On Sunday we had the A (beginner) class, with about 60 dogs. By the end of the day more than 1/3 of them failed (got a zero) at my test. Seeing the scoreboard you might think, “that must have been a very hard test”. Well, it wasn’t at all. So, why did so many dogs fail?!
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to apologize here for being a too hard or too strict judge. Actually, I think many times –especially when it’s about beginner class- I’m rather soft, since I believe we should support the unexperienced dogs or handlers. But I saw many people left the ground very disappointed on that day, and I would like to share my thoughts, hoping that it helps them to understand what did they do wrong. And not necessarily on that day, but before, while they were preparing for their dogs.
About the test: handlers came to the line, one at a time. After they took their leads off, we had a shot and a thrown mark in front of us. The distance was not more than 40 meters, the ground was easy, only a little cover in the area where the dummy felt. Before they picked the mark, they had to turn back with their dogs and send the dog for a hunt. The hunt area started a few meters behind us, covered with not very high grass. The area was well specified, with trees on one side and high dark brown cover on the other. Two dummies were hidden, they had to find one, and once the dog delivered it, the handler could send the dog for the mark. After both dummies were delivered, they had to step to the side (4-5 meters) and wait there (off-lead) until the next dog retrieved the first dummy. After that, the handler was allowed to put the lead on and the exercise was finished.
As I wrote, I had more than 20 zeros. Most of the handlers failed before they even sent their dogs. Many of them seemed not just disappointed, but very surprised when I told them my judgement. Some of them found it too hard, some of them didn’t even know that what they were doing it wasn’t allowed. So, I’d like to write down here the typical mistakes, hoping that it helps them –as well as others- not to do these mistakes again.
Wait for the judge!
After the mark, many handlers started to give commands for the dog, even before I said anything. Don’t do that! Controlling your dog (as touching him, talking to him, correcting him..etc) is not allowed. Judges should consider that you are doing it because otherwise your dog would run in. I was not even too hard with that, but when someone was shouting at her dog ‘SIT’ or ‘NEIN’ – that’s too much. So, wait until the judge tells you to send your dog. If then, you quietly say ‘leave it’ or ‘heel’ before you turn your dog off the mark, that’s ok, but wait until the judge gives you the green light.
At some tests (usually in puppy classes) they let the handler to stop their dog with a voice command if the dog ran in. If the dog stopped within few meters, it was still ok, they were only penalized by taking some points off. Luckily almost no one is using this (silly) rule any more. So if your dog leaves your side before the judge tells you to send your dog, it’s a run in. Even if you stop your dog in a meter, that’s still a run-in. And that’s an elimination fault. If you send your dog without the judge’s permission, that’s also a run-in. It’s a handlers fault, but judges should penalize it, so the handler (hopefully) learn for a lifetime that he should wait for the judges’ release command.
Once your dog was sent, he should not return to your side without a dummy (unless the judge tells you to call your dog back). If the dog decides to come back to you (or you call him back), then you’re not allowed to send him out a second time. So, if your dog leaves your side and wants to come back (even if he made only a few meters) don’t let him. Push him further on immediately. One dog at this test ran out made a big run (really big run) around and then came back next to the handler. When I told her that she’s not allowed to send him a second time, she was very disappointed and complained, that it will be the first time for her, since before the dog went on his own, without a command, so this will be her first sending! Make it clear: judges don’t care how you send your dog: what command you say, or you use your hand or leg or even if you let your dog go without a command – once your dog leaves your side, we consider that the dog was sent, so make sure he’ll only return with a dummy.
Making a noise is an elimination fault. Some judges –especially in beginner classes- sometimes not too strict with this, and if it is only a very quiet, little noise, then blink on it, or just take some points off. I also did that before, but it just put everyone into a difficult position. What is a small noise? What’s a ‘small’ noise for a handler maybe it’s a ‘big’ noise for a judge. So, keep it simple, no noise is good anything else is not good. When it’s clearly hearable even from a distance, and the dog is making it not just once, but few times in a row, then don’t blame it on the judge, but accept it, that it was a mistake and just put your lead on and walk away. Start noise is the same. If a dog is sent and as he starts running the pressure comes out as a loud, hearable noise, the dog has to penalized.
On a test you are allowed to give whistle and voice commands to your dog. Voice commands such as ‘back’ or ‘get out’ or ‘lost’ or whatever command the dog was trained. But when you shout at your dog because he is not taking a command (no! or the dog’s name or any other voice correction) than most judges calls you up immediately. Since I noticed that most people didn’t know that it was not allowed, I just warned them for the first time and took points off, but most of these handlers did it again. Don’t do it. On your training, you can shout at your dog sometimes, but make sure that you don’t overdo it and you don’t create a bad habit, that will cause you trouble at the test. Clapping and loud cheering is also not welcome at the test. (think about it, that our tests try to simulate a shooting day, and making these loud noises flush away un-shot game).
The above listed faults are all elimination faults and even tough I was not even very strict, I lost many of the dogs. I hate to put out anyone for such silly mistakes, but if someone wants to run competitions, then he or she has to learn the rules and respect them. It’s a shame to travel a long distance, pay your entry fee and then going out on one of these mistakes. Of course it happens even with the best young dogs that at one point maybe they will run in, or a handler being excited and sends the dog too early. We all had it, but we learned from that experience and do our best not to do it again.
In my eyes the problem with most of the dogs who failed (and even with some who survived) that these dogs are not mentally steady. That means, that they are always on the edge, too much focused on a mark or even on a helper, and if they don’t get a command very soon, then they go on their own. Or they are so much focused on the mark and they anticipate that they will be sent, so when the handler tries to turn them off, they are not willing to do it. And once they do, then the pressure comes out as a noise. Some of these dogs born to be a little too hot or too nervous, but most of the times, the training makes them be like that.
Please make sure, that you keep a good balance with your retrieves and your dog’s behaviour around you. Good obedience, good heelwork, being patient, quiet and relaxed are as important as your retrieves. If you can’t control your dog around you, then you’ll not get a chance to show how good he is out there.
We as judges and trainers should also keep an eye on that. Unfortunately because of the large number of entries, many occasions we have no time to do longer walk-ups, or simulate drives, and after the marks are down usually dogs sent immediately. So people don’t train their the dogs to be ‘really steady’, they put their focus on the retrieves. Unfortunately you can see this even higher classes, when a mock-trial (dummy-trial) is organized it’s difficult to find enough participating open dogs and many handlers admit, that their dogs are not patient / steady / quiet enough for that. And we are talking about just a dummy trial, not even a real Field Trial on a shooting day, where shotguns are used and live game flushed and shot and wounded game can drop close to the dogs…
Just to end up with a positive note: luckily at the test, I could also see some nicely balanced dogs, who were very calm and relaxed at the line, but had enough drive and desire when sent. All these dogs picked the dummies without too much trouble and many of them got high scores.
Remember: there’s no failure, just another learning experience!
All the best for your trainings,