“Is it time to review and accentuate our understanding of competing and judging in retrieving trials?”

A discussion paper by Karl E Britton

November 2015

justicedog450w-blu.jpgReference: ANKC; Rules for the Conduct of Retrieving Trials for Gundogs; Retrieving Trials, Rules for the Conduct of Retrieving Trials for Gundogs (Effective from 1st January 2015)

Para 1 states the following: “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 which emulate as closely as possible those which would be found whilst hunting, but at the same time bring the work of each dog within an ambit of equality where assessment may be fairly made.”


In the military we have and use an acronym called BLUF, it means “Bottom Line Up Front.” We present the problem or issue immediately without any add-ons just how it is:

BLUF: We have talented dog trainers who are not getting a return for investment in dog training. Is a review of judging and judging criteria now required in order to moderate the sport?

1.    I have noticed when travelling around the country over the last few years the vast difference in types of trials and runs that are being set by judges from a variety of different backgrounds. Some runs reflect a lot of work and thought on what is expected of a gundog and all facets of gundog work are clearly being tested over the course of that run throughout the competition:- without doubt clearly reflecting para 1 above and using the full gambit of all other considerations, within the rules and spirit of the test, then apply para 94 allocation of points. Some runs seem to be set in an unrealistic shooting scenario with an unrealistic expectation on achievability.

2.    My concern is that, I do not believe we (as competitors) are always afforded the best practice within the intent of the rules, for the conduct of retrieving trials; nor are we given the best opportunity to present and test our gundogs in the most natural conditions of a simulated shoot.

Using all the recommended purpose criteria mentioned (para 1 to 4 of the above reference) I have observed in particular, a type of fashion and trend that appears to becoming acceptable and the norm around the country, that is not within the rules, regulations and spirit of competition. 

3.    Some judges have a great understanding of working gundogs and can clearly pick a run that shows all attributes of gundog work in the field, and it is clear that this is in fact as realistic as possible to a shooting day in the field and really could happen or present itself on any shooting day.

4.    Other runs show a judge who understands the concepts to be applied but they don’t really reflect a realistic shooting situation; or it is a run that is so poorly thought through that it is clearly evident it will not work: it will be a game of attrition rather than a viable test. Whilst following the outline of a concept but not exploiting or testing for good dog work and the partnership connection with the handler, these runs end up being more of a survival contest to complete.

I would suggest this is not within the spirit of the rules for the conduct of retrieving trials. Having stated that I do not believe judges purposely set runs to fail dogs, there is a degree of perception of that when running under certain Judges. Some judges do have a reputation for setting extremely hard runs, or should I say more technical runs. You can then go to the opposite end of the spectrum and run under another judge and be barely challenged.

This is where we need a balance achieved through Judge “moderation”.

Note: Moderation is the process of bringing assessment judgements and standards into alignment. It is a process that ensures the same standards are applied to all assessment results. It is an active process in that adjustments to assessor judgements are made to overcome differences in the difficulty of the tool and/or the severity of judgements in order to ensure the standardisation and reliability of assessments.

I will mention moderation several times throughout my article.

5.    Several factors can cause a run to change, such as weather conditions and time of day. Cool first thing in the morning to a midday sun and dogs being pegged out in the sun for no reason for several hours can all make a difference as to how a dog will perform by the time it reaches the pegs.  This I would say is not always a true reflection of “an ambit of equality” as quoted in para 1.

It is also not a reflection of a real shooting situation; I have always shot and never left my dog pegged out in a hide for several hours with 20 other dogs who are whining moaning and frantically giving tongue. This can be distressing for a sensitive dog and can really cause confusion.

6.    Another factor I have observed is trainability and biddability in dogs. As you know we run all types and breeds of registered gundog, which is fantastic to see. I really applaud that rule. However, I have also noticed that some runs will allow a good lining dog that has been trained to run from the side of a leg to take on a good line or a mark; if the dog has missed it and the handler is astute enough to notice and can line their dog (because of the prey drive in that dog) to take straight lines, it can then recover and collect that mark.

Is this correct or are we taking away the entire natural attributes that we require in a great gundog? Sagacity, dash and perseverance, nose, memory, by literally handling a dog to success and placing it on the mark. I know it is a partnership, but I personally would like to see a dog put in the general area of a blind or sent for a mark allowing the dog to work it out, whilst I concentrate on shooting my next bird, just like in a real shoot.

