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Last weekend we were at a working test for retrievers in Skåne, Koholma Open, arranged by LineUp Gundogs. Spaniels were allowed to participate too, so Lena and Tassla joined Elsa and Keen. It was everyone’s debut – Lena has never started at a retriever working test, nor have Elsa and Keen started as a team.

A working test has five stations and one goes from station to station. At each station you can get a maximum of 20 points. It is a very social get together and being able to be a spectator and watch the different stations when possible is a lot of fun.

Starting a working test is a very good way to check how your training is progressing. This working test was really fun. It was quite challenging technically, tricky and from our point of view, quite similar to a hunt, which Jens and Sofia who run LineUp Gundogs are outstanding at succeeding in reproducing. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed the set-up even though we didn’t score very high in this trial.

Getting to watch the other classes was also a great deal of fun. We cheered and applauded the tremendously long blind retrieves in the elite class and we got permission to post a video from Kola and Anette. They cleared the line that was 140 metres, and ran over a ditch, two stone walls and in steep uphill. RESPECT! 😉

Kola pushes on in the steep slope, across a ditch and two stone walls …

We wrote a little piece about each station, our thoughts about the day and what we took with us from it.

Our expectations

Elsa: I wanted to see how far we’d got in the training and how Keen would function in “hotter” situations.

Lena: I had no expectations on the day more than having fun. I simply found it interesting to see how Tassla would handle the different challenges.

STATION 2

We got to start at the second station in order to avoid queues. The station started with heeling 20-30 metres and then a single marked retrieve out on a field, with a fence blocking the way. To the left a wooden fence (like a fence around a house) and to the right an orange net (the kind that is used to keep the snow off) and white electrical wire (without electricity of course). It was possible to run very far to the right and get around the fence, but that would of course mean deductions for disturbance of land.

ELSA AND KEEN

The heeling went better than expected. He was a little distracted by all the scents and wanted to sniff a bit, so I patted my leg to get his attention, something I shouldn’t have done since we got points deducted for using an extra command.

I suspected that the fence would be challenging for him, since we’ve only trained jumping over fences once before (the last time we took a class with Jens). His line towards the mark was great, but he then got stuck at the fence. I managed to stop him, but he didn’t take my push back over the fence but worked around it instead. Once on the right side the fence, he failed to find the dummy, so I recalled him. In other words, 0 points.

LENA AND TASSLA

The day before we went to Skåne, Elsa told me that there will definitely be a station where the dogs will need to jump over a fence. I immediately said that Tassla probably wouldn’t do that, since we’ve never trained it and I doubted that she would dare to do it without having trained it. She’s fine with stone walls and so on, but I don’t think that she’s ever jumped a fence.

The first station that we started on was the one with the fence. Tassla was in a great mood and this station was the only one that was filmed, so I’ll simply let you watch what happened.

I’m very happy with how she took my signals. But she really looked like she thought that we were tricking her. She could see the dummy behind the fence, but couldn’t get to it. When I recalled her, she sat down, ready to go again. And instead I put the leash on. Not being able to get to the dummy was clearly punishing; it showed at the next station. 0 points of course.

STATION 3

We stood on a small hill and casted to a marked retrieve that landed behind a large rock on the other side a deep ditch.

ELSA AND KEEN

I thought that he’d do better at this station, but he was too eager to get to the big hill behind the rock. He over-marked and did not listen to the first stop signal but continued up the hill. I recalled him back down and blew a new stop signal – which he listened to mostly because they simultaneously fired a shot in the station next to us so he looked up after the shot. He then took my signals to go right and to hold an area really well. I kind of wanted to recall him without the dummy since he hadn’t paid attention to the stop whistle. I didn’t want to reward him by letting him find the dummy, but I didn’t do that. 0 points here as well. There are no points to be had if you don’t mind the whistle…

LENA AND TASSLA

The “punishment” from station 2 was still fresh in Tassla’s mind and at station 3, Tassla hesitantly runs out at about half her normal speed. She’s supposed to cross a ditch and retrieve a dummy behind a rock, but she begins hunting at the ditch and doesn’t want to cross. Ditches normally aren’t a problem. She can begin hunting if there is a lot of scent, but if she’s marked she normally just runs through the ditch. And she did mark.

I NAGGED her over that ditch. I pushed her out with several cues to go out and directed her (losing heaps of points of course), but we managed to get the dummy. 7 points, even after the trouble at the ditch and a multitude of signals.

STATION 4

A single marked retrieve across a ditch and then over a stone wall.

ELSA AND KEEN

I can’t be anything but pleased here. He marked so well. He went straight out, across the ditch and the stone wall, hunted for a bit and then quickly came back in. 19 points. I guess the deduction was for him hunting for a little while.

LENA AND TASSLA

I had to cue for the retrieve twice in order to get her to go out at all (!), and I couldn’t get her to cross the ditch and the stone wall, she just looked miserable. I decided to pull out, 0 points.

She probably lost her self-confidence at that fence. So! New plan needed. I started playing with some tennis balls and doing some play retrieving (short distances, right next to me, letting her run in, rewarded her heavily for eager and quick starts, etc.). When the tail was happy again, we went to the next station.

STATION 5

Single marked retrieve on the other side of a very tall stone wall with what looked like a hill of stones in the middle, to the right onto a field.

