Working trials for purebreds: a brief introduction

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Working trials highlight the particular abilities of a given breed. As such, they are only open to dogs of that breed holding an official pedigree. Initially, they may be restricted to confirmation of natural abilities in one or more type of working activity traditionally practised by a particular breed through the Certificate of Natural Qualities.

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Sheepdog trials

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The first official sheepdog trials, organised in 1873 by Lloyd Rice in Bala, Wales, were a great success, inspiring a large number of trials in Wales and elsewhere from 1876 onwards.

For centuries they were held in the Scottish Borders as part of agricultural shows and fairs and the first international trials were held there in 1906 after the breed clubs had drawn up regulations.

These trials, which demonstrate the dog’s obedience and abilities working with sheep, are now held in many different countries. They are an excellent way for owners to share ideas and techniques and promote selective breeding.

Trials are open to all sheepdogs registered in the breed registry or stud book and holding a certificate as a working dog, although competitions are split into two types, one for Border Collies and one for all other breeds. Border Collies, which have exceptional abilities, are separated from other breeds for reasons of fairness.

Trials are split into various classes. Whatever the standard, the dog must show its ability to follow the vocal commands of the handler and complete an obstacle course without picking up any faults. It is judged against various criteria: completion of the tasks, calmness, initiative and handling of the sheep. The clarity of the handler’s orders is also judged. Participating dogs must be at least one year old.

There are three levels. The dog works with a flock of between 50 to 80 sheep depending on the category. The course is set up to mirror real-life conditions as much as possible. There are five parts to each trial:

- pen or sheepfold, in which the jury judges how well the dog manages the exit of sheep from the pen. The dog should be calm but firm in rounding up the sheep and returning them to the pen, so that the handler is able to close the gate.

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Graze: the dog must hold the flock in a specific area of grassland and allow them to graze.

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The dog must also be able to protect its handler when feed is given to the herd and to clear a hurdle to return to the owner at the end of the exercise.

- Difficult passages, in which the dog has to deal with a narrow passage or a specific complication, such as a bridge or a corridor made by barriers or hedging. Again, the jury judges how well dog and handler work together to shepherd the flock over or through the obstacle.

- Conduct and manoeuvre, which comprises five elements:

* Graze: The dog must hold the flock in a specific area of grassland and allow them to graze.

* Holding the flock and shedding a sheep: The handler must be able to separate a ewe while the dog keeps the rest of the flock at a distance.

* Remote work: The dog must keep the flock together, while the handler moves away without giving the dog any more commands.

* Car passage: The dog must keep the flock from panicking when a vehicle passes very close-by.

* Movement: The dog must be able to control the movements of the flock calmly.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

- Stops, in which the dog has to get the flock to stand still at a precise location. This is done at least twice during an exercise.

- Intelligence, in which the dog’s initiative, gentleness, activity and obedience are judged, together with the handler’s commands.

There are several different working trials:

- Herding certificate trials to judge obedience, character, bravery, initiative and essential herding abilities.

- Aptitude certificate trials at the herding championship.

* Herding championship.

Thanks to the hard work of the breed clubs, these trials are now held in conditions that closely mirror real life. This gives an advantage to dogs able to show initiative, rather than those which simply follow the handler’s commands at all times. Trials also show exactly what sheepdogs can do, hopefully encouraging breeders to select stock based on working abilities rather than beauty. In some trials, dogs work not with sheep but with cattle or geese.

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Working trials for hunting dogs

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In some countries, there are a large number of official working trials for purebred hunting dogs. Some of these are discussed in more detail a little later.

N.B. under the Hunting Act 2004, it is illegal to hunt wild mammals, including foxes, hares and deer, with a dog in England and Wales (with certain specific exceptions).

The purpose of trials for scenthounds is to identify the best individuals for reproduction by awarding the Certificate of Natural Qualities. Trials are open to all breeds in the FCI’s group 6 (scenthounds and related breeds). The dogs only hunt one particular species – hare, rabbit (only for small-game dogs), deer and wild boar – enabling them to develop an aptitude for it. Titles are awarded at the end of a trial depending on how well the dog follows a trail and gives voice.

Depending on the trial, four to six dogs work on the same terrain at the same time. The goal is to find prey within a given period of time.

There are trials for terriers, and to a lesser degree dachshunds, using artificial fox dens and badger setts, hare tracking and following blood trails.

Pointers and retrievers also have their own trials.

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Working trials for purebreds: a brief introduction
    Working trials for purebreds: a brief introduction

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