7.    There seems to be a real pattern of runs being set that you could train a dog to run and understand the concept, but not necessarily runs where the dog needs to use its brain; and it becomes a test of the dog’s training not a test of assessing the dog for retrieving ability to quickly seek and find game when ordered to do so. The dog just has to do what the handler says and can be handled to success.

8.    Understanding how a good gundog thinks and works is an art within itself. I have seen and witnessed far too often in competition a run that has been selected for all the right reasons, but clearly will not work as dogs, no matter how much training they have had, will not comply with the expectation to meet the judge’s aspirations. I will present some examples of this later.


9.    Over the last several years, as I have been involved in Australian trialling, I have witnessed new people come into the sport. Some find their comfort level and are happy to stay with it; some strive for success and train emphatically, some just come along for the social aspect and a few training tips for the year, before they disappear to go duck shooting.

I think that is what is so unique in our sport: it just does not matter what your reason is to trial and compete either on a social level or a competitive one, as we do not have professional trainers.

10.    It is unique for several reasons. It is a small minority sport that is not publically supported, but rather relies on a group of like-minded volunteers to form committees and clubs, judges, stewards, throwers, game donations and of course the competitors themselves. Just about everyone I know or have met who is involved in the sport puts something back. It is the epitome of the Australian spirit and is extremely refreshing in the current day and age.

11.    So what… what can we conclude from that? 

It is purely a self-funded sport: there is no hidden agenda. We all must muck in, get on with it and make it happen, without any real financial support from our affiliated governing State bodies. 

A large degree of personal expenditure is born by the competitors, stewards and even the trial judges tend to be out of pocket. One thing is for sure: no one is in it for the money.

12.    I have watched new people come into the sport and hit a glitch in competition, advice has been given to the handler to try and sort the problem out; offers of a club training day have been given; and we have even ran workshops for handlers to try and improve - but some handlers cannot quite get that finish into their dogs to ensure a successful completion of that trial.

13.    That’s life, as in every sport; not everyone is going to succeed every time. Eventually some become frustrated and walk away. Some of that frustration is with the type of runs that are being set. You can train a dog to retrieve game using all its natural abilities, but you cannot train a dog to ignore those natural hunting attributes- in particular the nose-so when a Judge has put on a run where a dog is out of sight for twenty metres or more on a blind, or the pegs are placed in a position where you cannot see your dog all the way to the fall of the blind area, I would suggest that this is not within the spirit of the rules for the conduct of retrieving trials. The dog winds the wrong selected bird on the way to that blind and because they are out of sight to the handler they hook around and pick up the wrong bird. A judge putting that type of run into play is not helpful. In particular if you have practiced out-of-sight marks and you have taught your dog to hunt and work an area of the fall. Rather than a hard charging style of dog that can take a great line without thinking and can be stopped and placed on the blind, compared to a dog using its sagacity and training to put itself in position to succeed even though it may not take the most direct route but using its natural hunting and retrieving skills.

14.    I have as a competitor on numerous occasions been placed behind a natural object, e.g. large gum tree, rocks and boulders, at the firing point. You are also expected to handle from that 2 meter area. 

In a real shooting scenario you would move out of the bush or hide, step out from behind the tree when you sent your dog so you can now see your dog working (not always but if the scenario was correct you would do it). 

I have personally never handled a dog out of sight from behind an obstacle of cover or terrain.

I have sent a dog from out of sight then moved into a position so I could help the dog if required. To obstruct a handler from helping the dog in this way, I would say is not within the spirit of the rules for competition and it is not really testing the dog or handler correctly.

It is only teaching your dog a bad habit, setting you up to fail, or handle your way out, box around the problem and not tackle the obstacle or take it on directly, because you are going to play it safe! You would not be afforded that luxury if you were out shooting but you would be able to make a decision about where you stood and you could move.

15.    This brings me onto a very crucial point in our trials: it can be a great advantage watching other dogs run and observe the pit falls of that run, then come up with a contingency plan of your own on how to tackle that run. Surely for it to be a true “ambit of equality”, once shown the run you retire to a hide to wait your turn, so you do not have an advantage over any other competitor by being able to observe the run again prior to you competing.

