You are still in shock. It’s been a week already and still you sit and stare at that beautiful brown rosette with “WCI” emblazoned on it, it doesn’t seem real. Amazed doesn’t even begin to describe your feelings. You are so proud of this accomplishment. Who would have known that the maniac you started training just 2 seasons before could actually learn to sit and watch marks being thrown without moving, never mind the honour! You just never thought you’d see the day. Yet it happened. You couldn’t stop smiling that day and when the judge said he’d done the best work all day, well, there just aren’t words to describe that feeling!
The day of the test was incredible. For the first time you’d been able to watch the Working Certificate Excellent (WCX) dogs run. The walk up double and honour looked tough, the dog sure needed to be steady for that. The blinds were brilliant. Maybe, you thought, just maybe you could teach your guy to do that too. Hey you’ve come this far, it’s too much fun to stop now! WCX here you come!
At the WC level you have back to back singles, the dog is not required to be steady, all the birds don’t need to be delivered to hand. A dog can pass this level with natural ability and little training. Then you have the WCI, a big jump, the dog is required to be steady for the marks and the honour, it has to do double retrieves and all birds must be delivered to hand. The WCI dog must be trained, it won’t get by on natural ability alone. The WCX is truly a team sport with allot of training required. There are two blind retrieves, the dog must trust the handler to give him the right direction, if there is no trust, there is no performance. In addition, on land there is the walk-up double and the walk-up honour, this requires a higher degree of steadiness and the dog is required to find the first gunning station on his own, this is achieved through training.
None of this is to say it’s an impossible quest, it’s not, but it does require a higher level of dedication to the sport and a thorough knowledge of the rules. This article will take a look at the CKC rules for the WCX. Direct quotes from the Rules and Regulations are enclosed in quotation marks.
The rules state “The WCX dog should be a steady, reliable worker, that should be an asset to have along on a hunt. The dog shall be off lead at all times while under judgement. The dog must deliver to hand, show desire and willingness to work, be able to use his nose, and follow directions when necessary. The dog must not disturb too much cover either on the way to or from the falls.”
The WCX level is where you will find more “judging”. It would be easy at this level to fail most dogs if the judge gave strict adherance to all parts of the rules without allowing for the “spirit” of the rules. Judges will look at a whole performance and decide if it should be credited with a pass. Perfection is not required and a fair bit of leeway is allowed, with a basic standard still being upheld.
The WCX test consists of 5 parts “a) Walk-up test with a land double or land/water double; b) Honour on the walk-up; c) Water double; d) Land blind; e) Water blind.”
For the walk-up “the test shall include a 15 yard walk-up for both the working dog and honouring dog. Both dogs shall stop when the first gun is fired at which time both handlers may quietly tell/whistle their dogs to sit/stay.” When doing the walk-up you should walk at a normal pace, neither too quickly, nor too slowly, you are allowed to talk to your dog on your way to the line, but it must not be in a threatening manner. Don’t anticipate the shot, you must keep moving until the first shot is fired. Then you can tell your dog to sit, either verbally or with the whistle. These rules apply to both the working dog and the honouring dog.
“The honouring dog must honour until the working dog has picked up its first mark, or should have picked up its first mark.” This can make for a relatively long honouring time. The dog should be quiet while honouring and will lose marks if it isn’t, it may fail if it makes too much noise. Breaking the honour will fail the dog.
On the land double, “the first bird thrown shall be about 100 yards and the second bird about 50 yards away in moderate to heavy cover. There shall not be less than a 45 degree angle between falls and they should be visible to both dogs.” Previous WCX rules dictated that the first bird thrown was to be the shorter bird, some judges will still set their tests up like that. The narrower angle allowed between the marks will make it a more difficult test than seen in the WCI where the marks must be 90 degrees apart. If the double is to be a land/water combination “the bird in the water should be the shorter bird, thrown about 50 yards from the line.” Since you are allowed a controlled break on the marks, if your dog successfully completes the test, depending on the quality of his work otherwise, he will still pass. During a controlled break the test will continue, if the dog breaks when the first mark is thrown the judge will continue to call for the second mark, whether your dog is looking or not. So if your dog looks back to you when you stop him, there is a good chance he won’t see the mark and won’t complete the test.
