About Retrieving

Try Retrieving

Do you own a Gundog...
...or thinking of getting one perhaps? Do you like spending time with your dog and exploring the great outdoors? Then you might enjoy Retrieving. Retrieving sports are a great way for Gundogs to practice what they were bred for while you have fun training, competing and socialising with like-minded canine aficionados.

About Retrieving
Retrieving sports are lesser known than similar canine activities such as Obedience and Agility. This is partly because Retrieving requires lots of space and varying terrain. Hence, Retrieving trials and tests are often held out of view from associated activities such as dog shows, or away entirely in rural and regional locations.

There are several different kinds of competitions in Retrieving including: Retrieving Ability Tests, Retrieving Trials, and Field Trials, which are explained in some detail if you follow the links.

While there’s plenty of information on training gundogs available in books and on the internet, there is remarkably little about preparing for Retrieving competitions. This website aims to assist understanding competitive Retrieving sports in Australia and how to participate and succeed in them. Retrieving is not an armchair activity however, so if you are looking for a reason to get out and about with your best friend more often, Retrieving comes highly recommended. 


See for yourself
To get a true feeling for Retrieving, you really should try to see a Retrieving trial or test first hand. To find out where and when Retrieving events are held, visit our Forum pages here. Look for the current year in each of the categories mentioned above and follow the links to listings in your state. These pages indicate which club or organisation is hosting an event. Slightly prior to an event, most clubs will post a Notice giving information and contact details for the event. Ability Tests are often held in conjunction with conformation and obedience shows and are usually simple to locate, but Retrieving and Field Trials are mostly held in rural locations and often require a little more research. Trial notices (or 'Schedules') often only provide an indication of where the event will be held but not an exact location (this is often kept secret before a trial). If you don't already know someone attending a trial, it is recommended that you contact the Trial Manager listed in the Notice to obtain details of the venue whereabouts. If you explain that you would like to attend to observe the trial they will be very pleased to assist you and will advise the exact time and place to meet. For Retrieving and Field trials, this is often quite early at a ‘muster’ where competitors are briefed before heading out to various nearby trial locations for the day. The Trail Manager or Secretary can often send you a map with other information such as local accommodation or camping details if these are required.


Getting Started

To participate in Retrieving competitions you need a Gundog that is registered with the canine registration body in your state. A gundog is any purebred dog classed in ANKC Group 3 (Gundogs). If you don’t own a gundog now but are thinking of getting one, it is wise to do some research first. Despite what some may claim, not all gundogs are born equal. Some are bred along 'confirmation' lines to do well at dog shows. While other breeders may focus on producing good 'working' qualities in their dogs. It is possible for registered breeds to participate in both activities, however if your main goal is to do well in Retrieving, it pays to do a little investigation before purchasing a pup. Your local gundog club can often assist finding breeders most suited to your preferences in a dog.

If purchasing a pup check the predigree of parents and grandparents and look for histories in working activities. If taking on a young dog, then the main traits to seek are a strong desire to hold and fetch objects plus a high degree of bidability, i.e. a willingness to please its owner. Preparing for Retrieving can start as early as bringing your pup home for the first time. There are lots of activities that can be introduced at playtime to help develop and nurture a young pup's natural retrieving instincts. In early stages of a pups life, your attention should mainly focus on assisting the dog to develop a high level of drive and excitement for retrieving objects. There is plenty of advice in books and the internet that can assit you with early training techniques.

Basic obedience
Training your dog to be obedient and instilling a high degree of trust and cooperation between you and your dog is essential before entering competitions. Retrieving sports are 'off-leash' activities that commonly require dogs to work up to 100 metres away from their handlers. If your dog displays total lack of control it could be disqualified by a Judge. To competently compete, at the very least your dog needs to be able to 'Heel' off-lead while walking by your side for a short distance, and obey commands to "Sit” and/or “Stay” near you. Importantly, the dog must be willing to fetch objects that are cast into the air some distance away and return directly to you. If required, the dog should also return to you on command (usually with a “Come" or "Here” or whistle instruction). Don’t worry if Fido is a bit feisty or overly keen at first, good gundogs often are. If you feel that you lack the skills to train your dog in these fundamentals there is assistance available through local Obedience training clubs. Formal Obedience training starts at 4+ months of age, but you can begin the basics (sit, stay, come, fetch etc.) earlier at home or at puppy classes.

swimmerAnother important aspect of Retrieving that you need to prepare your dog for is retrieving through water (swimming). All Retrieving Trials and some Ability Tests require a dog to retrieve a cast object either from, or across water. Typically, this involves the dog having to enter or traverse small dams, ponds or creeks, and always where there is sufficient depth that the dog's feet cannot touch the bottom. Some young dogs take to water like proverbial ducks, while for others, wading into deep water can be a little daunting at first and something that needs encouragement from its handler. If your dog shows signs of hesitation (and this is quite common for pups) then care is needed. This is an area of conditioning that can easily go wrong and evoke negative reactions to water if not handled correctly. If you feel this might be the case, seek the assistance of an experienced handler and try to introduce your dog to water by retrieving with older dogs around to set examples. If this is not possible, then reading-up on water introduction techniques it is strongly recommended.