16.    You do not normally pay good money to travel around Australia, to run in trials and go out on the first run of the day and not finish the competition by not being allowed to be in sight of your dog so you couldn’t help it. 

Most serious trialers are the ones that travel and put a lot of time and preparation into training their dogs. 

Most of us are training all year, and prior to the championship put in extra training to ensure our dogs are in the best possible shape and fully prepared in all aspects for the championships. Eventually the newbies and frustrated trialers walk away because they are not getting a return for their investment, as you cannot train for tricks! 

This is neither helpful, nor productive in a minority self-funded volunteer sport, and as a consequence of that type of behaviour certainly will mortgage our future.

17.    I am also disappointed to note that some competitors do not play the game. I have seen competitors blatantly come out of the hide early, so their dog can watch a blind being placed out and casually stroll to the CP whilst whispering to their dog, “watch” or “dead bird”. Wives and partners take the dog for a walk when the run is about to commence and blinds are being placed out in the field.

The other one is leaving the dog hanging out of the back of the ute watching everything.

I have also noted at different competitions the practicing or rehearsing a concept at the rear of the vehicles behind the run.. why? 

You would not have that opportunity in a real shoot, so why is this allowed? 

Why do people turn a blind eye to this type of behaviour? Yes, I have reported it several times to trial manager’s and the judge but to no avail. Surely this is not fair and then is it really a true test for the blind, or is it just a memory test, is it a true test of the concept that is understood by the dog?

The work of each dog within an ambit of equality where assessment may be fairly made.

18.    So is this now a fair assessment of dog work? 

Is this really good dog work and being fair and honest, is this being reflected or do the competitors also need to be refreshed about the rules of gamesmanship? 

I cringe when I see comments on social media about great dog work and “what a clever dog”… when to be fair and honest the dog watched the blind being placed out.

I really would question the integrity of some of my fellow competitors because as a judge; you cannot be responsible for everything and have eyes in the back of your head.

Both stewards and trial managers must take a degree of responsibility and reinforce what is correct and appropriate behaviour. Perhaps if the trial manager was a little more cognisant of their surroundings and helped the judge a lot more they could park the cars in a more appropriate area and if required walk a little to the run area. Most judges will orchestrate hides on route to the run, and if not, it is common practice you do not move up until all shots have been fired and that there is an appropriate station for you and your dog to stay behind whilst the run is being set.

19.    In the ANKC Rules for Retrieving Trials (para 77 sub-para b states the following: Competing dogs shall be kept in a marshalling area from which they cannot see the retrieves in progress. Why is this not enforced?

20.    Marking: I hear time and time again, ‘where have all the good marking dogs gone: there are none’! Some of the more seasoned judges are very vocal about this.  I cannot comment on what happened twenty or thirty years ago, I can only observe what is happening now. This year I have personally competed in only four trials with great marking tests. For a judge to set a triple mark or any mark is an art within itself. Some judges are trailblazers at this; others struggle to give the dog a clear mark and for the dog to present itself and demonstrate it can clearly mark, judge depth, understands selection and have a great memory. If we want to see great marking dogs then may I suggest that where possible we use the criteria in para 26, which states the following?

For any mark retrieve the dog should be able to see a bird in the air and as it falls and where possible the cast bird should break open the skyline when viewed by the dog.

In conjunction with para 19 and para 8 sub-para: r:

21.    If judges insist on putting on a marking test where you see a half mark from behind a tree that your dog can’t follow all the way to the ground, or a mark thrown directly toward you or going away without much of an angle followed by another two similar marks; at similar distances with very pinched angles against a light or dark cast background, there is a very good chance that your dog will indeed miss one of those marks. Setting a marking test against a wooded background does not work. If you want to see a dog mark then present them a good marking test, not something that is half out of sight from the dog. If you can’t guarantee exactly where that bird is going to land in thick cover and will be equal for all dogs, is this a fair test? I have seen different size birds used in the same test that are landing twenty five meters away from the test bird in a totally different area to what had been shown on the test run. Is this honest and fair for every dog, is this then the same marking test? I would suggest not, especially if someone gets a nice white bird that is laid out in the open for it to see as it comes into the area of the fall.

22.    The Draw: Why do some judges or clubs in other States do a rotational draw for each run and in Victoria we do not? 

