Field Trail - 26th July 2010


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As part of its ongoing commitment to the Fit For Function: Fit For Life campaign, the Kennel Club has introduced a new requirement for Gundog judges prior to their approval to award KC Challenge Certificates for the first time. The Kennel Club wishes to ensure that Gundog judges at shows fully understand the link between the working function of a breed and its construction and fitness, and that they judge dogs according to whether they are healthy and fit for function, as well as adherence to the Kennel Club Breed Standard. In the case of Gundogs, all breed standards now draw attention not only to health and welfare but also to ‘the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work’.


So it was one windy and unfortunately rather damp day , found me heading towards Shap Moor , Cumbria to meet up with people taking part in a Field Trial Meeting for Pointers and Setters.


Field Trials have developed to test the working ability of Gundogs in competitive conditions. Trials resemble, as closely as possible, a day's shooting in the field and dogs are expected to work with all manner of game, from rabbits and hares, to partridges and pheasants.


Many of our best loved breeds were traditionally developed to help man in hunting. Labrador Retrievers gathered game in the field; Cocker Spaniels flushed and retrieved game; Pointers and Setters ranged over the fields helping us seek out birds and rabbits for the table. Breeds of Gundog fall into four groups: Retrievers and Irish Water Spaniels; Sporting Spaniels other than Irish Water Spaniels; Pointers and Setters; Breeds which Hunt, Point and Retrieve  (HPR)




Pointers and Setters at a Field Trial are required to quarter ground systematically with pace and style in search of game birds, to point game birds, to be steady to flush and shot and, where applicable, to fall. Dogs should not be gun shy. The dog should work its point out freely, on command, without the handler either touching the dog or moving in front of it.


Not only do the dogs have to be fit and healthy to do a day's work, but you need to be as well.

The terrain at Shap is particularly challenging and I don 't think my knees will ever be the same again!


Thankfully I'd checked the forecast and was fully prepared as I was as usual, carrying half my wardrobe with me in the car. It is important to blend in with the country side, so it was clothing in neutral tones, stout boots and water proofs.

Fortunately I'd had good instructions as to where to meet as it was little off the beaten track.


The meet I went to was held by kind permission of the Executors of the Earl of Lonsdale, on Shap Moor, Cumbria.


 I was befriended by a lovely lady who runs dual purpose Gordon Setters and she kindly gave me a lift up the 'track' -  just as well as there is no way that our Chrysler would have made it past the first bend!


As a visitor, following the etiquette of the meet is important; however, the competitors were very friendly and only too happy to talk about what was going on and what would happen next. They were obviously a group of seasoned competitors who knew each other well and the banter was good. All the competitors were given numbered armbands that relate to the dog that they were running which they changed for each of the dogs they ran.


During the briefing we were told what the draw was, which is organised so that there are two dogs running each time. In the group were two judges and two guns who each  followed one of the dogs whist they worked.


During each Stake the Judges asked each dog to work a number of times under various conditions.  Judges will be looking closely at how your dog works, making a note of all its strengths but also of its faults.


Sometimes if one dog had had a good find and gone on point, the judges would then ask a reserve dog or one that they thought hadn't had a good chance to show what it could do on its first run to have a go.


There is a reliance on the local gamekeepers to help guide the meet to where they are likely to find birds to test the dogs. Etiquette of keeping out of the way but being close enough to be within range if you get called up is important.


What I found amazing was the total focus of the dogs working;  bearing in mind that they had been kept on a lead behind the line waiting for their turn and watching bids go up in front of them, they were just quivering to go when it was their turn. None of this going off for a sniff and a play with the other dog - they were single minded on the job - following directional whistles from their handlers, they would quarter into the wind in front of them searching the area. One dog would work to the right and one to the left.

When a dog scented birds they went 'on point' holding their position either in a stand or in a down - this they had to hold until the handler and the gun could get close enough  to them. The handler would then give the dog the command to go in to flush out the birds and the gun would then shoot over the dogs head as the birds rise into the air. (in the case of our field trial, they were firing blanks).


All the time the judges are 'marking' the dogs. There are a number of eliminating faults in each Stake such as whining and barking, hard mouth, running in and chasing, failing to find game that another dog can find.


There is a definite buzz when a dog goes on point and you find yourself holding your breath, waiting to see if the dog has found birds and if they will hold 'on point' .


In the afternoon, there was a short list of dogs that the judges wanted to see again. The dogs ran off against each other to find the eventual winner.


At the end of the Trial there was a presentation; a fitting tribute to  the dogs. The host, gamekeeper and guns were thanked and the awards presented and then it was time to head back down the track to a change of dry clothes!!


I thoroughly enjoyed  my day on the moor, these dogs are so fit and it was a privilege to see them doing their job.

Using a dogs brain has always been important to me as my first real introduction to dogs was watching them work when I was part of a Mountain Rescue team in Cumbria and then again on the moors of Scotland where I was teaching. With living in Jersey and no Moors or mountains to hand, we fell into doing Agility to use our dogs brains . Maybe one day it is something I'd be in a position to get involved with ... here's hoping.