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Gundog training competitions - where to start

PUBLISHED: 14:40 10 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:40 10 September 2018

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Are you new to gundog training and looking to gain some experience in working your dog? Local scurries are perfect for beginners, writes trainer Ryan Kay

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I’ve seen quite a few advertised here and there: local scurries, charity retrieving events, fun retrieving days. If you’re new to the gundog world, but are keen to learn more, these events are perfect. Everyone has to start somewhere, and many of us enter the gundog world via the shooting side of things. But I think that the hardest route in often comes from getting the dog first and then deciding to venture into the world of working gundogs and shooting.

To be honest, the majority of my customers come via the latter route. There’s suddenly quite a lot to learn and it can be a little daunting – and sometimes a tad intimidating when faced with not only learning about how to train a gundog but also how that fits into what will also be a new pasttime for the handler.

After those initial steps have been made to start the dog training journey, there comes a point when you may want to see where you are with it all – just how far you’ve progressed since that puppy purchase, a little test outside of your comfort zone perhaps!! Well, a fun retrieving day or scurry will help you enormously and will undoubtedly be another transitional step forward.

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Off to a Test

Early June, I went along to a local event, held at Everingham Park in Yorkshire by kind permission of Mr and Mrs Guest. Bev Etherington and Jane Hanshaw of Wolds Gundog Academy put together two well-planned tests, open to one and all, and of any standard. They also arranged a companion dog show alongside. Anyone could turn up on the day and have a go at the retrieving challenges laid out in the fabulous grounds.

If you’re wondering where to start in the gundog world, this is the kind of event for you. Even if you don’t yet have a dog, you can learn a lot by simply being there.

There’s often a terminology conflict or misunderstanding on what folk call either scurries or Working Tests. At Everingham, there were two types of retrieving elements available.

The first was a timed scurry: a seen retrieve and a blind, both against the clock with a few distractions thrown in on the course.

The second was a selection of three static tests, spread out across the park, each attended by a very helpful and experienced judge. These were more in line with a retriever Working Test.

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Judges based it on a ‘no fail’ ethos. This meant that everyone who turned up to have a go would be encouraged to complete the tasks no matter what. I really liked this idea, and it’s just what a beginner should be experiencing.

The water test was a simple retrieve off the water, just 10 yards out, with a maximum of 25 points for the perfect retrieve. Many dropped the dummy coming out of the water, and some even struggled to actually enter the water, but it didn’t matter, this day was about achieving on some scale no matter how small. And that attitude was the same when I visited judge Jane Hanshaw at her adjudicated scenario.

A seen retrieve was thrown out at about 50 yards, landing at the edge of some rough cover, followed by a blind off at 90° laid at the base of a small tree. There were many dogs completing the tasks very well, but probably a higher percentage struggling to finish. That’s where Jane would kick in with advice and encouragement, often taking the handler closer in, so they were able to guide and assist their dog a little further.

The judges consistently gave feedback to every handler, offering training methods and tips along the way. Not only was everybody getting a day out, but they were getting free tuition as they went along.

The third retrieving task was judged by HPR man John Naylor. John’s test involved a memory retrieve with an added heeling task, before turning and sending the dog back for the dummy.

Again, I could hear words of encouragement from John, making it all clear to the undoubtedly nervous first-timer. He would go through everything twice to ascertain that the handler understood. At the end of the task, John also gave valuable feedback so the handler could improve on what they’d done. And that definitely seemed to work as everyone was given the chance to have as many goes as they wished on each element. The dogs then grew in confidence as the day progressed, as did their owners.

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Don’t get me wrong, some of these occasions can be quite competitive, but generally speaking they’re a chance to gently test your dog in a more relaxed situation and without the pressure often experienced in a strict test or trial – plus, it’s an opportunity to learn a little in the process. Both the timed scurry and the tests brought cash rewards and a trophy up for grabs, plus rosettes to fourth place.

It was a very warm day and, to be honest, too much retrieving in the heat isn’t really a good option, but retrieving with water involved is much more appealing. If you have the choice at these events, my advice is to head straight to the water element first, then once completed, try and keep your dog in the shade while waiting at the next element. Then perhaps another dip at the end if you can.

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Variety of breeds

What I found encouraging on the day was the variety of different breeds having a go. I spotted the usual Labradors, springers and cockers, but there were also Clumbers, German short-haired pointers, a flat-coated retriever and even a Slovakian rough-haired pointer from the HPR sub-group. The latter was grey-roan in colour – I’d only seen the solid grey before, so this striking lass really caught my eye. It was interesting to see how she went about the task differently to the spaniel that had preceded her, arriving at the area of the seen dummy head aloft as she carefully air-scented before successfully picking it.

The eventual winner of the retrieving tasks was Maureen Johnson’s Hungarian wire-haired vizsla. In the warmth of the sun, it needed a methodical, sensible approach, and the vizsla did well to stay focused on the area of the retrieve, rather than waste energy hunting in all directions.

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