When running as dog number one, all competition and being first to start the run on each leg is a very unfair disadvantage on the more technical levels of competition, i.e. Restricted and All Age.

Surely for it to be fair we should all be shown the run once and then retire to the hide with our dogs and not see the run again until we are called forward by the steward: that way it would not matter what number you were drawn. The only advantage a handler would have is if you were running multiple dogs in the same competition. If you were out shooting you would not be able to see the pit falls your dog may encounter when you send them for a retrieve: you would not have the luxury of what type of run you were going to get when you shot a sequence of birds in the wild.

The way Ahead

23.    My proposal is two-fold: I would like to see some further training and development in a more generic approach to run setting and refresher training to be presented about the use of the full spectrum of the sixty-point scoring system, as stated in ANKC Rules for Retriever Trials. Just like in all walks of life, we never stop learning or training to improve on what we do, including our dog training. I feel we now have the technology where we could run a minimum of two judge training seminars a year, using a video link up with the State governing dog bodies, and if not we could go private. 

24.    I would like to suggest all judges attend a minimum of one seminar a year to remain current and in particular if they are not now running a dog, or are running a dog at that level of competition they intend to judge the following year, they should attend both and be mentored by a more current judge.

This should be registered and recorded and delivered back to the Governing State body for a current qualified judge. Throughout our working lives we all receive refresher training and updated information, changes in work practices, etc professionals (e.g. doctors, lawyers, WHS officers, physios) have to earn a number of credits per year to remain registered so why when we do qualify as a judge does it have to stop there?

We already have a judge mentoring system in place: what harm could it do to do refresher training and most importantly discuss moderation and the way ahead to set best practice when we are judging? As human nature suggests we all become complacent in things we are comfortable with. I would also like to see more enforcement of the rules for competitors if required and for them to be reminded of them at trials by the Trial Manager. I’m accountable to that judge why is the judge not accountable to me in their current practice? I want to feel comfortable that the judge is going to be fair and foremost with every dog in his/her run setting and try where possible to deliver runs that will reflect best practice all over the country, not their own personal choice in what they perceive to be a test for gundogs.

Note: There does not appear to be any moderation training in the country apart from the trainee judge scheme.

25.    Trial Managers:  There should be a suitably appointed trial manager at the correctly-appointed level and with experience to be able to deal with an issue at that level of competition and to assist and help the judges. 

In addition they personally perform a physical check of the runs on the day of the trial and work with the judge if a run is unlikely to not work. Then come up with an amicable solution and compromise. This trial manager should be the judge’s sounding board and confidant. The trial manager does not need to be a judge but someone who is a competent dog handler at that level of competition or has been in the past. 

At the end of the trial, the trial manager should fill in a standard form as suggested in Annex A, to be submitted back to the local RAFT chair, and used in further development of judging and training. This would also serve as a tool for collection of statistics, and information showing the current fashion and style of runs being set and used around the country.

This would help maintain continuity and consistency in judging in different States and be used as a measure or gauge in either the difficulty and technicality, or if indeed a pattern is being set on gundog testing criteria when setting competition runs.

This could also be stored in preparation of either rewrites or an amendment to the rules.

An individual trial manager for each competition or a designated steward at each level of competition who is not running a dog can help with moving dogs up to compete, correct car parking and policing that competitors are being fair and playing the game, respecting the rules of retrieving trials.

26.    In general Rules for the Conduct of Retrieving Trials stated in ‘rule 67’ most of the above occurs, this just needs some timely reinforcement.

27.    Judges still require the latitude in their favour of setting runs but they should take care and consideration for all jundog attributes by using the full gambit of judging tools. These should be considered first and foremost in particular as to why we have a dog when we go hunting! To find game, recover wounded game that we would not ordinarily be able to find, locate or recover and therefore would be lost for the table.

28.    Trial Season: I personally think being able to trial your dog for eleven months of the year is far too long. I would like to see a shorter season ran in the colder months from April to September building up to the States, running and starting in July no more than two a month and culminating with the National and lead up State finishing in September using the National as the last competition of the year. I think if we could run simulated trials either side for two or three months prior to the start of the season and use that as a tool to introduce newbies to the sport. Use it for training and running low-level competitions in preparation of the main event commencing. This would save on costs funded for game, allow clubs to consolidate themselves and most importantly help new people into the sport by a gradual introduction of learning and low level confirmatory competitions. You could still award a certificate and ribbon but not a qualification as all tests would use training dummies. Train people to help as stewards, throwers, and trial managers, do judging upgrading, train new judges and moderation training as required.

