Field trials

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Field trials are very popular events for gundogs, especially in the UK where they were first held in 1865 before being adopted on the continent around 20 years later. They are open to all gundogs registered in a stud book recognised by the FCI and certified as working dogs.

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Depending on the exercise, there are three types of field trials, which test different qualities:

- Spring trials, the toughest, are held in flat open country, with wild grey and red-legged partridges as quarry.

- Summer trials are held on hunting grounds with arable land and hiding places for quarry, with game birds as quarry. Dogs are scored according to their behaviour after the shot is fired. Some breed clubs organise field trials at altitude with grouse, capercaillie or rock partridge.

- Autumn trials, mostly using pheasant, in which dogs are scored according to their behaviour before and after the shot is fired. Dogs must retrieve the downed bird.

The purpose of field trials is to improve the standard of gundogs by showing the best of each breed and awarding them the title of trialer.

Dogs have fifteen minutes to show off their gundog qualities. They must explore the territory assigned to them with their head high, looping each side of the handler. Each of these passes must be at a distance equivalent to what the judges call “shooting range”. The search range on either side of the handler varies with the inherent search range of the breed.

Continental breeds (pointers, spaniels, griffons) are not judged in the same trials as English breeds (setters, pointers). Continental breeds always work on their own, whereas English breeds work alone or in tandem. Some English breed dogs of very high standard may participate in the FCI’s Grande Quête field trials. These are exceptionally tough trials for dogs with a very good temperament. They could be described as speed races with loops up to almost 100 metres. Dogs always participate in twos and must have a powerful nose and be in exceptional physical condition.

The Quête à la Française is not quite so tough. It is similar to a spring trial, with four categories: English single, English brace, Continental single and Continental brace.

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In all categories, the dogs are scored on their speed, training level, sense of smell, passion for the hunt, search range, head carriage and style by judges following a very precise scoring system. There are five faults which lead to immediate disqualification: unsatisfactory overall quality; straying from the handler and disobeying the command to return; pursuing game regardless of whether it has been marked; exaggerated fear when the gun goes off; and flushing game by chance without realising.

In all these trials, dogs are awarded working certificates for good work. The FCI’s highest certificate is the CACIT, an international working championship certificate.

So an activity as ancient and natural as hunting has given birth to an increasingly popular sport with local, national and even world championships organised by the FCI.

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