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How a WCI is Judged

Woo Hoo! You’ve passed your very first Working Certificate (WC) test, you are now the proud owner of “Toller WC”, ah what a day that was, watching him retrieve those birds on land and in the water. He has such fun when you are training him and the day at the test was a blast, it’s obvious that you can’t stop here, after all, if you are resting on your laurels you are wearing them on the wrong end! So now it’s time to look at the Working Certificate Intermediate (WCI) test.

A WC level test can be passed with the dogs natural ability with a generous serving of luck tossed in, delivery to hand isn’t required (but is recommended, see “How a WC is Judged”), the dog doesn’t need to be steady, there does not need to be any “polish” to the performance. The WCI on the other hand requires training. You are under judgment from the time you leave the holding blind – off lead, the dog must sit quietly and steadily at the line without restraint and watch the 2 birds of the double be thrown one at a time, he must wait until commanded to go. Once sent he must find the bird and return it to hand, you are not permitted to speak to him until he’s within 15 feet of the line. Once the first bird is delivered to hand then he must go on command to find the memory bird – the first bird that was thrown. When both marks have been successfully picked up and delivered, you move to the honour position, this is where your dog will sit quietly and steadily, unrestrained, and watch the next dog work until it reaches the area of the fall for the go-bird. Assuming these tests are completely successfully then you will be invited to run the water series, a double on water, once again, the dog must sit quietly and steady, unrestrained at the line until commanded to retrieve. All birds must be delivered to hand.

There’s quite a bit more to the WCI test, the leap from WC to WCI can seem insurmountable, it’s not, it simply requires a knowledge of the rules and some common sense training. There is no denying that there is work involved to properly construct the foundation on which advanced work is built, it’s not something that happens overnight and it will require effort, but there is nothing greater than watching a dogs skills grow, doing something it was born to do. If your dog earned his WC on natural ability and luck then you’ll need to step back and lay the foundation more solidly before you can progress to the doubles and steadiness required for the WCI. In this article I’ll look at how the WCI test 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.” The WCI rules state that the “WCI tests are designed to continue to test the dog’s natural abilities and to show that he can be a useful partner on a hunting expedition.” This does not mean that the WCI dog is to be considered a fully finished retriever.

Let’s take a look at a few different WCI performances. Dog A is barely controlled, leaps around at the line but doesn’t break, the handler makes no move to stop this behaviour while the land marks are being thrown, the dog waits until commanded to go. He pins the go-bird and has a long but focused and eager hunt on the memory bird. He is anxious and makes some noise on the honour but stays put without any intervention from the handler, he heels away from the line and this handler can breathe again. Dog B heels perfectly to line, sits quietly and watches the birds come down, he leaps forward on the second mark and the handler calls him back to heel where he waits until sent to go, he shows great style and pins both marks, he drops both birds before delivering them to hand. His honour is solid. Dog C moves slowly on the way to the line and looks cautiously around him, he waits until sent to retrieve the birds and leaves the line slowly, loping out to the go-bird and has a short hunt before delivering it to hand. He shows no more enthusiasm on the memory bird and has a short hunt, he is reluctant to give up the second bird and has to be forcefully commanded to do so several times, his honour is solid. Dog D performs the marks perfectly, he’s quiet, attentive and eager, he pins both marks and delivers them cleanly to hand, on the honour he jumps forward when the first gun is fired, the owner stops him and calls him back to heel where he stays until the judge releases the honour dog.

Dog A and B will be called back to the water test, Dog C and D will be dropped. Dog A will have been marked down for poor line manners and for making some noise at the line, otherwise his performance will have earned him full marks. Dog B will have been charged with a controlled break, a moderate fault. If the handler had not called him back to heel position on the second mark and if he had not continued forward he might have been charged with only a minor fault, creeping on line. He will have been marked down for dropping the bird. Dog C will have been charged with lack of attention, a minor fault, as well as lack of style and for reluctance to give up the bird, both are moderate faults and together are enough to fail the dog. Dog D had a controlled break on the honour, this is listed as a serious fault and is an automatic fail.

The rules state further that “dogs running in the WCI should be reliable and steady, under control, show desire and willingness to work and be able to use their nose. The dog must deliver to hand, and shall come to the line off lead. The dog will be under judgment at all times while in front of the judge.” As soon as you step out of the last holding blind you are under judgment, the dog will be off lead at that point and will not wear a collar, the dog and handler are expected to heel to the line, you may speak to your dog at this time and extra commands are permitted. The dog should stay close to heel position and may be marked down for lack of attention and/or poor line manners if he’s allowed to run ahead of you to the line. All birds retrieved at this level must be delivered to hand, if the dog drops the bird once it is within 15 feet of the line you can command him to pick it back up, however, dropping birds and sloppy bird handling are both listed as minor faults and repeated minor infractions may be converted into a moderate or serious fault.

The angle between falls on the Land Double “…shall be not less than 90 degrees. The birds will land in cover and not be conspicuous from the line. The falls shall be approximately 75 yards long in moderate to moderately heavy cover”. Heavy cover is definted as “..hard going for the dog such as deep grass, bull-rushes or mud.” WCI dogs are considered to be beginner dogs at doubles, a 90 degree angle between the falls decreases the chance of the dog switching between marks, that is, looking for the bird in one area and then, before finding it, switching and hunting in the area of the other fall.

For the honour “the dog shall honour on the land test. The honouring dog will be required to stay until the working dog has made the area of the fall, or should have made the area, for the first bird he is to retrieve.” If the running dog does not leave the line or does not go to the area of the fall, the judges will wait an appropriate length of time and then release the honouring dog, you are not permitted to leave the honouring position until the judge has released you and you may not speak to your dog while honouring once the marks have been called for. Breaking the honour is a serious fault and will result in a fail. If your dog has failed the land marks you will be asked to do your honour on lead.

For the water double “the angle between the falls should not be less than 90 degrees. The birds will land with a definite and visible splash 40 to 50 yards from the line. One bird shall land in cover. Decoys are to be used, singly anchored and centrally located between the 2 marks and visible from the line.” The dog should take a direct line in the water to the mark, “going out of his way by land without certainty of purpose en route to a water mark” is considered a moderate fault, it’s a minor fault to return from a water mark by land. Retrieving a decoy is a serious fault and automatic fail.
“WCI dogs are not required to handle on a mark. Marking ability, style and desire are of primary importance. Dogs should return directly to the handler on whistle command or no command. Verbal commands must be kept to a minimum and used only if absolutely necessary when the dog is within 15 feet of the line, not when he is out in the field.” The only communication you can use with the dog is the whistle until he is within 15 feet of the line, if he drops the bird when half way back and the handler commands him to pick it up it is an automatic fail. Poor style and hunting in a slow, disinterested manner are both moderate faults and usually 2 moderate faults should eliminate a dog from the test. Some judges will allow you to handle on one mark but it must be clean, once you start to handle you must handle the dog all the way to the bird, not just the area of the fall.
Different judges will view performances in their own way, judging is an art, not a science and as with all judging there is some subjectivity. One important point is outlined in the rule book: “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.”

Many of the behaviours being tested at the WCI level are “trained” as opposed to the natural desires and abilities that the dog has, it’s through this training, which shapes the dogs natural desires and abilities, that you really begin to develop that team mentality. Earn your partners trust, teach him that you can be relied on to give him the right direction, then trust in his abilities, trained and natural, and turn the responsibility over to him to do the job. Good luck with your training and your next WCI test!

Copies of Canadian Kennel Club 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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