A Brief History of Norden Lights Working Golden Retrievers
Norden Lights is the affix to a long line of working Golden Retrievers established in 1988, when I first selected a young ‘Golden’ from a gamekeeper without fully understanding the differences between different retrievers.
When I first started in gundogs, it was quite easy to get onto local shoots and start picking up – and it was here that I learned that my selected dog was biddable, very fast and an immense pleasure to own and work with.
From local picking up, I eventually joined a local gundog club and came 2nd in my 2nd trial – the less I knew, the easier it seemed to compete.
My dog went on to win a trial that year and then I had an open dog and was soon hooked into field trialling. Today, almost 30 years on, I still compete with ‘Goldens’.
Ten years ago, when dogs still had to be kennelled for nearly nine months before being allowed into the UK, I imported a Field Golden Retriever from America.
As time went by, I mated this dog to one of my UK-bred dogs, a very strong, powerful dog that was doing very well in the trialling world. This turned out to be a very good mating, with all pups going to working homes and one of them ending up as an FTCH (Field Trial Champion).
I still do working tests and field trials, but have now started entering my dogs into working trials, a numerically small sport that has been around since the 1920s.
With my years of experience and a strong and successful line of Golden Retrievers I offer both NordenLights puppies and Golden Retriever training in Lancashire, North West England.
The best way to explain Working Trials is to call them a civilian equivalent to the work of police dogs – although working trials are, of course, purely for competition. Working trials have also been described as a canine equivalent to horses’ Three-Day Eventing.
Like field trials, working trials are run under Kennel Club regulations. Schedules are constructed so competitors must qualify for entry from stake to stake and from Open to Championship trials.
Working Trials Classes, Stakes and Sections
Working Trials have two classes, Open & Championship and – with the exception of CD – participants must qualify at an open level before they can enter into championship trials. If, for example, you wish to enter a UD championship trial, you must have qualified at a UD open trial first.
There are five stakes, or levels of competition, in working trials, and these stakes must be worked progressively. While all breeds of dog can participate, smaller dogs tend to be at a disadvantage in the higher stakes due to the equipment used within the agility section.
Working trial sections include the:
Nose Work Section – This section carries the highest proportion of marks by far. The tracking stakes require a dog to the scent of a human for a minimum of half a mile – negotiating terrain changes, turning corners and occasionally curves, etc. – and recover items of property placed in varying locations by tracklayers as it goes.
Handlers and dogs are not present during the laying of the track and, depending on the stake being worked, a track may have been left for anything from 30 minutes up to three hours before it is worked. Wind, weather conditions and terrain types play very important parts in competitors’ success or failure, especially on three-hour old tracks. The tracking stakes within this section also include a property square, with four articles being placed into a square, 25 yd. x 25 yd. area.
Agility Section – In all stakes, dogs must jump (in a controlled manner) obstacles upon their handlers’ command. Upon completion of the long or clear jump, the dog must remain in a controlled position until joined by the handler.
During scale jumps, dogs must remain on the jump’s other side (again in a controlled position) until recalled back over by their handlers.
Control Section – In this section, you are required to demonstrate that you & your dog have the bond necessary to effectively work as a team. While the exercises used in this section are quite self-explanatory, judges will not be looking for “Obedience style precision” – this kind of ‘precision heelwork’ could, in fact, result in your marks being docked.
Judges are, however, looking to see that exercises have been thoroughly taught and can be competently performed.
When considering that control fields can be anything from neat, freshly cut pastures to fields with stubble up to 8 inches tall and send-away can be anything from 20 (Intro stake) or 50 yards (in CD) up to 100 to 200 yards of more for higher stakes, it becomes clear why precision is not particularly practicable.
Heel Free Section – The Heel Free section includes the following exercises:
- Heel on Lead (CD & Intro stakes only)
- Recall to Handler (CD & Intro stakes only)
- Send Away (Intro, CD, UD & WD stakes)
- One Minute in Sight Sit Stay (Intro stakes only)
- Five Minutes Out of Sight Down Stay (Intro stakes only)
- Two Minute Out of Sight Sit Stay (CD stakes only)
- Speak on Command (TD & PD stakes only)
- Send Away & Re-Direct (TD & PD stakes only)
- Ten Minutes Out of Sight Down Stay (all stakes except Intro)
- Steadiness to Gunshot (all stakes except CD or Intro)
Developed to test gundogs’ working ability under competitive conditions, field trials are designed to resemble a day’s shooting in the field as closely as possible. Here, dogs will be expected to work with different kinds of games, including anything from pheasants and partridges to hares and rabbits.
