Tassla and I started in a Beginner’s trial (B) for spaniels a couple of years ago and I thought I’d share that experience with you.
Beginner’s trial (B) is the easiest trial there is for spaniels and the purpose is to judge the dog’s ”spaniel qualities”. When it comes to field trials for spaniels, you can skip the two beginner’s classes (B and A). If you have passed the Water test you can go straight to Open class where game is flushed and shot.
In beginner’s test B the dog’s hunting skills is tested, but there’s no game flushed. After a shot, a dummy or bird is thrown for the dog to retrieve. The dog hunts for roughly 15 minutes, and two or three more dummies are thrown.
So some people choose to skip the Beginner’s trials, but if you’re a rookie or if you just want to see what your dog is like (and how well you’ve succeeded with your training thus far), I think these trials are a very good idea. They can be goals on the way towards the more difficult Open class, or your goal might simply be to do this trial in order to see how your dog works with the foundation skills for hunting and get its qualities judged.
I wanted to start in Beginner’s to see how well Tassla’s training was going so far. You are judged on ten different parts and you can get a maximum of five points in each, making the perfect score 50 points. You are judged on:
- Hunting skills/desire to work
- Hunting/quatering and hunt pattern
- Speed and style
- Biddability and cooperation
- Reaction to shots
- Marking skills
- Desire to retrieve
- Hold when retrieving
- General conduct
Alexandra and charming Polly travelled all the way from Öland. Well worth it – because they passed!
I felt pretty calm but very expectant before this trial. My trialling experience tells me that a trail lets you know exactly what your weak links are. With the added difficulties of a new and bustling environment or the behaviour of a nervous handler, something always happens to the dog’s skills.
The only thing that actually worried me was if we would have to walk behind the dogs that were hunting for a long time. I know that Tassla finds it challenging to watch other dogs work. She’s also showed a negative reaction to shots in that kind of situation and it would be a severe setback if she were affected negatively by the situation.
I was relieved to see that only three dogs at a time waited their turn. It was also quite difficult to see the working team because of the terrain.
The trial was arranged by Springerklubben Väst and took place in Varberg. The judge, Roger Marklund, was great. He was very clear and kind, and gave the impression to want the best for everyone. He calmed everyone down by opening by saying that he knew how nervous a trial could make you feel. There were 18 (!) dogs entered in the trial and 17 showed up. We were team number 14 and after over seven (!!!) hours of waiting, it was finally our turn…
Tassla felt calm and focused, but happy and alert. She wasn’t negatively affected by the environment and she seemed to have rested well in the car – she spent most of the day in there, waiting.
The ground we got to cover really wasn’t a walk in the park! We hunted in four different types of terrain and most of it was really taxing on the dog’s conditioning. We were also hunting in a quite strong tailwind.
For the first stretch we hunted along a river, in knee high grass (ouch, my knees!) down a slope and along the edges of a stubble field. That was the easy part… Pretty soon we were moved to a small ridge with steep slopes and a kind of reed grass that reached up to my belly… At times that grass was impenetrable for Tassla and she kind of had to overturn it to be able to move ahead. Pretty hard for someone in her size. I fell once because it was so hard to move around.
Our first retrieve was already in the ”simple” grass. Tassla showed steadiness and sat down immediately when the shot fell. She retrieved well and her delivery was really great.
After having made our way through the reed, we were moved down to the stubble and hunt along the edge of it. The judge wanted me to make sure that she moved out into the field, so we did that. I’m ever so pleased by how Tassla worked in the tailwind. She got some distance, turned and hunted her way back towards me. She worked just the way they are supposed to in tailwind, and it was a joy to watch.
Our second retrieve took place in the stubble. Tassla looked like she was about to run in, so I whistled twice to be safe. Note to self: Tassla looked like she was about to run in both times the dummies were thrown into the field, she took a couple of steps. She was steady after that, although just half sitting down.
The beautiful spaniel Timja performed excellently and passed. She too came from afar with her owner Karin. They live in Örnsköldsvik.
The retrieve went well and we then continued hunting in the steep slope (uphill) along the field. The judge wanted me to get her to go a lot deeper, meaning up the slope and through the shrubbery. He asked for this when we were standing in front of quite a stretch of blackberry bramble.
”Sure”, I said and tried to look like a was trying to get Tassla to go deeper into the bramble, but then ran quickly past it – about 15 metres ahead – so that Tassla wouldn’t have to run into all those thorns… When the terrain had opened up a bit I asked her to go deeper, but she was really tired at this point and didn’t go that deep.
But she kept going! My fantastic dog! For the final retrieve, she only sat half way down again at the whistle, and I got the chance to properly cue her to sit. When she then focused on me, I gave her the cue to retrieve.
Here’s a short summary in video form, showing mostly the three retrieves. Thanks to Marie for filming!
I’m so happy with everything! Sure, I can find stuff to improve, but this was really positive feedback on my training when it comes to the parts of the retrieve, shots, steadiness and hunting. Tassla has never worked in terrain this difficult, never hunted for periods as long as these – and on top of that, in tailwind and with so many distractions. And everything was up to the test! I’M SO PLEASED!!!
We got a lot of praise in the feedback afterwards. The negative feedback was that I couldn’t get her to run deep enough in the shrubbery. I guess the reason for that feedback was me trying to sneak away from the brambles…. But I also know that Tassla can hunt a bit short because she’s really paying attention to me and doesn’t want to go too far. Well, I know that’s not a problem when we get to grounds with game. She’s really interested in game and has no problem what so ever letting go of me in those situations… hrm. Don’t think I need to ponder that one too much.
To the left: Carolina Bohman (one of the organizers from Springer Väst) with her dog Lisa. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the black beauty.
Thinking back, one thing that I’m very pleased with is the way I felt. I felt as if I was in control of everything that happened. I could read the terrain and Tassla, and I UNDERSTOOD what was going on. It really isn’t that easy! For example, when we went down to the field and Tassla was running wide. I thought that she had stopped hunting and was simply running around at that point, but then understood that what she was doing was working in a smart way and really well in the tailwind.
Nellan, the duck and Molly.
The judge almost didn’t say anything to me and I almost didn’t say anything to my dog while we were working. I made sure to direct her so that she covered ground when needed. I showed her that she could hunt through shrubbery as soon as we ended up by one (not the brambles though…). I supported her by giving small ”yes” cues when she hunted well – particularly towards the end when she was really tired. I only used the whistle at shots and throws, and once as a turn cue. In all other situations I could be cool and just wait for her to do her job. She was never even close to being out of control and she was focused on her work the entire time.
In other words, this was really good feedback regarding our training so far and now we’re ready to move on. We’re heading towards Beginner’s class A and Open class. In a year that is… SO much fun!