29.    Electronic scoring: We live in an advancing techno age; if we want to attract younger people we must bring our scoring system into the next century. Dog shows and working shows (sheepdog trials) all use electronic scoring, why can’t we it’s instant! People can see what’s happening and they can relate to that score as events unfold on the run. I recently requested this be made available at RAFT for Championships so we have transparency of scores. This never occurred: I have since been informed it’s up to individuals (judges, trial managers) if they would like to do it. I have also been informed that it is unpopular with the older generation of judges: why? Surely we have nothing to hide: it’s just like writing on a paper form but electronically which is instant and can be placed onto a master scoreboard immediately:-  it would reflect what just occurred. It would also be helpful for the competitor to learn from their mistakes or be realistic in what just happened as it was transparent and if it did not occur and a judge had made a mistake it could be corrected instantly.

Para 95: States the following: As a minimum at the conclusion of the presentation of trophies, the run by run scores of all dogs completing the trial shall be made available.

When was the last time that occurred? I personally have never experienced it in the last eight years of trialling in Australia.

30.    Competitors are very reticent to ask a judge to show them their individual scores in case they offend the judge and don’t want to come across that they are questioning the judge’s decision. This way there would be no confrontation, unless judges have something they do not want to display for a reason. What is up with accountability: just like when I am running under the Judge I am accountable so,why can’t the judge be transparent in what they are doing?

31.    Championship Competitions: In addition to using the trial manager as a sounding board when setting runs it would be useful to see the introduction of a two- judging system. I feel if this was introduced it would help prevent runs from failing and large amounts of competitors going out on the first run of a Championship. 

It would also help, if required to quickly change a run when the natural conditions affected by the elements on the day had changed.

In addition to the two appointed co-judging and an appointed “Master Judge” this can be the reserve judge for the competition preferably a RAFT Chair and themselves an able Championship judge to oversee the competition and all championships runs to remain neutral and if required the deciding vote if a run once proofed needs to be reset.

32.    Co-judging:  As mentioned above all State Championships would require two judges and a reserve judge, to co-judge each run throughout the competition, scores to be added together and divided by two, (the national a similar system) except, on day one for the first two runs, both judges will judge separately depending on the number of competitors competing, with the reserve “Master Judge” to act as adjudicator, in case there is a problem or the run is not working. Then from day two until the competition is completed all the remaining runs would be set and co-judge together. With what I have witnessed, I would say this is already happening as when setting a championship most judges will get a fellow judge to assist and check that run and sound out the trial manager too. This would confirm the above and make it official.

33.    National: This is a contentious issue and is only one competition a year, but the most important one and as a fellow competitor without a doubt it’s the one you would like to win in a lifetime if you can.

I really struggled this year coming to terms with what seems to be a regular occurring theme when running in Nationals.

I personally went out of the National on the second run when I could not see my dog all the way to the blind; my dog hooked around and collected the wrong bird.

Should my dog have ignored all his natural instincts when I sent him for that centre bird and when he winded it on the way out to maintain his line to the blind? Ideally, and probably yes of course he should have. In addition to that, had we been allowed to move as competitors out of the hide/FP, I could have seen what he was about to do; I could have stopped him and directed him onto the correct bird.

Quote: Para 28, On Blind retrieves, where possible, the course should be planned in such a way that the advantage is taken of all natural hazards. It should be possible, at least in theory, for a dog to find a well-planned Blind Find Retrieve on the initial line from the handler. The test should be so planned that the dog should be in sight at least until directed into the area of the fall, as a blind retrieve is a test of control and a dog that is out of sight for a considerable period of time cannot be said to be under control.

34.    Just like last year’s National where 50% of the field was lost on the first day over two runs. I would ask therefore, are you really getting the best dog in the country crowned as the National winner or is it a dog that has been handled to success and survived? If that is the case it really goes against the rules of competition that we are currently using. Without sounding like a broken record, if you do not run multiple dogs then is this really a true test of  “an ambit of equality where assessment may be fairly made” ? Because the multiple dog handler has now scored a great advantage by effectively doing that run again and again with a different dog!