On the land double and honour “both handlers shall carry unloaded guns or replicas during this test.” Even though the gun is not loaded or is a replica, you will be judged on safe gun handling and can be failed for not doing so.
The water double “shall have falls up to 50 yards in length in swimming/wading water with natural cover in the water. The falls shall be in light cover and the dogs shall be able to see the splash of the ducks as they land.” “…shore running and acute water angle entries should be avoided if possible. The angle between the falls should be about 90 degrees. Several decoys, singly anchored, should be in front of the line but not in a direct line to either fall. The handler shall point an unloaded gun or replica toward the mark and a designated gunner shall discharge a gun within 6 feet of the handler.” Once again, you will be judged on safe gun handling. The decoys will not be on a direct line to either of the marks but may be placed in a location which will attract the dog to them instead of the mark. Retrieving a decoy will result in a fail.
The land blind “shall be about 50 yards in length, depending on the cover and terrain, and should have some sort of natural obstacle such as a ditch, small hedgerow, or lying water about 15 feet in front of the line. A shot will be discharged at the line by the designated gunner when the dog is on line, and before it is sent. Cover should be moderate.” Not stopping for direction after 2 or 3 whistles on the blind is a moderate fault, two moderate faults MAY make a serious fault – the dogs behaviour on a blind need not be crisp and perfect at the WCX level.
The water blind “shall be a maximum of 50 yards in length. The running line shall be not more than 15 feet back from the water’s edge and it must be a direct not an angle entry. There shall be no gunfire, no diversion or blind planter in sight. Decoys, if used must be singly anchored at least 10 feet off the direct line to the blind and not closer than 10 feet to either the shore or the blind.” Once again, the decoys won’t be on a direct line to the blind, but may be positioned to attract the dog.
Let’s look at some WCX performances. Dog A is attentive and eager. He heels to the line looking out into the field with enthusiasm, he sits when the first shot is fired and watches the mark to the ground, he turns to the second mark and watches it, but takes off just before the judge gives the command “dog”. The handler stops him with a quick whistle just a couple of feet off the line and calls him back to heel and then sends him. The marks are picked up cleanly. He completes the honour. The line to the land blind is angled through a ditch. The dog takes an excellent initial line, angles through the ditch and up into the open field. He falls off line slightly with the wind, stops on the whistle but doesn’t take the correct cast, he is stopped again, and takes the angle back cast all the way to the bird. The water blind is run from 10 feet back from the shore, a direct line into the water there are several stumps and logs enroute. The dog has a nice water entry, stops on each whistle and needs 3 casts to get to the bird. On the water marks he breaks on the first mark when the gun is fired beside him. The handler stops him quickly with a whistle blast within 2 feet of the line, he watches the second mark fall, is called back to the handler to be sent and picks up the marks cleanly.
Dog B heels quietly to the line, he watches the marks be thrown and retrieves them on the handlers command. He doesn’t display much enthusiasm or flare but the birds are delivered cleanly. He completes the honour. On the land blind he takes a poor initial line, stops on all the whistles, takes each cast but doesn’t carry it for much distance. On the water he’s hesitant to get into the water, it takes several casts before he’ll enter, he pops once but overall, once in the water, he handles better than he did on land. On the water marks he hesitates to enter the water on for the second mark but does so without interference from the handler, both birds are delivered cleanly.
Dog A will be marked down for the two controlled breaks, and for the wrong cast, however his work overall, performed with style and enthusiasm, will usually be judged as a pass.
Dog B will be marked down for lack of style, lack of water courage and for not carrying a cast for a reasonable distance. His performance is such that the judgement could go either way, he’s on the line between pass and fail and it depends on the judges of the day what will happen.
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 for all levels: “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.”
Most of the behaviours being tested at the WCX 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 partner’s 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 WCX 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 (http://www.goldntoller.com) 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.