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Hi there again folks!

Loretta hasn't fired me, yet. I suspect she is too busy with her litter of puppies - so she forgot about me!

When last we spoke, I was in the middle of answering questions relating to my first article and various issues that come up in field trials. As a trailer on the last article, I mentioned that I would finish up with the original questions in this article and then discuss electric collar training. Apparently I hit a nerve with folks. Many people have expressed interest in an electric collar discussion. I was going to skip the last of the original questions and head straight to the collar stuff, but I'm afraid I might be opening a can of worms with that so we may not get back to the original questions for a while. That isn't fair to the folks who asked them, so I will use this article to finish off the questions and then delve into electric collars in the next issue. Suffice it to say for now that I do use electric collars - but I also feel they are the single greatest threat to our breed at the moment. (If that didn't interest you enough to read the next issue, then Loretta really does need to fire me!)

"Give dogs the chance to shine whenever possible."

So, last time we talked about puppy stakes, fun trials, hunt tests, and dogs with flush issues. We stopped at heavy cover trials. The next question asked was: "How is a judge to do his job at a trial with cover the keeps the dog hidden from sight?" This is a great question that is tough to answer completely. It brings up a fundamental difference in philosophies regarding field trials and how they relate to the hunting we do with our dogs. First off, let us answer the question then discuss implications of the question.

In simplest terms, when judging in heavy cover I like the dogs that I can see the best! A dog that frequently checks in with its handler typically runs tighter in real heavy cover. The dogs that do well under me are the ones that hunt the objectives on the course and frequently check in for direction. I want them running downwind of major objectives such as bushes or clumps of grass. I want the dog smashing through the cover showing boldness, stamina, and desire. And most importantly, I want them keeping track of their handler while they are doing it all.

Many field trials are run in very light cover where the dogs and handlers can always see each other. A lot of whistle is used to keep the dog working back to the handler. When these same dogs get isolated from their handler in heavier cover, they often tend to start hunting on their own. The handler doesn't know when to blow the whistle because they can't see the dog, meanwhile the dog is off doing its own thing. The series gets completely messed up and somehow it is the fault of the field trial committee who ran the trial in the heavy cover. That seems rather silly to me because I often hunt in places where I can't see my dog. Many, actually most field trailers can't make that same statement. They don't hunt, they just play the field trial game and prefer to have lighter cover where they can see their dogs.

This lighter cover works great for the pen raised birds that are being used. This is the difference in philosophies between field trial folks. It says in the "blue book" (book of field trial guidelines) that the reason we field trial is to find the best hunting dog. Some folks take that quite literally and look for the best hunting dog. Other folks don't. They are looking for the best field trial dog - which isn't always the same thing. We will get into this much deeper in our electric collar discussion, but the bottom line is some trailers hunt and other don't. Those that hunt like running the trials in cover where one might actually find a bird in the wild. Those that don't hunt like running the trials in very even cover as that is more fair to each individual dog. Each side has a good argument but in the end we sell most of our puppies to hunters, not field trailers.

"As a judge, it is your job to balance bird finding with control, using the weekends conditions as the scale."

Now, while running in heavy cover, a judge should make certain allowances. A dog that checks in frequently with the handler will not do so when on game. It isn't necessarily the dog's fault if he trails a bird onto his bracemate's course and flushes it on the wrong side of the flag line. Also, birds can come from anywhere. In heavy cover, they can be running all over the place.

I am typically very slow to throw out a dog for a poached bird (one flushed on the bracemate's course) or a passed bird, when in that situation. As a judge, I am very slow to call a passed bird in light cover. In real heavy cover, I am very, very slow to do it. Common sense is the key here. Negative judges are disaster in this situation. When judging this sort of trial, you must not look for ways to throw dogs out. Instead, you need to be looking for ways to mark dogs up. Look for the good things they did and think about how you would like to work with that dog if you were hunting instead of field trialing.

In the same vein is retrieves. Many field trial folks do not send for long retrieves. One long time pro once told me that he believes that dogs shouldn't even be sent if the wing gun on the other course shoots a bird, as that isn't fair since most of the dogs don't get that opportunity. I feel that life isn't fair and one has to deal with it.

