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How a WC is Judged

There you are at your very first Working Certificate test, your number comes up and you run your dog, you are elated, both birds come back to you, eventually to hand, it’s hard to stop smiling! You wait anxiously for the call backs (when the marshal announces which dogs are “called back” to run the water tests), certain that your number will be included, they are finally read out and you are shocked to hear your number called and then be told that that dog is “weak”. What does that mean? How could that be? The birds came back, even to hand, eventually. One of the hardest things for a beginner to understand is that there is more to the WC than just getting the birds back, there is a performance standard set out in the “Working Certificate Test Rules and Regulations”, in this article I’ll take a look at them and explain how the Working Certificate level is judged. Direct quotes from the Rules and Regulations are enclosed in quotation marks.

The purpose of the Working Certificate program is spelled out on the first page of the Rules and Regulations (January 1, 1999): “The primary objective of the WC, WCI and WCX tests is to encourage the development and use of those natural abilities for which retrievers were originally bred. The tests provide a means to help determine future breeding stock, encourage retriever owners to develop their dogs’ natural abilities, and to have retrievers become more proficient as hunting partners. The tests are non-competitive and those dogs that pass the tests to the satisfaction of the judges will be recorded as having basic work ability.”

Section 10 deals with test requirements, the test is fairly straight forward, it includes back to back singles on land and back to back singles on water, the land singles should have an angle of not less than 90 degrees between the falls and be in light to moderate cover. Light cover is defined as “approximately ankle deep and not too thick cover”, moderate cover “usually means between ankle and knee deep cover; clover, vetch, hay.” The marks should be approximately 50 to 75 yards in length. The water singles can be run from separate lines, if run from one line the angle shall not be less than 90 degrees between the falls and shall be run from the edge of the water. Birds should be in swimming water from 25 to 40 yards in length, depending on cover. Birds should land in open water or at the edge of reeds but should not be hidden. Tests should not be set up to encourage shore running. Decoys are not to be used.

“The dog does not need to be totally steady and may come to line on lead. The dog may be held in heel position by lead, line, collar or hand. Dogs shall not, however, wear any type of collar while retrieving during the test.” When running a young or inexperienced dog it is not unusual to see a handler crouch down and hold the dog between their legs, with their hands on either side of the dogs neck, this stabilizes the dogs body and head and keeps them looking towards the mark. Some judges will allow this type of restraint despite the fact that the rules specify that the dog can be held in “heel position”, other judges will not allow it and so you should be prepared for that eventuality.

“The dog should deliver to hand and should not display any evidence of gun-shyness or hard mouth.” Previous rules said that the dog “shall” deliver to hand, this subtle change to “should” allows the judge a little more room to judge the whole performance and not have to fail an otherwise perfect performance because the dog didn’t deliver to hand. Some judges will, in their opening instructions, insist that the majority of birds be delivered to hand and they are perfectly within their rights to do so because dropping a bird at delivery is listed in 12.3 Minor Faults (more on this later). Delivery is also dealt with in section 11.7 Evaluating Dog Work. In 11.7.4 it states “Delivery of the bird should be made to the handler directly upon return from the retrieve. It should be given up willingly. A dog should not drop the bird before delivering it and should not freeze or be unwilling to give it up. He should not jump after the bird once the handler has taken it from him. Penalties for faulty delivery may range from minor for an isolated minor offence to elimination from the test for a severe freeze or because of repeated moderate infractions.” In general, even if the judge is insisting on delivery to hand, they will not fail the dog if it drops the bird as long as the handler is able to get the dog to pick it back up and is quick enough to catch it before the dog drops it again, but it may be enough, depending on the rest of the dogs work, to get you called back “weak”.

“The dog should show desire and willingness to work.” Does the dog run with style, reaching the area of the fall quickly and executing an eager hunt or does it plod out to the bird, lackadaisically look around, pee several times, etc. Style is explained in section 11.7 Evaluating Dog Work. In 11.7.6 it states “Style makes for a pleasing performance. In all test levels in respect to style, a desired performance includes an alert and obedient attitude, a fast determined departure both on land and into water, an aggressive search for the fall, a prompt pick-up and a reasonably fast return. Dogs may be credited for outstanding and brilliant exhibitions of style or they may be penalized for deficiencies in style, the severity of the penalty ranging from minor demerit to elimination from the test in extreme cases.”

“A dog running the WC must not be handled, as marking ability, style and desire are of primary importance.” If you whistle or otherwise call the dog once it has found the bird but before it has picked it up, you may have some judges accuse you of “handling”, these judges will generally not fail you for one occurrence but would warn you to not do it again. It is best for the dog to take the responsibility of picking up the bird on its own, you can then call the dog if necessary.

“The dog should return to the handler as directly as possible, and can be given whistle, voice, and hand encouragement to return.” Generally speaking, after the bird has been picked up, you are free to do anything up to and including handstands to get the dog and bird back to you – but you can’t cross the line to approach the dog. The line should be well defined, if it’s not then ask the judge for clarification and take note of a landmark so you know where it is.