35.    National Qualification: Maybe now is the time if we are going to do an extensive review of the rules and regulations of the conduct of retrieving trials that we introduce a rule of a qualification to be able to run in the National. That is, you must requalify every year to compete in the National, by winning say two All Ages. This would benefit all involved in the sport, by encouraging trialers to support interstate competitions more regularly. It would also encourage trainers to concentrate on training and polishing their dogs, it would likely-reduce-in-the size of the field by at least 40% for the National-which would make the logistics and organisation/running of the competition a lot more realistic, giving the judges a lot more time to set runs that would reflect a true field of quality dogs who have already proven themselves consistently that year. Not a dog that has won a restricted competition. Most importantly it would encourage judges to be more cognisant and careful when selecting their runs throughout the year with a great deal of forethought and deliberation, when they know they are accountable as people are looking at qualifying their dogs for the National and not just looking for a title.

Run setting and Evaluation Examples

36.    I have witnessed and competed in some great trials this year. My hat goes off to the majority of the hard working Judges who have put in their own time, personal expense and effort to make that competition happen. 

I have witnessed some great examples of shooting scenario-based runs using every piece of ground, natural element, cover and consideration of the wind/sun where possible, and some not so.

37.    Judges’ own rules: Do we now need to do a total rewrite of the above reference or do we accept it? Do we keep eroding what we are doing with our interpretation of the rules? Or do we take stock and do something about the position we are currently in. We have talented dog trainers who are not getting a return for the investment training that they are putting into their dogs. We need to ask the judges to revisit some of the criteria that is required of a gundog when setting runs, to afford the competitor every opportunity that is available to succeed when trialling.

38.    This year I received a zero score on a particular run where my dog returned to my side after I sent him, because the dog thought I had not sent him. Why? The dog made a mistake. There is nothing in the rules to say a dog cannot return to your side.  There was certainly no advantage for me to gain as a competitor to resend my dog again.

In a real shooting situation you would just resend your dog. This again is a judge’s own interpretation of the rules.

39.    I have also experienced a trial that failed because of weather elements, where clearly a lot of time, thought and effort had gone into setting those runs. I have also competed in some poorly set runs: ones with very little forethought to good dog work and what could happen. However, with a little help a slight change could have worked really well if the judge had consulted someone or put a capable dog over the run beforehand and changed part of that run.

Some examples of runs that did not work:

a.    I took part in an All Age where the second run was a double mark and a blind; the blind was up the middle of the two marks and diagonally across several water inlets. Fifteen dogs were in that competition including some very seasoned All Age dogs, a real quality field including Gr Rt Ch’s and past State Ch’s winners: the majority of dogs were Rt Ch’s. Out of that field one dog completed the run, with over sixty five commands on the blind alone, the run took over twenty minutes to complete. That individual went on to win the trial, whom I saw practicing the concept at the rear of the vehicles in the water prior to him running his dog! This was after the judge informed us not to do this. I spoke to that competitor and explained he was out of order and I would inform the judge which I did. No action was taken. A very respected seasoned Championship judge said to me that day “that was the hardest blind he had ever experienced in retrieving trials in thirty two years”. I would say that run did not work.

b.    Another trial I took part in was a double mark and double fall, with relocation, down the side of a hill at max distance of twenty meters to shoot the second mark, but you could not see your dog to the area of the fall after you relocated and it was therefore a disadvantage. Sequence: shoot the first mark and relocate, you shot another mark across the creek line in the opposite direction, turned your dog and sent him for the first mark. The line now to that first mark was up the creek line, twenty meters off line once your dog left you; if the dog took the line it went out of sight because it was in the creek. A double fall went off, but if your dog was on line it went over the dog’s head. Some handlers sent their dogs up the hill back towards the first FP where you shot the bird, and hooked them right and they were now above the fall. It became very messy and confusing for the dog; granted the judge left you to handle your dog into the right spot to collect the mark this, however went against the rules about relocation and being able to observe your dog to the mark and into the area of the fall. We lost some dogs and no dog completed it cleanly. I would say that run did not work.

