A Novice view of the Novice Working Test.
The day started early, it was a Sat morning but my mind and body thought it was a weekday. The time was 5:45AM and we were going to compete in our first ever Gundog-Working Test run by the ISCGB at Elstead Surrey.

Sandra as was up first, kettle on and with more than a few words of encouragement for me to get up, along with Alfie our 21month old Spinone jumping on the bed forced me up. After a quick wash and dress I downed the cup of tea and was off over our local park with Alfie while Sandra did the weeks shopping and brought the extra provisions requested for the working test refreshment tent.

We had worked it out the night before that we needed to leave round about 7:30 to be able to get there for 9:00.

The journey down was uneventful and we arrived at about 9:05. We were amazed again (we attend the Special Beginners last year) just how many people turn up for this Working Test. We were told later that there were 100 entries.

After parking up the car and grabbing all the food for the refreshment tent off we set to find out what was what. Sandra headed to the refreshment tent and Alfie and I went to register and pickup our instructions for the Novice Test. I was very nervous about entering but it didn’t seem to bother Alfie, he was too busy trying to say hello to all the other dogs.

Sandra was going to be help out all day along with a small band of people who help to make this a great day out and without who this event could not take place. Alix (ISCGB FT & GWT Secretary) and here family were in full swing running all over the place getting all the final arrangements in place.

I was having second thoughts about entering, what if I make a fool of myself (not unusual), But more important what if Alfie decides to run off and disrupt the other competitors, It was too late now, Alix was standing on her chair and everyone was gathered around for her opening speech and to introduce the Judges.

There was going to be 3 judges plus the water judge for the Novice due to the large entry, so we were split up into small groups and were told to follow our judge.

It was to late to pull out now we were off following our judge like a flock of sheep. We went though a small wood and into a field the other side, looking around me I could tell that I was not alone with my thoughts of ‘what am I doing here’. We entered another field and the word went round that we were going to be doing the Blind retrieve first. As we entered the second field the look of horror on some of our faces as we spotted Cows at the other side of this field. The conversations were about how could we do retrieves in a field of cows ‘my dog will run after the cows etc…. I didn’t need to worry about the cows as we soon found out that the retrieves would be in the wood next to the field. I couldn’t see what was going on in the wood but some of the competitors that went before me seemed to be in there a long time and others were in and out very quickly.

It was our turn and in we went this was it we had started. The judge explained that there was a dummy hidden in the wood and pointed to where Alfie should look to find it, so would all the training pay off or not? I set Alfie up and sent him off, he returned very quickly with a dummy in his mouth. We had finished the first part of the retrieving and I felt much more relaxed. I came out of the woods with a smile on my face, I had meet my first judge and he was not a fire breathing monster out to fail me but very nice person who tried to put me at ease, I found out throughout the rest of the day that ALL the judges were of the same mould as the first judge. Alfie had done his part very well, which meant that all the hard work and training had paid off. I was told to move along the edge of the wood to another group of competitors to do the second retrieve.

There were quite a few people waiting so I had time to talk to some of them. There seemed to be a good cross section of people of all levels competing, at one end of the scale their were first timers like myself and Alfie and at the other end of the scale there were ‘old hands’ who had many years of experience of training and working dogs. I found them all to be very nice people, who were only to please to offer advice or to just chat, which helped to put you at ease.

While we were waiting the dreaded cows had decided to come over to see who was in their field, they came so close some of them were licking our coats, It seemed that the fears that our dogs would be up set was unfounded as most of the dogs took no notice of them. Some of us spoke about taking one of the cows in the woods as the next competitor but decide against this as we hadn’t competed yet and it might go against us. I’m sure the judge would have seen the funny side of this but we decided not to take the chance.

It was our turn and in we went, the judge explained that someone deep in the woods would attract Alfies attention and then throw the dummy, I then had to send Alfie after the thrown dummy. Alfie went in after the dummy and went straight to the dummy thrower (this was not in my plan) So I needed to guide Alfie in the direction of the thrown dummy until he found and retrieve it back to me. I still came out with a smile on my face as I felt that although it was a long way off being perfect Aflie did an honest try and that is all I can ask of him.

Well two down and two events to go, it was of to the water next. This should be interesting as Alfie has only just learnt to swim (it took me 12 months and finally a pair of chest waders to get him swimming) and all this in a small woodland pond. This was a river and it was quite a fast flowing river.

