In November 2014, Åsa and I (Elsa) were in England to take a look at a field trail. We walked in the line as game carriers and had almost the best spots. (The dogs that were not competing right at that moment and other audience walked in a group a little further back, in the so called gallery). Primarily pheasants and partridges were shot during this hunt. Sixteen dogs took part in the trial that day. There were four judges in total. The judges may be on different levels of education: A Panel, B Panel, or non-Panel. There must always be at least one judges with the A panel-level on the trial.
When it is time for the judges to assess the dog’s work two dogs go to one pair of judges and two other dogs go to the other pair of judges (dogs number 1-4 were first). The dogs have to fetch two marked retrieves each and be approved by the judges. If they are not approved they have to go back to the gallery at once and take off their number bib. If they are approved on both marked retrieves, they go back to the gallery and remain there until everybody has done their first round. After that, everybody who is approved will be assessed when they do one more marked retrieve, but this time by the other pair of judges. Those who after that still remain in the competition have to fetch two more retrieves each. After that the judges confer and appoints a winner (if there are any dogs left at that point and if they think that there is a dog that is a worthy winner).
All retrieves are graded A, A+, A dot up, A dot down, A-, A, and B. You don’t want to get a B because then you can’t win. A+ means that the dog did something exceptionally good, such as finding a runner, i.e. a wounded bird that ran away or a bird that another dog failed to find. A dot up means that the dog did something good, dot down that the dog did something not so good, and the A means that the dog did something slightly less good than dot down (the exact difference between plus and dot up as well as minus and dot down wasn’t totally clear to me).
There were a couple of other terms that they also used: “eye-wipe” and “first dog down”. Eye-wipe means that the dog is out because she failed to find a retrieve that another dog or the judges did find. Today’s third retrieve was like that. We stood together with dog 3 and 4. Dog number 3 was sent 20 yards ahead through a couple of ferns and out on a field. Dog number 4 was sent down a hill, over a wall that was more three yards high, and up a hill. Dog number 4 ran over the wall, but didn’t manage to find the right area, and was called back instead. Then dog number 3 was sent in the same direction, but she didn’t find it either (even though she managed to climb over the wall in the end). The judges then asked dog number 1 and number 2 to try, and they were sent one at the time. None of them, however, managed to climb the wall. Then the judges climbed the wall (with some difficulty, it was like I said earlier, a rather high wall) and found the bird, and therefore all four dogs were out of the completion. The difficulty of the retrieves varied a lot, and it was very challenging.
First dog down means that if dog number 1 fails to fetch a retrieve, then dog number 2 also fails, and then the judges don’t find the bird either, dog number 1 can be out anyway because she had the best chance to find the game. (However, if the judges had found the bird both dogs would have been out anyway.)
The line moved forward so that the game was flushed. When the birds flew up the whole line stopped so that the shooters (guns) could shoot. When they were done the dogs were sent to fetch the game, and when all the birds hade been retrieved (it was usually between two and four birds every time) everybody in the line started to walk again.
Today’s winner did a very impressive job. It was dog number 3 who won on a runner. Both dog number 1 and dog number 2 worked long and very hard, but didn’t retrieve the bird. The handler sent dog number 3 to the place where the bird had landed, and told her to start searching. The dog searched for the bird, and then started to follow a trail about 100-150 yards to the left, where the dog then found the bird. We almost got goose bumps, it was so great to see!
There are two different classes of field trial; novice and open. In order to start in the open class the dog must have won novice class once. It was the novice class that we were watching, but that doesn’t mean that the dogs were not well educated. We were very impressed with both their heelwork and their steadiness. Not one dog ran off to retrieve without a cue all day and all the dogs just walked at the handler’s side. Even if we did have a clear picture of our goal for our heelwork before, it is even clearer now.
In summary, we had a great day and would love to go back to England again and watch other field trials. If you have the opportunity to go to England then you should, you will learn a lot! And finally, a big thank you to Patrick Rose for inviting us and giving us this great opportunity!