Rule 32 states the following: The relocated Firing Point should not unduly disadvantage the dog or handler and the area of the fall must remain able to be observed by both dog and handler from the new firing point.

c.    Another trial I took part in the third run was a single mark of around 70 meters, through a creek line with a tiny bit of paddling water in the middle and a dead gum tree laid across the path of the mark, with a two bird on the way back. The Sequence; shoot the mark,send your dog, as your dog was returning a thirty meter, two bird went off in the front of your dog. Some had a little variety in where they landed and where the dog was when released and we had a couple of bad birds too, but it was a simple concept: all dogs got it. It was extremely doable, it was hardly a test for water as all dogs ran down the side and ran around-it was so small and only inches deep in parts, you could not make any points on the run because technically it wasn’t difficult you could only lose points. It wasn’t a hard test for marking, it wasn’t a water test either and it wasn’t a great test for memory and marking the fall, as it was thirty meters away and your dog could see it in most cases on the ground from the FP.

d.    The final example of a run I would like to mention is another trial I took part in where you shot a double rise and a swimming blind! Sequence; shoot the double rise, send your dog, collect the mark then collect the rise part. As your dog was returning down hill you shot across the flowing river to the right of you. When your dog stopped and your dog delivered the bird a steward up stream threw a bird into the water. You had to turn and send your dog out into the water whilst looking for the bird travelling downstream. Some birds went a little faster in the current some dogs swam so fast they were across the river and were out on the other bank. Some handlers missed the bird as it floated past. Some dogs did not get into the water quick enough and missed the bird also as it went by in the flow of the river and ended up around a corner of an island and was lost in the current. We lost some dogs on this it wasn’t a great blind as you can imagine, as you had to handle your dog quickly and move them around until they spotted the floating bird. It certainly was not equal for all dogs so I would state that this run did not work.

All the above are examples of where moderation training would help in run setting. 

40.    I have left a competition frustrated time and time again knowing I could have achieved a better score, had the double fall or two bird been released at the appropriate time and judges were more cognisant in briefing the steward or had better communication or used a crossing line window to suit all speeds of all dogs.

To be told my dog was too fast for the run is pretty dismal when you have an exceptionally focused dog that thrives on that type of concept. I personally enjoy both concepts but it must be fair for all dogs including fast and slow.

41.    The difference in run setting, technicality, hardness, how much water or cover used is vast across all states-is purely down to the judge.

No level playing field across the States can be gauged by individual judges but we could help ourselves by applying the basic principles as stated in the “Rules for the Conduct of Retrieving Trials for Gundogs” and not our own interpretation of those rules. I don’t expect the runs to be made easy but I do expect the runs to be equal and to give both the dog and handler a good honest competition where we test the dog using all the pre-requisite gambits suggested in the ANKC Retrieving Trial rules as referenced. This would be helped by doing moderation training and learning from best practice. I also expect the competitors to be honest. It is awful to suggest we may need to police the trial ground more appropriately.

42.    Recently it was pointed out to me that I was being pinged for double handling with my whistle! I tend to use my whistle instead of my voice, so if I blew once it means stop, a fairly standard exercise I believe as most dogs are trained that way. If I blow again after I have stopped my dog and give another quick succession of ‘toot, toot’, that means come in: it’s not a case of double handling. What is the difference with someone doing the same but using their voice or giving a silent cast or over? It’s one command: you must first stop your dog for you to be able to handle, just because I may do things slightly different does not mean it is wrong. It was always frowned upon shouting at your dog and using your voice in the shooting field where there is live game as you could disturb it. So are we now saying we must handle a dog to suit a judge’s perception on signals? I can’t train my dog to suit every judge’s personal preferences. I really would like to see what constitutes one command and what is a double command. Just like when my dog reaches the area of a fall on a blind I use a hunt whistle, please explain the difference to stopping your dog and shouting, ‘find it, find it’ or ‘there, there’!

43.    Allocation of Points: Para 94 in Rules for the Conduct of Retrieving Trials does not mention anything about judges making assumptions on what they feel is a misdemeanour or a demerit which would award a penalty of negative judging.

Maybe this rule needs an extensive review as it does not reflect to what is occurring.