When we arrived at the waiting point for the water test there was only one person in front of me but she had two dogs. (How do people manage to compete with two dogs it’s bad enough trying to keep yourself calm with one)? Again you could not see what was going on but could hear voices encouraging the dogs There was a man and his dog waiting in the wings to retrieve any dummies if any of the dogs failed to enter the water and retrieve, this is a good idea as it might save me having to buy a new dummy if it all goes wrong.

When we arrived at the waters edge the judge took my dummy and passed it to his dummy thrower who then disappeared behind some bushes. The judge explained what we had to do and asked me to settle Alfie and to give him nod when we were ready.

We were ready and then the dummy appeared in the air and landed in the water on the other side of the river in a still water area. I commanded Aflie to retrieve the dummy, he took a couple of steps into the water and then decided that he would try and find a better place to enter. I called him back to me and commanded him again to retrieve the dummy (with my fingers crossed) This time he went straight in and began to swim, the current was quite strong and he was being drawn down stream, but he keep going and reached the other side and swam upstream to the dummy, took a firm hold of it and swam straight back across the river as if the current wasn’t there. I was over the moon with him although we must have lost at least 50% of our marks for taking two attempts. He had done it and showed great courage entering a fast flowing river for the first time after only swimming for about 1 month in a still woodland pond.

It was about mid day now so we started to head back for a well earned break and planned to do the hunting later. On the way back to the base camp we passed the people waiting to do the hunting and spoke to the steward, he told us that there was only 3 people waiting and that the judge was taking them to hunt in groups of 4 so I decided to join them and get the final test out of the way so we could relax in the afternoon.

The judge explained to us all that we would be hunting one at a time and while the person was hunting the rest of us would follow at a distance behind. I was the last one to go so I was able to watch the other 3 people working their dogs. It was interesting to see the variations of styles of the different breeds and handlers styles of working.

It was now my turn, I sat Alfie took a deep breath, trying to remember all the training that my training club had tried to install in my head. Hands in pockets (to stop me waving my hands all over the place distracting the dog) Whistle in mouth, check the wind direction (it was blowing straight into my face), get the dog to where there might be game and then let him do his part and then move him onto the next area of interest. It was a long field with a fenced off wood on the right hand side and on the left hand side there was a small fern covered bank with another fenced off wood at the top. I decided to set Alfie off to the left side first as this would be of more interest to him and hopefully get him going. Alfie moved off on command and went straight into the ferns and was hunting well, now would he listen to my whistle and see my body language to move him over to the right hand side? YES we were hunting as a team. We moved steadily up the field moving left and right across the field checking every part of the field. It seemed like a lifetime before I heard the judge say stop your dog and recall him. We had finished our first Novice Working Test and I felt we had done our best and that is all you can expect.

We would have to wait until the end of the day and after all the placements had been read out and the judges had given their summary of each Working Test to find out what our score was.

Anyway it was all over now and we could just relax and spend the afternoon meeting all the other competitors. Back at the refreshment tent and after Alfie drank a bucket full of water I sat having a cup of tea and waited for Sandra and one of Alix’s daughters to finish selling the raffle tickets around the car park (they think that they can hide but she will hunt them out).

After a packed lunch Sandra went back to her duties helping out and Alfie and myself went and watched the Special Beginners. Everyone was finished at about 4:30 and started to gather around the presentation area waiting for the results. It’s nice to see so many people waiting to the end for the results even if they knew that they didn’t perform well and it would be so tempting to just go home early. As the results were being called out everyone applauded each competitor and the first six in each Test was presented with a rosette and certificate along with a small present. Then the judge would give a brief summary of the standard of the competitors. Needless to say we didn’t come in the first six places in the Novice Test but then on our first try at Novice we never expected to, but we enjoyed competing and I felt that Alfie gave a honest performance. I was busy talking to one of the Spinone handlers who came 5th in the Special Beginners when I heard my name being called out at the end of the presentations, we had won the Bedeslea Trophy for the highest placed Spinone on the day, well what a surprise and a great way to end the day.

We stayed on after everyone had gone home to help pack up all the tents and equipment and finally got back home a 9:00PM totally done in after such a long day but both agreeing that we would be back next year.

I would like to thank all the competitors for their support and welcomed advice, a special thanks to Alix Johnson and her hard pressed family for not only putting on a great WT but for all their help to me throughout the year. Thank you to all the helpers and judges who without their help and support this kind of event just could not be held. Having helped out the week before at a WT throwing dummies I would like to extend a big thank you to all the dummy throwers (It has to be one of the hardest jobs going at a WT, trying to throw the dummies all the same way and to get them to land in the same spot each time) and who was that person hiding behind the trees in the wood throwing dummies?

2007 Colin Elliott