ISCGB WORKING TEST Special Beginners - 25/06/2006 Article by Keith Wain & Julie Kelly

We wanted a gundog.  Had a Spaniel and they are hard work and barmy. Lets have a retriever.  Julie had had a Golden Retriever called Candy for Christmas when she was just nine years old and loved her to bits. She had Candy for fourteen years and didn’t want to spoil the memory, so she wanted something different.  We had started to settle on a Chocolate Lab when a friend introduced us to the world of Spinone.  We read it all, Kennel Club website, ISCGB website, and all the others, and the more we looked, and the more we read, the more it became apparent a Spinone was for us.  This was spring 2002.  We searched around and found two litters of puppies. One in Hampshire, and one in Conway in North Wales, which is about an hours drive for us.  Before we knew it, we were on our way to view the puppies.  Only looking mind! Should never buy from the first litter you see!   Four weeks later we were driving home from North Wales with a little blonde bundle on Julie’s knee.  Iolyn Porth Llwyd, or Dino to his friends, had arrived.

Since Dino arrived, we haven’t had the easiest of times. The franchise company we bought a business from went bump, Keith developed Sleep Apnoea causing chronic fatigue, and we saw Keith’s father fight and lose a battle against cancer. Throughout this adversity, we always had a shining light in our lives called Dino.  We would sometimes comment to each other that the only thing keeping us sane was Dino and the pleasure and companionship he provided.

Throughout all this, shooting and field sports had taken a bit of a back seat.  We had done our own training with Dino, but never had any proper tuition, just what we had picked up and read about.  Dino loved his walks, and living on the edge of the Peak District we have lots of access to open hill walks, and he is never really on the lead and always returned to a whistle.  Many people commented on Dino, and what seemed to be an easy ability to hunt etc, and we encouraged him into undergrowth and to hunt while we were out walking.  In fact his first point and retrieve when he was about ten months old was a whole cooked chicken from a fisherman’s lunch box!!   The ISCGB newsletter turned up on a regular basis and Julie would look at the dates for the field trials locally but the opportunity to go to one never really presented its self until this year.

Finally, Julie put her foot down and pointed out to Keith that Dino was now four and if you want a gundog, its time we did something about it. We tried to do a bit more training, and he would turn on the whistle, when he felt like it and sometimes stop at a distance- when he felt like it. But retrieve! Not a chance!

The spring edition of the ISCGB newsletter arrived and Julie decided we were going to the ISCGB working test in Elstead in Surrey in June.  Julie spoke to Alix Johnson to ask for some advice, and Alix suggested we work on his retrieving, otherwise we would struggle. Well we tried – a bit!  He would pick up his ball or rubber bone, but training dummy, not a chance. After plucking up a bit of courage, we entered the Special Beginners Class.

Before we knew it we were on our way to Surrey, about a four-hour trip for us, travelling down from Cheshire.  We had found a very nice pet friendly B&B just outside Farnham, and likewise a nice pub with a beer garden, where Dino was the star turn as usual, being the social monster that he is.

We had never been to a working test and we were really unsure about what to expect.  We felt we hadn’t done enough training so decided that we would just use this as a training exercise and learn as much as we could. What ever happens happens.
The morning dawned, and was clear and bright.  Dino is used to travelling and staying away from home, but this morning he knew something was going on, he was hyper!
We found the field trial site and parked the car. We were surrounded by a lot of people who looked like they knew what they were doing, and we felt like we hadn’t a clue.  Dino was so excited, and just wanted to get out and go play with all the other dogs.

First mistake we made was not to let him off the lead and let him have a run.  We had put him on his Rope slip lead, and by lunchtime Keith’s hands were covered in blisters from trying to hold him back.  We found Alix and she pointed out one of our Judges and tutors, John Parnham.  John couldn’t have been more helpful.  He explained what we were doing etc and sent us of to sit under a tree in the shade.  At about 9.30 John and the other Judge Chris Raynor came over to the group of about 20 people and 12 dogs and started off the tuition.  Chris ran through the basics for control and then retrieving, while John took us off to run through hunting and quartering.  We did our training with Chris first and Dino was a nightmare.  So wound up and excited we couldn’t do anything with him because he just wanted to play with the other dogs.  Slowly he calmed down, but the retrieving exercises were terrible. However Chris was brilliant and showed Keith how to use Dino’s exuberance to advantage and got him all excited about retrieving, and made it more of a game.  He also explained how when encouraging him to return, get down low and open your arms while calling him in.  Bingo! It worked!

We then went off with John to do the hunting.  This is something we had done with Dino because he found it easy, and when out walking he did it any way.  Keith maybe tried a bit too hard to get Dino to work and John pointed out to leave Dino to it, just turning him with the whistle when needed and pointing him where we wanted him to go.  The best thing was he had a run and calmed down.  After this we had a lunch break and prepared for the test.

The test consisted of three retrieves and a hunt.   The first retrieve was the seen retrieve where the dog waits by your side and you throw the dummy, and then tell him to collect it.  The first couple of dogs were GSP’s and did it easily.  It came to our turn, and, Dino did it like a pro, no problem.  None of us could believe it, with Chris saying he didn’t think it was the same dog, and we had swapped him at lunch.  Next was the memory retrieve.  Walk the dog out with you, drop the dummy and walk back, then turn round and send the dog to collect it.  Again the GSP’s made it look easy.  Then so did Dino, only he was a bit wide with his return, but we got the dummy back.  The third retrieve was the blind retrieve.  This was a case of the Judge dropping the dummy out of the dog’s site then sending him in to collect it.  Not as easy, but the bloody GSP’s were good at it again!  Some of the spins struggled, and we thought Dino had blown it when he seemed to want to take it back to Julie although Keith was handling him!

Next the Hunt.  No real dramas with Dino working like a professional, and we were really pleased with him.

We didn’t think we had done anything special so at 3pm Julie spoke to Alix to say we were going to go home as we had a long journey ahead of us.  Alix told her quite quickly, no we couldn’t and we had to wait!   Oh, - what did this mean then, had we won something? No couldn’t have done.  At 5pm everything was over and the awards were announced. We had come second and we were chuffed to bits.  John suggested we go and have a look at our scores.  When we got there Keith looked at the marks and noticed that the our marks were higher for the first two retrieves than the GSP that had won.  Our score on the board was 63 points, but it added up to 65, and the GSP had only 64 points.  Keith asked Julie to add it up, then asked John to also check it.  Yes we had got 65 points, and what a surprise, WE HAD WON.  Alix quickly sorted out the trophy for us, and was really pleased as we had another Spinone winner.

We had had a fantastic weekend and we were going home with a trophy, and we felt that maybe Dino was going to become that gundog after all.

Since then we have started to spend one evening a week on some fields and woodland belonging to one of Keith’s cousins and Dino is really coming on.  We now plan to try the novice class at one of the local field trials and hopefully return to Elstead next June.
Without the encouragement of Alix, John and Chris, the weekend could have been a disaster, and embarrassing for all three of us.  However it was just the opposite, and our thanks go to all three of them.

If there is anyone thinking of having a go at working tests, go have a go.  We found everyone really friendly and very helpful, and the buzz of seeing your Spinone working in his proper environment takes a lot of beating. After all, seeing a working dog like a Spinone in its element has to be one of the finest sights in the world.

Keith Wain & Julie Kelly