Para 94 states the following: The principle points to be considered by the Judge in assessing the merits of performances in competitive work shall be the ability to mark, sagacity, and use of nose, steadiness, dash, perseverance, attention, control, courage, style, retrieving and cleanliness of delivery. Retrieving to which supreme importance must be accorded, should be with tender mouth and right up to hand. The dog must not injure game, retrieve decoys, drop the game, or retrieve without being ordered to do so. Points shall be allocated for each retrieve.

44.    Certainly this should not be the judge’s own personal opinion on what a Gundog should be capable of or able to do, or how a handler handles their dog and the way they have been trained to respond to commands, judges should not personally penalise someone because they handle a dog different to themselves or others. Clarification on this issue would be helpful in negative scoring and if moderation training were embraced it would help clear up this type of thing; and stop causing confusion from judges making up their own opinion on the day, and awarding their own version of a penalty because they did not understand what was happening. Alternatively we look at developing a new para in the ANKC Rules for Retrieving Trials called ‘Handling and the standard commands to be used.’

45.    Why do some judges use a clicker for counting commands and not an assessment of the run using the full spectrum of the sixty point criteria? Surely if the entire gambit of work and the run was taken into consideration this is a very unrealistic way of scoring as in theory if you did not use many commands you could score very highly-even though your dog did not perform particularly well on the day.

46.    I believe an overhaul of the current rules and interpretation of them is a must for us to continue in a sport that is not seeing our younger generation follow through. We must change for the better and moderation is certainly a start in that direction which will help both competitors and judges in all States and by presenting a united front and delivering an even playing field-running in one State under a judge to another State should be no different. Surely we should be working in harmony as a whole. Moderation training would identify, discuss and workshop best practices in instruction, assessment and supervision. The moderation activity would incorporate examples of performance that all participants are required to assess, with a view to discussing their assessment decisions and re-calibrating their ratings where necessary. At a minimum, assessors would be required to participate in moderation activities twice annually.

47.    I have a plethora of suggestions and ideas on how we can do this and I am willing to assist in any capacity to help preserve the sport for the future, but unless we are prepared to change then it will not get any better and will eventually fall away as we will.


48.    My preparation for this year’s trialling could not have been better. Occasionally I got it wrong and so did my dog and occasionally we were both wrong on the day. 

I cannot train for an unrealistic situation and runs designed to catch us both out, I only know how to train a gundog to use all its natural hunting and game finding ability within the pre-set rules and regulations.

49.    Alternatively, do we now need another sport for gundogs? Where we train them to run long lines over various obstacles and ignore all the built-in acumen of a gundog; why they have existed and have co-habited with man; and what they have been used for during the last centuries when hunting?

50.    I would welcome further discussion on this vast subject. I do believe we have a fantastic set of rules for retreiving trialling. That are clearly tried and tested and in corporated in those rules is an example of everything I have discussed, some of the criteria and interpretation of those rules requires little or no modification only slight refinement and timely reinforcement.

51.    What appears to be amiss is the interperation of those rules incorporated with run setting and scoring; this I believe is where we need some work with clarifacation and refinement. I believe there is nothing wrong with the model we are using but there is certainly scope to improve the way we judge by using a moderation activity which would help everybody taking part in the sport.

52.    Accountability: We are accountable in all walks of life, I have certainly experienced a sense of discontentment over the last few years within the sport and would welcome modernisation accountability in both run setting and scoring. Rather than sit back and become frustrated I would be keen to volunteer my services and develop best practice on how we could do this. Judges, trial managers, stewards, secretaries, committees and competititors need to be accountable and purposeful for their actions just like I am accountable to the judge when I slip my lead from my dog. I would like to invite all triallers past and present to discuss this vast subject further in developing a ‘way ahead for the future’.

53.    Recommendations:

a.    We hold regular judge’s seminars and discuss moderation in run setting, judging and scoring.
b.    If 50% of the field or remaining has failed that run; the run is declared as not working, it is changed and re-started.
c.    Clubs and the appointed trial manager assist the judge and carry out that appointment in a dutiful manner.
d.    Competitors refresh themselves on the Rules of Retriever Trials and are more sportsmen-like in their gamesmanship.

e.    That all judges allocate and use the same weight bearing system when awarding or deducting scores, as reflected in the suggested template in ANKC. Not their own personal scoring system.

KE Britton

1132 Schoolhouse Lane, Ladys Pass, Vic 3523

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