I send for most reasonable retrieves. If I have the time on a given weekend, I send for many unreasonable retrieves, too! I'm not looking to throw dogs out on a failed retrieve, but to mark them up on a job well done. When I had time while judging the National, I sent on many long falls. I was quick to tell the handlers that they were welcome to handle the situation any way they wanted to - I just wanted the bird. I didn't expect the dogs to actually make the mark on some of those falls, but I did expect the handler to be able to get the dog into the area of the fall and get me the bird. I typically tell folks to: "Do whatever you want, just get me the bird." That means exactly what it says. I will judge you accordingly. If you are able to direct your dog with a couple of long "get backs" and "overs" I will very much like it. If you need to walk out and point at the bird before your dog can find it you still might not be out, but I will certainly judge you lower on it.

When hunting, I have never left a shot bird in the field because I thought it was too far away to retrieve. I believe that this practice in field trials looks very bad to folks who are visiting for the day. I have to believe that any folks trying to decide whether our game is ethical or not would certainly not be swayed to our side of the fence after seeing several birds left to rot in the field because they were too far for a dog to retrieve.

Also, when judging these long falls, you are free to change your mind. I have sent for some wing-tipped roosters that were not really that far away. I wanted to give the dogs the opportunity to do it. In the end, a couple of times I decided that the dog really had little chance of completing the retrieve. So even though they didn't come up with the bird, I forgave them for it and we went back onto the course and carried on. Give dogs the chance to shine whenever possible.

Lastly, is the question of running at field trials - specifically running after your dog while he is on game. When taking a runner, often handlers will run after their dog with guns and judges in tow. It says quite specifically in the blue book that this is not allowed. What one is supposed to do is stop your dog and catch up to him with a brisk walk. Or, if the bird is running up the middle of the course, call your dog off the bird and quarter up the course.

In the real world things are a bit more indefinite.

Often times scenting isn't very good, especially ground scenting in the light cover where we run many of our trials. The time it takes to stop your dog and catch up could mean the difference between finding a bird and not finding a bird. There is no correct answer here - it depends on the situation. If scenting is great, move quickly and keep stopping your dog until you catch up with the bird. If scenting is awful, let your dog go until it is just out of range. If you just can't keep up, stop him then and catch up. In these conditions I will often move pretty fast to keep up with my dog so that I can give him every chance to find that bird. When conditions are average, show your dog off as best as possible. Don't stop your dog four times and then lose the bird, but don't run after the dog, either. If your dog won't stop while working game, then go ahead and run after him, hoping the judge won't figure out what you are doing. Many judges are more impressed with bird work and less impressed with control so you may be surprised at what you can get away with. As a judge, it is your job to balance bird finding with control, using the weekends conditions as the scale.

Runners up the middle of the course are really tough. One is supposed to be able to call the dog off the runner and quarter up the course. Some judges actually want to see that, others do not. When in this situation, it is normally best to stop your dog, explain that you think your dog is taking a runner up the course, and ask the judge how he would like you to handle it. This is normally the only way to insure that you will give the judge what they want. That being said, often judges are surprised in that situation. I did that at a National a couple of years ago and actually had the judge tell me to "do whatever I think is best." What I thought was best was to do whatever the judge preferred for me to do in that situation so that answer was of little help to me. What I did do was get lucky, deciding to quarter my dog but having the bird run diagonally off the course after a flag so we got to take the runner off to the side. As a judge, if your handler is not handling this in the manner in which you would like it is not inappropriate to tell them before they get into too much trouble. IF you want the dog to cover the course instead of taking the runner up the middle of it, stop the handler who is running up the course and explain to him that he is not helping himself.

All right, that is most of the non-electric collar related questions. Next issue, we are on to the shocking truth of spaniel training.

Don't forget the liver treats,


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Jason Givens experienced success in the springer field trial game as an amateur. He then turned professional, nine years ago. Jason and his wife, Michelle, own and operate Lighthouse Kennels at Cambria, Wisconsin. They train all flushing breeds for hunting and hunt tests, along with just springers for field trials. To that end, since 2000, he regularly finishes in the top-ten for the Hogan Award - which is the top professional springer handler trophy. Jason has achieved several national championship placements in America and Canada, including winning the American National Open in 2003. In additon, Jason has judged numerous trials both sides of the border - including the Cocker National and the Springer National Open.

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