Retrieving Trials in Australia – An Explanation
By Robert Tawton
What is a Retrieving Trial?
A Retrieving Trial is an event at which competitions for the working of registered Gundogs are conducted, both on land and in or through water, to determine their relative merits in the field under conditions that simulate, as closely as possible, those that may be found while hunting, but at the same time bringing the work of each dog within an ambit of equality where assessments can be fairly made. In other words, Retrieving Trials are designed to promote and evaluate the style of work that a gundog may encounter during a typical day out duck hunting.
In Australia, the term Field Trial is reserved for a group of events conducted separately for Spaniels and Retrievers, Pointers and Setters and the Utility Breeds of Gundogs. These events are conducted during local game seasons under typical up-land hunting conditions with an emphasis on game finding ability, pointing and flushing, as the case maybe, steadiness to shot and the handler is expected to shoot all game found by his or her dog.
Prior to 1939 Field Trials for both Pointers and Setters and Spaniels and Retrievers were conducted on a regular basis. During World War II access to sporting ammunition was so constrained that field shooting was nigh on impossible. This situation prompted Rail Bridgford and Hilda Lascelles to develop Water Tests in an effort to test the retrieving ability of their Labradors. These Water Tests consisted of two retrieves, one from water and the other across-water, both cast as single marked retrieves. As servicemen returned from the war and ammunition became available, the Victorian Gundog Club’s annual Water Test became very popular as it was held the weekend preceding the opening of the Duck Season, which for many years, was the 3rd Saturday in February.
The Victorian Retriever Club was founded in 1952 and the following year was renamed the Labrador Retriever Club (LRC) of Victoria. In 1954 the LRC sponsored the development of the initial set Retrieving Trials Rules and two “trial” events were conducted, under the watchful eye of the Kennel Control Council (KCC) of Victoria. The KCC then approved the concept and the first “official” Novice Trial was held on June 1, 1957, judged by Mr Robert (Bob) Maver. Bob subsequently judged the first “Open” held June 13, 1957 and the first KCC Victorian State Retrieving Trial Championship held in 1958. During this period similar, but quite independent development, was taking place in New South Wales (NSW) with much of the organisational credit due to (the late) Mr Len De Groen and his brother Harry.
One of the founding members of the Victorian Retriever Club was Charles Behrendt, owner of Ensign Dry Cleaners. Charles was a regular visitor to the USA and on one occasion brought back a set of AKC Field Trial Rules, which were subsequently blended into the existing rules developed by both Victoria and New South Wales. The upshot of this activity was that the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) ratified the Rules for the Conduct of Non-Slip Retrieving Trials for Gundogs in 1966. In 1999 the term “non-slip”, which was included to signify that the dogs were required to work “off lead or slip”, was removed leaving the current formal title as; Rules for the conduct of Retrieving Trials for Gundogs, effective Jan.2000.
Retrieving Trials in Australia Today
All competitors in Australian Retrieving Trials are amateurs as there are no professional handlers, trainers or judges and trophies, sashes, honour and glory are the only rewards. Most owner/handlers compete with only one dog. A few have two dogs and it is almost unprecedented to see a handler competing with three dogs, especially at All Age and/or Championship level.
Clubs holding events must be affiliated with their State Controlling Body and it in turn must be affiliated with the ANKC. Annually each State is permitted to conduct one State Retrieving Trial Championship and on a rotating basis the selected State hosts the Australian National Retrieving Trial Championship. The winner of an All Age Stake is awarded 6 championship points and the winner of a State or National Championship is awarded 12 points, while the 2nd placed dog in a Championship receives 6 points. To be awarded the title of Retrieving Trial Champion (RT Ch) a dog must earn a total of 12 points. Most events are adjudicated by a single judge. The National and most State Championships make use of two judges, who may either independently judge alternate Runs (or Series) or may choose to co-judge one or more Runs (or series) . For example in a seven Run (Series) State Championship, Judge A may choose to adjudicate Runs 1, 3 & 5 while Judge B officiates on Runs 2, 4 & 6 and they both co-judge Run 7 (the last series).
In Australia there are generally four levels of competition.
A Novice Stake is a stake confined to Gundogs that have not won any other stake other than two Novice Stakes. A typical Novice Stake involves three separate single marked retrieves, with a land mark, and in-water mark and an across-water mark retrieve.
A Restricted Stake is a stake confined to Gundogs that have not won three Restricted Stakes or an All Age Stake or have been place first or second in a Championship Stake. At this level of competition multiple retrieves are introduced which are usually designed to test a dogs understanding of basic concepts as a precursor to the more advanced work required at All Age and Championship levels.
An All Age Stake is a stake confined to Gundogs that have won a Novice Stake or have placed first, second or third in a Restricted Stake. A “blind” retrieve must be included. A typical All Age Stake involves three Runs (Series) each requiring three items of game to be recovered. The differing scenarios may include, but not be limited to, combinations of the following:
A Single Mark Retrieve shall be a retrieve where only one object of game is cast and is to be retrieved.
