The ultimate challenge for retriever owners are the Field Trials! These tests are designed to test both the dog and the handler. Differing from the Working Certificate tests, the Retrieving Trials are competitive, meaning the dogs are competing against each other. It works as a series of eliminations until the best dogs are remaining to take the award placements.
The test is a series of both land and water exercises. Any retriever breeds can compete, as long as they are registered with the CKC and their owners have paid the entry fee to the club hosting the trial. In Canada, the object to retrieve is a dead bird (most commonly ducks, pheasant and pigeons). In the United States trials, the bird used is alive and is referred to as a ‘flyer’.
There are four levels of trials -Puppy, Junior, Qualifying, and Open. The dogs that compete in Open are trying for their Field Trial Championship title (FTCH). In the National and Amateur National tests, dogs must qualify in order to be invited to participate in the competitions.
MARK: A mark is a bird that is thrown by the gunners (dressed in white). These birds are visible from the dog’s point of view as they are shot. (A shotgun or rimfire will fire off a black which is used to simulate the actual hunting and shooting of birds). This is the only method used in the stakes intended for younger dogs.
BLINDS: A blind refers to a bird that is planted in a location that is known to the handler but not by the dog. The handler uses a series of whistles, voice commands, and arm and hand signals to direct the dog to the bird. The older dogs and more advanced dogs, qualifying and open all age stakes, will pick up both the marks and the blinds.
The puppy stake is a series of tests that are designed for dogs that are under one year of age. All the birds are marks, and are usually thrown as back to back singles. A single means that one bird is thrown and retrieved by the dog to the handler before the second is thrown (also to be retrieved). In the puppy stake, there are usually two land tests, and two water tests, making a total of eight birds that will have to be retrieved by the dog.
The junior stake is open to retrievers that are less than 2 years old on the day of the test. In this test, the birds are thrown as doubles, meaning that after the first bird is shot and thrown, the dog must remain sitting, remember where that bird went, and wait for the second bird to be shot and thrown. Then the dog will be sent by the handler to retrieve the birds, one by one, and return them to the handler’s possession. In the junior stake, there are eight birds used in four tests (two held on land, and two in the water).
Qualifying stakes and Open all age have no upper limit on the dog’s age. These dogs will have to retrieve two, three or even four birds in their marks. The most difficult tests will take place in the open all age class. Some of the more difficult features of these tests involve retired guns (ie. hidden gunners), trial and water crossings, dry shots and poison birds (birds that are shot in a similar fashion as a mark but the dog is not to retrieve them). The dogs will also be required to pick up at least 2 blinds (one on land and one in water).
The amount of work involved in training is substantial for the retriever trials. There are three levels of trials, Junior, Qualifying, and Open. The dogs that compete in Open are trying for their Field Trial Championship title (FTCH). The Field trials are the most involved trials, incorporating retrieves that can be 400 yards.