All Retrieving sports are based on testing the 'hunting' qualities that are inherent in Gundog breeds. As the name suggests, this can involve the simulation of 'shooting' over dogs. This aspect does not apply to Ability Tests (RATG) but is a compulsory component of Retrieving and Field Trials. In these events, a handler is required to shoot a shotgun which fires a primer (a blank cartridge) in close proximity to the dog. The dog must be able to display a reasonable degree of steadiness to the resulting 'bang' made as the gun discharges. Some dogs may show fear or startlement (gun-shyness), while others may become overly excited by the sound causing them to take-off (or break) from their stayed position. This aspect often requires conditioning the dog to loud unexpected sounds, something that can usually be practiced at home or in the yard with the use of cap guns or other loud instruments.delivery

The final area of preparation for tests and trials is presentation of the retrieve (ie the delivery to you). Points are awarded on how well this is performed and involves the dog approaching directly in front of you and then holding its retrieved item (usually a dummy or dead game such as pigeon) in a willing manner to be taken gently from its mouth by the handler. If the retrieved item is game, then the item must be in good condition (indicating 'soft-mouth' by the dog) without broken or bruised skin (which would indicate a 'hard-mouth'). This is possibly the most challenging aspect of early training and there is varying advice on methods that can be used to achieve the best results. If you are unsure how to train for this, consult widely, talk to a few experienced handlers and follow the advice that seems most suitable for you.



Things you'll need

If you're just starting out in Retrieving here are a few things you might like to consider acquiring.

Training Dummies dummies
Otherwise known as 'Bumpers'. Dummies are essential training aids for teaching dogs competition level retrieving habits. They are highly resilient, able to be thrown long distances, float, and are designed to condition the dog's mouth for holding items correctly. Dummies come in a wide variety of types and colours. When starting out, white or black & white in canvas or plastic are usually best. Other colours like orange and black have special purposes and will be useful later. Many come in two sizes 2" (5cm) or 3'' (7.5cm) wide. Choice is personal depending on the size and attitude of your dog. Plastic dummies also come in hard and soft. Hard is usually used to correct 'hard-mouth' issues (chewing). Proper training dummies are not generally found in shops but are readily available by searching the internet. Overseas prices can be a bit less than locally supplied stock but when delivery is added there is often little difference. Local suppliers also support our clubs. To start-off, you will need at least 3 dummies, 6 or more are better though.         

Training Whistles
whistlesGundogs have great hearing, but at 100 meters away on a windy day they are struggling to hear your verbal commands... (and then there's selective deafness too!) Whistles are a good way to condition your dog to take instructions, like Stop (e.g. one peep) or Come-here (e.g. three peeps). Whistles provide added assurance and can be an advantage out in the field. The internet is a good place to find and buy these, and again, there is a bewildering array of options available so a little research may be required to find one that suits your purposes the best. They are usually pretty cheap so some trial and error shouldn't break the bank!

Gumboots gumboots
Also known as 'Wellington Boots'. These are a highly recommended accessory, particularly if you intend to go to Retrieving trials which will almost certainly have you stomping through soggy, frosty paddocks and damp marshes... (did we mention this was an outdoors sport?). At other times, including when training in long grass, gumboots can offer protection against any nasties (plant and animal) lurking around. Gumboots come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes, and are generally available from larger hardware, gardening or workware establishments, and are usually reasonably priced. 

Bright Jacket
jacketWhen gundogs are running around hunting in foreign terrain it's easy for them to become disorientated. While not a requirement, wearing a bright (commonly white) jacket or top can assist a dog (who is virtually colour blind) to locate and see you in the distance. The light contrast also helps them to recognise any hand signals given against your background. Black or white caps and gloves are also used by some to accentuate the effect. Other brightly coloured apparel are used as well. There are differing views on what works best so it's an area you can experiment with.

Slip Lead 
slipleadThe original term "Non-slip Retrieving Trials" refers to the requirement for gundogs to be run in the field without a lead or collar (mainly for their own protection against snagging in cover etc). By no means essential, slip leads are designed to be put on and taken off your dog with a minimum of fuss. So, they are quite practical when entering or exiting a trial Control area. Not easy to find in shops, but generally cheap to buy and useful to have. Grab one if you see it. 

Dog Tie-Down

tie downAlso known as Restraints, Pegs, or Stakes. When you are out trialling or training in the open there are often times when you need to tether your dog, and gosh …there’s never a tree or post nearby where you need it! Tie-downs solve this problem so you can confidently leave Fido momentarily. Look for ones that are compact, easy to insert in the ground, provide 360-degree rotation, and are simple to connect a lead or chain to. These are available in stores, but there are ones designed with on-the-go-training in mind stocked by selected gundog / hunting suppliers.