A Walk-up Retrieve is one where the dog is walking at heel; the game is cast at which the handler “shoots”. Immediately the handler pauses to “shoot” the dog shall sit, drop or remain steady until ordered by the handler to retrieve.
Wounded Game Retrieve which maybe either a bird or rabbit. When a bird is used it is cast as in a single mark retrieve, but the game is attached to a line which is then used to drag it a distance of at least 20 metres (25yds). The bird is then picked up and a fresh bird is left in its stead.
A Blind Find Retrieve is a retrieve where a dog is placed in such position that the flight, fall or placement of the game cannot be seen. The Judge may direct that the dog be placed in a hide, ideally made from natural materials, and in close proximity to the Firing Point (Line).
A Double Mark Retrieve shall consist of two marked retrieves that may include both land and water.
A Double Blind Retrieve The game will be located as in a double mark, with the both items of game being placed so that the dog cannot sight them.
A Double Rise Retrieve shall consist of a retrieve where one object of game is cast and two shots are fired (by the handler) in quick succession at or near the apex of the cast. While the dog is returning with the first object of game, a second object of game is cast or placed within 10 metres of the original fall, but at a distance greater from the Firing Point. This second object of game is to be retrieved immediately following the delivery to hand of the first object of game. In other words, the dog must return to the old fall and resume its hunt for the second item of game.
A Two-Bird Retrieve (A Bulldog Retrieve). The first item of game is cast from concealed cover and one shot is fired. While the dog is returning with this item of game, a second item of game is cast and a shot is fired, so that the dog may see or hear the fall of this game. The second item of game should fall at least 20 metres from the first item of game and at a distance greater than 40 metres from the Firing Point.
A Double Fall Retrieve The first item of game is cast from concealed cover and one shot is fired and the dog is sent to complete the retrieve. While the dog is on its way out a second item of game is cast and a shot is fired, so that the dog may see or hear the fall of this game. The first item of game must be retrieved before the second. The second item of game shall be cast to land not less than 20 metres from the line to the first and not more than 40 metres from the Firing Point.
A Mark and Blind Retrieve; a Triple Mark; a Triple Retrieve with two blinds and one mark; a Triple Retrieve with two marks and one blind are some of the typical combinations.
A Championship Stake is a stake confined to Gundogs that have been placed first in a Restricted Stake or first, second or third in an All Age Stake. A Championship Stake shall consist of no less than four retrieves (series), with at least 9 items of game to be retrieved. At least two blinds shall be included and the dogs must be tested for steadiness from a hide on at least one occasion.
A National Championship Retrieving Trial shall consist of at least seven retrieves (or series) with at least 15 items of game to be recovered. At least two blinds shall be included. A retrieve containing a blind leg is not acceptable unless the dog is tested for steadiness from behind a hide.
The first National Championship was held in 1969. Of the 33 events conducted so far and taking into account First, Second and Third Places the sample size becomes 99 dogs, of these one has been a Golden Retriever, six have been German Shorthaired Pointers (GSP) and the balance have been Labrador Retrievers. Of the GSP’s, National RT Ch and FT Ch Ruvalan Homah CD was Runner-up in 1985 and was placed First in 1986 and again
1989. Homah completed the 1988 and 1990 Nationals, missed one bird in the last series of the 1987 National.
Summary of the Major Similarities and/or Differences between US Field Trials and Australian Retrieving Trials
US Field Trials seek to simulate shooting conditions where the competing dog and handler are faced with the task of picking game up “shot” by the Guns in the field. Whereas Australian Retrieving trials seek to simulate a duck hunting scenario where the competing dog retrieves game “shot” by its handler.
In the US competition is restricted to the recognised breeds of retrievers whereas in Australia competitions are open to all registered breeds of gundogs.
White coats and black gloves are permitted in both forms of competition.
Australian Judges usually specify the order of pick-up in all multiple retrieves or series. The maximum number of items of game to be recovered in any Run (or series) is limited the three, although one Poison Bird (game not to be recovered) may be incorporated into any Run (or series). Dry Shots are also permitted in Australian trials (at the Restricted Stake, All Age and Championship level).
As in Canada, live game cannot be used in Australian trials. Humanely destroyed feral pigeons are almost exclusively used for all marked retrieves and these are cast from “spear-gun” rubber powered catapults (or “wingers”) operating from concealed positions. Rabbits are occasionally used for blind retrieves and even less frequently native ducks are used and then only when local game seasons permit. The maximum length of any retrieve should not exceed 150 metres (165yds) and at Novice Stake level it is recommended that retrieves should be limited (terrain permitting ) to 100 metres. The handler “shoots” all game using a 12 bore loaded with blank cartridges but in recent times metal inserts and “primers” have become the popular choice. Should readers require any additional information, the author may be contacted at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org