Many gundog breeds were developed traditionally to assist man when hunting. Cocker Spaniels flushed out & retrieved game; Labrador Retrievers gathered man’s game in fields and Setters and Pointers ranged over fields helping hunters to find rabbits and birds for the table. Many of these breeds still help us hunt and shoot today.
Attracting competitors in their hundreds, Field trials are very popular and still very much a part of today’s countryside activities. If you like seeing dogs working as their breed was intended to and have an understanding of and a love for the countryside, Gundog Working Tests and Field Trials could be exactly what you’re looking for.
If you are looking to own a dog capable of performing well at a day’s shooting, success is more likely if the dog comes from working stock. Some dogs that have been bred simply as pets or for showing may have lost a great deal of their hunting and working instinct – which, of course, is vital for working gundogs.
Requiring lots of training, plenty of off-the-lead exercise and mental stimulation (keeping their minds active) through working in the field, working gundogs can be more demanding than show dogs or pets, so you must be completely dedicated to developing your gundog as a working animal.
Breeders of working stock dogs should be able to provide you with advice on how to start developing your dog into an effective working gundog. They should also be able to introduce you to people with similar interests within your area.
The many large Country & Game Fairs held annually across the country are well worth attending if you want to learn more. These fairs usually include working gundog demonstrations and you should take the time to watch these demonstrations, as well as talking to and getting advice from the people involved.
Some of the larger fairs will also have a Kennel Club stand and staff will be happy to clarify any rules/regulations you may need assistance with and/or discuss the discipline and related topics with you.
Once you have decided that this is the discipline for you, you are ready to begin the training process. It is important to remember here that both your dog and you must be healthy and fit to do a long day’s work. You need, in fact, to be quite robust to go tramping across some of the tough, rough terrain you are likely to encounter on some countryside shoots!
Your training must bring out each gundog category’s traditional working abilities in the field. The first step towards success is to join a gundog club or Field Trial society who can offer you a range of opportunities for training during the summer months. Find gundog clubs and training near you by using our ‘Find a Club’ tool or look at our Field Trial Societies list.
Field Trial Societies can assist with specialist field trial training and suggest trainers potentially willing to provide one-to-one ‘to the gun’ training. The thing to remember is that training working gundogs can take years of hard work and – to create a capable dog that confidently works in the field – developing a good, strong rapport with the dog.
Field Trial Societies also sometimes organise members’ training assessments and competitions designed to assist handlers with their training techniques and develop dogs’ abilities.
These assessments/competitions are very helpful, as they help your dog learn to work when surrounded by other dogs and people, just like it would in the field. Clubs also often publish magazines and/or newsletters and organise a variety of social events.
Becoming a member of field trial societies is, by the way, also the only way you can enter gundog competitions. Every year, many gundog tests and more than 600 field trials are held – and most of them are over-subscribed.
Club members are always given preference, so if you wish to enter competitions, you must join several clubs to give yourself a chance of actually getting a run.
Once you’ve joined a trial society, it is a good idea to ask for the opportunity to attend a trial or two as a guest, as this will give you the chance to the required standard of dogs for working in the field and pick up some training tips from experienced, top handlers in these competitions.
Most field trials take place during the autumn/winter shooting season, with Setter and Pointer ‘circuits’ held during August/September and April/May.
Gundog Working Tests (or GWTs)
The majority of gundogs will take a minimum of two years before they are ready to workin competitions. The first type of competition you are likely to enter will be Gundog Working Tests. Open to members of organising clubs only, these competitions do not involve any shooting of live game and are designed to develop sound, good gundog work & encourage the natural working ability of dogs.
Working with dummies, these competitions are a friendly, natural extension of training you already do with your dog and are designed specifically to suit the differing working abilities 3 of the 4 groups of gundogs, namely Retrievers, Spaniels and breeds that hunt, point & retrieve. There are currently no gundog working tests for Setters and Pointers.
Retrievers will be tested on their ability to find game and the speed & directness of a retrieve. Judges look for rapid pickups, fast returns and a natural nose & marking ability, as well as quietness in handling, drive, control and style.