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So you think you want to do field – or – How do I get started?

The breeder of your pup talked about all the field titles his dogs had – field events that tested the dogs natural desire and trainability – who knew! They sounded like fun and the pup as it turns out likes to retrieve, well, “like” may be a bit of an understatement, he is a bit obsessed and if you trip over one more tennis ball that is dropped at your feet… So just how do you go about getting started in the world of field?

Those interested in obedience have a wealth of information available to them and depending on where they live they usually have at least one ongoing class they can join. Those in metropolitan areas usually have many options for obedience classes, pet, competition, clicker, correction, you name it, classes are offered, if you don’t like one, try another. Field is different, as a rule there are no field classes available that you can just sign up for. There are lots of books on the subject, but where to start? Which one is helpful, which one isn’t, how do you know? How do you find out about tests in your area and what are the rules? What about Clubs, how do you contact them?

First, be aware that you have to be persistent. If you are serious about wanting to become involved in field training you will have to do lots of work to just get started. Then, if you are lucky enough to find someone that is willing to help you, you will have to be prepared to work hard to keep them willing!

Clubs and Tests

The Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) maintains a web site of CKC approved events ( Search for your area of interest – Working Certificate or Hunt Tests. Or, if you are a member of the CKC you will receive, monthly, “Dogs In Canada” along with the CKC Official Pages which lists upcoming events. You’ll find test dates, Club names and contact names. Start calling. The test secretary will be able to send you a “premium list” which will give you all the information on how to enter a test, who the judges and committee members are, as well as a map to the site, they might be able to point you in the direction of some help in your area for newcomers, but don’t expect that. Go to the test, talk to everyone, there might be someone willing to take on a newbie, or, more likely there may be other newbies that would like to establish a training group.

Don’t expect everyone, or even anyone, to be immediately willing to help you. Field trainers are a closed bunch, they typically have a training group that is already at capacity and all too often newbies have proven to not be committed to this sport that they love. Most of Canada has such a short field season that dedicated field trainers are hesitant to give up even a small portion of their time to help others, even when payment is offered, unless they are certain that the newcomer is extremely serious.

Join any Clubs and volunteer to help at their tests, gunners are always in short supply and Clubs are happy to train newcomers for those and other positions. If fun hunts are offered, go – and help, even if your dog isn’t ready to run even at a fun hunt, go out and offer your assistance, if you do run your dog, make sure you take your turn gunning and doing anything else that is required, everyone at these events are volunteers.

Copies of CKC Rule Books for Working Certificate and Hunt Tests 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).


Retrievers ONLINE” is a Canadian publication for Field Trainers. “Online” offers information on training and handling retrievers with feature articles by the sports top trainers. They offer detailed articles on training drills; advanced field work; training and learning theories; judging and evaluating retrievers; health; breeding; product, book and video reviews. Subscriptions are available for /year (6 issues), back issues can be ordered for each year starting in 1993 for /year or .50/issue. They maintain a list of articles for each issue on their web page ( Contact them directly to subscribe: Retrievers ONLINE , 1457 Heights Rd., R.R. # 3, Lindsay, Ontario, K9V 4R3, Telephone: (705) 793-3556

Retriever Journal” is an American publication. It features articles on all issues related to retrievers including articles on training by some of the country’s most experienced trainers. Subscriptions are available for .95 US/year. 8 issues/year. See their web page for more information (


There are many books available to field trainers, some that are recommended for newcomers are:

Retriever Puppy Training, The Right Start for Hunting by Rutherford, Clarice.; Loveland, Cherylon, Alpine Publications, Incorporated; November 1988. This is an inexpensive book that offers some good advice for getting started, it’s a great book to start with to find out if field work is for you.

Retriever Working Certificate Training by Rutherford, Clarice.; Branstad, Barbara; Whicker, Sandra; Alpine Publications, Incorporated; July 1986. Currently out of print but still a good beginner book if you can find one (try used book stores and E-Bay).

Training Retrievers for Marshes & Meadows by Spencer, James B.. 2nd Edition; Alpine Publications, Incorporated; June 1998. This book can be found in most retriever trainers collections. James Spencer is one of the most respected authors on the subject of retriever training.

Retriever Training Tests by Spencer, James B.. 2nd Edition, Alpine Publications, Incorporated; July 1997. Illustrates different mark and blind setups for training and testing.

Tri-tronics Retriever Training, By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs with Alice Woodyard. Written as a “how to” for the Tri-tronics Electronic Collar, this book is an excellent tool regardless of whether you intend to use the e-collar or not.


The list of supplies that you can have is endless, but to get you started, half a dozen bumpers (white or black/white), a bucket to carry them in, a Roy Gonia whistle, a lanyard to hang it on and a long line, should suffice. Two Canadian mail order companies that carry field supplies are:

Canvasback Pets – ( Selkirk, Manitoba, 1-800-889-6191

Pet Supply House – ( Guelph, Ontario, 1-800-268-3716


A search of the Internet will find many sites that offer training articles, or you can join one of the many chat lists, two that are available are:

Hunting Retriever List
For Hunting Retrievers of any breed. Topics include training and hunting, hunt tests and retrievers. See their web page for subscription information

This list is for owners and trainers of gun dogs who wish to learn, use and promote positive training methods. See their web page for subscription information


Once you decide that this is the game for you, you can look at attending seminars, ads can be found in Retrievers ONLINE, by searching the internet and through Club newsletters. Jim Dobbs offers seminars through Clubs all across North America for all levels of expertise, information can be found at his web site (

Make your own help

The best way to get help is to make your own. Join clubs, help at tests, find out who is doing well in tests in your area and see if they are willing to conduct an introductory seminar that offers the basics on how to get a Working Certificate (WC) or Junior Hunter (JH). If that individual is reluctant to take on the job for just money, see if they are interested in making it a fundraiser for your Club, perhaps they are in need of more training equipment, the experienced folks in the Club might be willing to give their time if there is the promise of a new Zinger Winger that can be used at training days!

In the interim, while you are looking for ways to break into the field game, continue to work on basic obedience with your dog. A solid recall and good manners will assist you greatly in the field. Not to mention that presenting a well behaved dog to those you hope will help you will cast you and your dog in an excellent light.

For those that are involved in the field there is no better game, the dogs love it, the people love to watch the dogs loving it, the effort it takes to get involved is well worth it. Walking away with that first ribbon is just a small part, building the relationship with your dog, becoming a true team in every sense of the word, that is where the real satisfaction lays. Go on out and give it a try.

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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