed to test the steadiness of the dog, heel work and retrieve to hand. Our test ran smoothly. Ivy's eyes were fixed on me and I was very pleased with her steadiness, response to the whistle and a clean retrieve to hand. I'm aware that silence is a virtue and in the past one of my faults has been 'noisy or inappropriate' handling so I was very relieved to complete the test with minimal voice and whistle commands. The final test was a long distance retrieve which again ran smoothly with a clean retrieve to hand.
The Open Labrador Retriever Test was enjoyable but very challenging for myself and 8 year old Labrador Retriever Jack. The first test involved two seen long distance retrieves. The dog marked the first retrieve in the open field and then I had to turn the dog on a heel and he marked the second retrieve which was in cover with a large ditch to cross. Jack marked the 2nd retrieve and went out straight, over the ditch and came back with the dummy to hand. The 1st retrieve which was in the open field was much more challenging. Due to handler error i sent him out slightly to the right of the dummy and he then headed for the edge of the field, hunting up and down the line.
This is where my noisy handling sprung into action and the peace and tranquillity of Stape Hill vanished. I realize this is an indication of poor control and it's usually a sign the handler is struggling, which I was! Thankfully the judges were extremely supportive and patient and offered sound advice which enabled me to complete the test with Jack. Once I had recovered from the increased heart rate, tense facial muscle ache and shallow breathing I was able to enter the final test which was a double seen and double blind in pairs. We were requested to pick up specific dummies in turn. This was an enjoyable test with an appropriate combination of voice and whistle and the test ran smoothly for all dogs. Relieved...yes!
Although the day started overcast with a strong breeze it was clearly a great day on ground which was superb for both spaniels and retrievers. As the day progressed the skies brightened up with no rain, gales, sleet or snow. What a difference a dry day makes...
Reflecting on the day my key lesson learnt is that verbal commands have a key role to play, especially in the steadiness development of the dog but I feel it's vital to maintain a balance between voice and whistle commands without increasing either to the realms of noisy handling.
Overall I was extremely pleased with the result as Ivy came 1st in the Novice Retriever Test and fourth in the Open and Jack came third in the Open Class. It's a great feeling to know the hours of training is starting to pay off. We are fairly new to this sport and so far it's been an exciting, rewarding and challenging journey.
My aim is to have calm companions in the house and in the field. The four basic behaviours I am continually developing are control, steadiness, calm behaviour and retrieving. I will continue to blog my training/test adventures with my dogs this year as we are all on a huge learning curve and enjoying every minute!