Section 12 deals with “Classification of Faults”, one serious fault is enough to fail a dog, usually 2 moderate faults will fail a dog and minor faults are described as “may be so light as to only require a notation on the judge’s sheet, several or repeated minor infractions or a combination of these minor infractions may convert into moderate or even serious faults.”
12.3.1 (b), describes poor line manners “..such as heeling poorly, not immediately taking and staying in the position designated, dropping a bird at delivery, jumping after a bird, not remaining quietly on line after delivery” as a minor fault. It is this fault as well as (d) “Sloppy bird handling” which allows a judge to fail a dog for not delivering the birds to hand.

When judging a WC test the judge should look at the whole performance of the dog and it’s not always as cut and dried as most would like it to be. Ordinarily a judge is happiest when they don’t have to make a decision to fail a dog, they want to see them have success, but they are also responsible for upholding the standards and objectives of the WC program. There are 43 faults in all, 26 (11 serious, 7 moderate, 8 minor) that can be applied to the WC level, they are all self explanatory. Anyone interested in training their dog for a WC should obtain a copy of the rules from the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and go over the list of faults so they can train to the standard outlined.

One thing to take note of when reading the rules is the use of words like “should”, “shall” and “must”, the casual read of the rules may imply that the set up is cast in stone, but in several places the word “should” is used, this means that while they’d like to see it happen a certain way, the judges can use their discretion when setting up tests and when making judging decisions. For instance, the back to back singles on land “should” have an angle of not less than 90 degrees between the falls, by using the word “should” the judge is permitted to vary the angle as they see fit, this is done generally if the land does not allow for two good WC level marks at a 90 degree angle.

Let’s take a look at a few possible performances, dog A shows great style, on both land marks it reaches the area of the fall quickly, has a focussed hunt, returns promptly to the handler and delivers to hand without dropping the bird. Dog B puts on a lackadaisical performance, on both land marks it reaches the area of the fall in a disinterested manner, the birds are found after it stops to pee on several bushes, it returns to the handler and delivers to hand without dropping the bird. Dog C displays tremendous drive but little control, it’s handler is barely able to hold it on the line, it barks a few times as the birds are being thrown, it has large and somewhat unfocused hunts on both land marks, it returns quickly to the handler but drops one bird a few times before delivering to hand. Dog D comes to line quietly, it’s held on a loose lead at heel position, when sent to retrieve the birds it leaves the line with tremendous drive and pins both birds, it returns quickly and delivers the birds across the line but not to hand.

When the call backs are announced, dog A is not called back, dogs B and C are on the weak list, the marshal takes the handler for dog D aside and cautions him that the dog must deliver both birds on water to hand.

Why was dog A not called back, his performance seems perfect from the description. The judges are questioned and reveal that the second bird was punctured, “hard mouth” is listed as a serious fault and one serious fault is sufficient to fail a dog. So despite the otherwise perfect performance the dog has to be failed because the bird was damaged by the dog.

Dog B has been faulted for lack of style and desire, if he had hesitated returning to the handler and dropped the birds before delivery he would probably have been failed, as it is, his performance is judged as marginal and to pass he must perform better on water.

Dog C has done a better job than dog B but his faults have still added up to give him a weak performance, had he been quiet when the birds were thrown or had more focused hunts for the birds he would probably have not been judged as weak.

Dog D had an almost perfect performance but these judges feel that it is important to see at least two birds be delivered to hand.

Different judges will view each of these performances in their own way, judging is an art, not a science and as with all judging there is some subjectivity, while some judges will fault barking at the line to a large extent, others will not fault it at the WC level but will at the higher levels. Delivery to hand is probably the area that provides the most variation in judging decisions, some judges feel that it is important for a WC level dog to deliver to hand, others feel that delivery to hand is strictly a training issue and it is more important to judge the dogs natural marking ability at this level. One important point is outlined in 3.3.3 “The judge’s decision shall be final in all cases affecting the merits of the dog’s working ability. Full discretionary power is given to the judge to withhold any or all awards for lack of merit.”

Good luck at your next WC test, training for the WC level is not difficult, with a little time and dedication coupled with an eager pupil and knowledge of the rules and regulations, you will be able to go out and put on an outstanding performance and bring home that beautiful WC rosette!

Copies of CKC Rule Books may be purchased by contacting the Order Desk directly at 1-800-250-8040 (in Canada) or (416) 674-3699 (USA) between 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time (Monday to Friday).

Article by Donna LaHaise

Donna LaHaise ( has been involved in field since 1992. She started with her first Golden, Indiansummer Bay-Leigh CD, WCX, SH when she was 2 years of age. Bay-Leigh ultimately became the first dog of any breed to earn the CKC Senior Hunter title. Since Bay-Leigh Donna has worked with one other Golden and 7 Tollers, putting 22 field titles on them in Canada and the U.S. Donna is currently working with her Toller, OTCH, CH Berdia’s Mississippi Gambler WCX, SH at the Master level and starting her new Golden puppy Ambertrail’s I Am A Wild Party.


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