The Golden Wonder goes to a Trial

In January 2010 the Kennel Club launched a new stake in working trials. Called the Introductory Stake it was introduced to encourage newcomers to compete working trials. Prior to this the first stakes in which a dog can compete in trials prohibit verbal praise or extra commands and include a ten minute down out of sight and a six foot scale (unless your dog is undersized). Quite a tall order for a young dog, especially one that has not had the benefit of going along to regular training classes and being used to working around other dogs and people.

As its name suggests the Introductory Stake provides a good stepping stone into trials allowing handlers to speak to their dog in the control exercises, reduced jumps for all breeds and including a one minute sit stay in sight, and a five minute down out of sight.

The Welsh Kennel Club WTS ran an Introductory Stake at their championship trial in February and, in need of a break from the winter gloom, I entered the Golden Wonder.

When the big day arrived we reported to the base as instructed, leaving plenty of time for exercising the dogs after their long journey, before expecting GW to work and for me to have a coffee and catch up with old friends at the base.

We were told by the steward at the base where to exercise dogs, where to park and where we would be competing. We were given a catalogue in which we found our names and were told to remember our number as given in the catalogue because the judge would ask for it later. Not wanting to forget it in the excitement I wrote my number on my hand!

There were six dogs entered in the Introductory Stake but one of them had pulled out, leaving just five dogs to compete. The judge was very helpful and spoke to the whole group to tell us what to expect before we started. She said we could play with our dog between exercises, but the toy should be put away when actually working the dog. We were told the order of the exercises was to be nosework for each dog, followed by sit stay all the dogs, then singularly the control and agility exercises and finally the down stay in a group. A nervous excitement filled the air as we listened to our instructions. We were told that two people watching were Kennel Club representatives, who were interested in the new stake and this added to our anxiety. Not only were we being judged, but being observed by bigwigs from the Kennel Club. No pressure then! The Golden Wonder was to be the first dog to work and at that stage I realised that I had left his toy in the van, not expecting to be able to take it into the competition (what fun the stake was going to be). Fortunately my sister-in-law (who had come along to watch as she knew several of the competitors) had her dog’s ball-on-a-rope in her pocket and she kindly lent it to me to take in. I had a quick tug game with it and GW agreed it was a good toy so I shoved it into my pocket and we were ready for his first go at working trials.

The test started with the retrieve and the GW ran out just as he does at home and brought his dumbbell back to me, he did a straight present and finished to heel on command. Well we had a good start and with a little jolt of glee I told GW what a clever boy he was and had a little tug with the ball. I zipped my dumbbell and toy into my pocket we were ready to do the search square.

The search square had four articles in it and we had to get three out in four minutes. GW thought this was great fun. He ran around grabbed an article and brought it straight back. I praised him and sent him back for a second article. He put his nose to the ground and off he went again. He got the second, and then the third. What a good boy! We had a big game with the toy and left the competition field filled with delight. That was the nose-work section complete and so far so good!

I put him back in the van for a little rest while all the other dogs did their nosework before the sit stay.

The sit stay was in sight. This was a brilliant introduction to trials stays – so much better than walking away for one minute and walking back for the other minute, or even sitting behind the cars or a hedge for two minutes as you have to in CD. We were allowed to stand sideways on to our dogs and I am sure both dogs and handlers found this reassuring. We all know that first experiences are important. If the dog’s first competition stay with strange dogs is relaxed then it will put him in good stead for the future. We have heard the horror stories of dogs that have been set upon by another dog in its first competition and then never does a stay with strange dogs again! Well anyway it was relaxed and all the dogs stayed as they should.

Then it was on to the control and agility section.

We played up to the control area and then started with heel on lead. We were told that we would be marked if the lead was tight, but that we could talk to the dog. GW knows about heelwork, but being able to quietly tell him how clever he was as he performed in this strange field with cow pats all around and strange people watching him was great. With his confidence intact he went on to display his best heelwork both on and off lead and his recall. He was enjoying himself!

Next came the sendaway. It was to the hedge where a nice cone and pole clearly marked the spot. Easy I thought – he will do that no problem. I set him up as usual, but he was not looking at the pole, he was looking at the group of people to the left who were looking at him. Oh no!

I acted quickly, the judge had said to send the dog in my own time and I had not yet sent him so I broke off got his attention back on me and then started the whole set up again. It paid off. This time he looked at the right place and on command ran straight to the pole in the hedge and waited as commanded. Good Boy! It was a text book send away (alright then send to) he did it perfectly.

After the sendaway came the jumps and I have to say being used to full sized jumps on the control field that the reduced jumps in this stake looked so much more friendly. The 2’ 6" hurdle was first and he jumped this with style and waited on the other side for me to join him. Next the 6’ long jump which he sailed over. He had his laughing face on – he was clearly having fun. Only the 5 foot scale to go in this section. The judges asked what position he would take on the far side of the scale and I said he would sit. We approached the scale walking at heel as the rules state and stopped within the nine foot markers. He looked focused on the jump and I sent him over. He hurled himself over the scale with such enthusiasm that as I called out ‘sit’ his happy little face was already re-appearing coming back over the scale. He was enjoying himself jumping over and back just as we do at home on the lowered jump! Okay he lost his two marks for not waiting but what the heck! I knew he had enough marks in the agility section to qualify and he was having fun!

With only the down stay to go tension was mounting. They had to do five minutes, out of sight. We settled the dogs into the down and on the ‘last command’ we left five dogs lying quietly on the grass. We did not have to go far to get out of sight and we huddled together whispering very quietly to each other, declaring it was the longest five minutes ever and had the judges watch stopped. Of course it had not it just felt like it! Finally we were called back to our dogs and told that all five dogs had stayed successfully. Phew what a relief!

It was all over. The Golden Wonder had done his first ever trial. We could relax, and we did, we had a nice run on the common, before heading back to base.

Evaluating the Introductory Stake.

The KC Liaison Committee have taken some flack over the inception of this stake with many existing trialists being heavily opposed to it, some thinking it is just another stake that will not bring in entries and others who think it should replace open CD and some even think it should be mandatory. Whatever our thoughts, as things stand at the moment it is here and maybe we should evaluate its merits.

This account is written to (hopefully) help newcomers understand what is required in this stake and to encourage them to have a go. Competitors are allowed to compete in both this stake and the CD at the same trial at championship and open trials, so it might be a way for societies to attract more entries without necessarily needing another judge. If competitors see it as a way to build their dog’s confidence (or more to the point their own!) it may become common practice to enter the two and of course tracking land is not needed.

I could not help but wonder if I, as an experienced handler, should be allowed to enter this stake. The two view points seem to be;

1. The presence of experienced handlers intimidates newcomers.

2. Experienced handlers demonstrate how to use the test to best advantage to motivate young dogs.

And there is of course another notion – experienced handlers in this stake are just ‘pot hunting’! The Golden Wonder is not a serious trials dog at the moment, he will be working in obedience which better suits his disposition. From my point of view it was a really fun thing to do and I would definitely enter any young dog in this stake as a first exposure to trials if possible.

The Golden Wonder is a Winner!

Back at base there was coffee and scrumptious cakes and everyone was chatting about the excitement and in some cases disappointments of the day. The marks were all put up onto the display board and we clamoured around to see. I then had biggest surprise to see the Golden Wonder was the winner! He had only lost those 2 marks for coming straight back over the scale. Everything else was clear!

We collected our red rosette and prize card. What a successful day. What a clever dog he is - and - he is soo pretty!