ELSA AND KEEN

This was a very thrilling station, where you could see the dummy fly, but not where it landed and when the dog had crossed the stone wall, you couldn’t see the dog either… Keen solved it very well. From those who were watching him, I was told that he ended up in roughly the correct area of the field, almost passed the dummy but caught the wind, turned around sharply and retrieved it. 17 points. I’m not quite sure what they deducted points for. Perhaps they wanted a straighter line or less hunting for the dummy in the field.

LENA AND TASSLA

This station was really difficult! The gun stood right in front of us, maybe fifteen metres out. I’m not sure Tassla even saw the throw, sitting there deep down in the grass. She’s quite a small dog. When I sent her to retrieve, she ran straight towards the gun, ran around a little bit, hunting on the wrong side of the stone wall. I started directing her here too, making the call that she wouldn’t solve getting over the stone wall on her own. With a little stubbornness from my side where I sometimes had to stop her in the middle of the wall because she was going down the wrong side again, she got to the other side – and then she made it. But she was above all happier and more courageous and more her usual self, even though I still felt that that last piece of “I’ll never give up” was still lacking. 5 points. Naturally all those whistles and her failing to mark cost deductions.

We played more before the next station and NOW I felt like she was back. What a victory to be able to turn her bad feelings into good ones. So very pleased with that!

STATION 1

A marked retrieve out in a water drenched field. The dummy landed with a giant splash and if it ends up under water, it can become really difficult to catch scent of it. The terrain was also a little hilly.

ELSA AND KEEN

My plan was to stop Keen in time so he wouldn’t run past the mark, which I had heard that many other dogs had done at this particular station. That was a great plan – and had he stopped when I blew the stop whistle, it would have worked perfectly. But he didn’t stop, but ran straight past the mark and out into the short grass, where he hunted very wide. He must have been all out, because no signals got through to him, neither the stop, nor the recall. After a couple of recall whistles, I got him to come towards me, but he didn’t stop at the stop whistle but continued towards me. Finally, he stopped and saw the gun and the thrower, whom had both been there the entire time… I got a nice push back to the right area, but I simply couldn’t get him to take the stop whistle. I decided to quit and recall him, and when that didn’t work, I simply had to do “the walk of shame” and go get him. We deserved the 0 points we got at that station 🙂

LENA AND TASSLA

That last station was really challenging. Tassla ran to the correct spot first, but then continued past it and I missed blowing the stop whistle, since I thought she would hunt her way back in. But there had been quite a few dogs before us, we were number 28, and a lot of dogs had run wide in the terrain and I think she was distracted by those scents. She eventually turned and hunted her way back, but she still ended up in the wrong place, kind of passing the dummy and going in the other direction. I began re-directing her again. The best thing about this station is that I could cast her really well! Lots of point deducted of course, but she got it in the end. And she was happy and in working mode the entire time. We got 12 points and ended the working test in style 🙂 😉

Final analysis

ELSA AND KEEN

I guess we can summarize the working test as both good and bad 🙂 At the stations where he marked well and I didn’t have to whistle, we did great. At the stations where he did not mark so well and I needed to use the whistle, it did not go so well. I am very pleased that we started – and that I chose the beginner class and not the open class. The deliveries, steadiness and the heeling worked really well, but the whole situation made him lose his head and he got so tired that the stop whistle stopped working.

We’ll continue to work on:

  • the stop whistle and recalls over really long distances and with shots, throws and scents from other dogs as distractions. I actually expected the stop whistle to work better, but he simply couldn’t cope and we haven’t trained enough with such difficult distractions. The recall usually works great, but at the end he was too tired to respond to that either.
  • heeling between the stations (it’s not being scored, but must become calmer partly because it will conserve some energy for Keen and partly because it will be more comfortable for both me and him)
  • jump over fences
  • endurance – working for a long time even in challenging situations and being able to listen to the signals even when he is tired.

LENA AND TASSLA

Unfortunately, we had to start at the station that was the most challenging for us, and that made her hesitant. But I did good in managing to turn her feelings around again after a while. I’ll take this with me from the working test:

  • work on jumping over fences
  • improve our push backs
  • work a bit extra on running straight lines over ditches
  • work on being able to turn around to hunt towards me on cue when she is too far out (she didn’t really respond to that whistle) so she does not run too far out
  • work on being able to work in areas with the distraction of the scents from other dogs (not following their scent)
  • work a little on being calm after the stop whistle – she tries to figure out where I’m going to direct her next, and it gets a little too heated
  • improve stop – holding an area.

The latter I was not alone in having to improve. A lot of us were careless about stopping the dog when it got to the right area and instead blew the hunt whistle on the fly as soon as the dog was in the right area. And it is nice if the dog can handle that, BUT I only saw ONE single dog that could do that well – the rest hunted like crazy over an area that was way too large. Several in terrain that wasn’t supposed to be hunted now. Including my own dog;). But then again, if you have a spaniel, they are supposed to show an independent hunt for the dummy. As long as they don’t run into grounds that hasn’t been hunted, they are supposed to solve things on their own. But it is a good skill to have, even for spaniel, to use in specific situations.

I got so inspired from participating in this. Although the spaniel’s most important work is before the shot, i.e. before the retrieve, it is fun training. I also have a little difficulty motivating myself when it comes to training Tassla because I haven’t decided if we’re going to start at any more tests and the hunting already works well. But this can I do just for fun! I’m a little jealous of the retriever working test that is so much more fun than the spaniel one. At least when you have begun hunting with your dog. Tassla will have to continue her journey as a “retriever in disguise”, so we have something fun to train towards 🙂


Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training
Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training

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