Partial use of replica game in Retrieving Trials.

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Partial use of replica game in Retrieving Trials.

Postby Peter Butterfield » Mon 02 Mar 2020 4:55 pm

Re-posted from RA facebook...

A Statement by Elio Colasimone (QLD)
2 March 2020

Re: Partial use of replica game in Retrieving Trials.
I’m heading overseas for a while and feeling a bit guilty of being having been somewhat slack and not sharing stuff that newbies might not be privy to or might even find a little bit interesting and just might help clear a few misconceptions re trialling and gundog work in general here in Oz.

Problem I find with Facebook is that it’s not the right type of medium to explain things fully. It’s all about slotting in brief grabs which often result in discussions going off in all sorts of tangents and folk losing track.

I’ve only got time for this single entry..
Mightily sorry it is ridiculously long and I apologise. But don’t bother reading it at all unless you’re prepared to see it through. There are a fairly broad range of things that are all interlinked on this topic.

BACKGROUND: I've spent a lifetime harvesting game: feather, fur, small, large:- using air rifles, rimfire, centrefire and shotguns –mostly using gundogs in the process. I've trialled in and judged ANKC - Retrieving and Field Trials up to and including multiple State and National Championships in both - with a bit of exposure to hunting/judging overseas.

I've titled about seven dogs in Retrieving and Field or both. A couple have been inducted in the ANKCs Field and Retrieving ‘Hall of Fame’. All of them doubled up as stock standard hunting dogs – hunted extensively on feather/fur etc.
Much huffing and puffing noise is made about the need to maintain a strong link to hunting in gundog sports and in this case retrieving. Good idea in principle but what’s the reality.

The link vis a vis -Hunting to Retrieving Trials - is a fair bit different to some assumptions being made especially re the idea trials are clearly set up to closely replicate hunting and hard mouth assessment is a critical element.
The reality: The core link to hunting wobbles a lot under close scrutiny. Retrieving Trials are effectively mostly a stand alone activity.
When comparing Retrieving Trials to Field Trials it’s obvious the latter actually comes much closer to what happens in hunting.
Retrieving Trials thankfully still manage to do a surprisingly effective job of testing retrieving - considering that only 20-30% of tasks replicate hunting - mainly those tests that have a wetland connection (flights of ducks)..

In the dry upland scenarios very, very few realistic real hunting linkages occur.
While hunting upland in Oz - -most game hunted moves away in a linear fashion from the handler (feather/fur ) because of disturbance by dog/handlers and is taken in a 20-45m arc- generally moving away from the gun. Almost impossible to set up in retrieving trials effectively to replicate the real hunt.

Hard mouth is often the fly in the ointment when discussions get a bit agitated.
From my experience –‘hard mouth’ throws up more permutations than one can imagine.. I've seen several multiple All Age winners whose mouth was reliable in trials and then turned around and would smash too may quail in the field. I've seen fantastic hunting dogs that consistently brought back an array of native game that was almost always - 'fit for the table'. These same great hunting dogs – every now and then -would inexplicably damage the odd pigeon in upland work and particularly so in wetlands at retrieving trials. Interestingly, these days we often see judges hardly bothering to look at the birds towards the end of the trial.

Suggesting a good mouth at retrieving trials is the prized, key, ironclad guide for breeding or an ironclad predictor of what would happen with real game while hunting is sadly misplaced. It seemed that whatever pick up task was being asked of the dogs - real or pretend - it required specific training for the specific task until it was hopefully safely locked in place. Pigeons at trials are one thing, wild quail in the paddocks, something else. Domestic pigeons have been the default -fall back even if they’re not hunted and are very ordinary in water. Experience suggests they are not the truly reliable predictor for what happens while hunting re hard mouth.

Change need not be scary nor deflating.
Field Trials in Oz have had to adapt to include a Closed Season component to allow trials to be held in Qld, NSW, WA. It’s not odd.
Even nations with a strong hunting and trialling cultures offer similar variants that include non live shooting events.
A bit of background stuff of interest: Virtually all gundog trialling nations do not allow handlers to use firearms - whether live rounds or blanks are being used. Handlers just handle. Perhaps an area for further scrutiny.
We have other unique approaches e.g. allowing a variety of non-traditional retrieving breeds in retrieving trials.
Our typical trial has a person standing there with a gun responding to a judge’s set up and pretending to hunt. This scenario is just plain a long way removed from the bulk of hunting reality.
It doesn’t diminish the value of the activity as long as it is understood that it is almost all a stand alone activity.

Re the Qld approach: This might lighten some angst for some.
The move for partial use of replica is aimed at giving the gundog sport of retrieving a better chance to stay alive and possibly gain more appeal.
The current situation:
Point 1: Dogs Qld has accepted from the local RAFT an initiative that the majority of triallers in Qld support - that clubs could offer the option of partial use of replica in Retrieving trials-Novice 1-Restricted 2-All Age 3.* State and National Championships -being still all traditional game.
Rationale: Convenience, Cost, hopefully draw in more participants – still cover ‘hard mouth’ satisfactorily.
Point 2: Communications are in train between Dogs Qld - ANKC re the flow on implications of such a an initiative for Retrieving Trials in Qld and across the nation i.e. qualifications and acceptance of them across the board. In due course, final outcomes of these deliberations would be communicated via formal channels.
Point 3: My belief is that most Qld clubs are in no position to enact anything just yet. They would be waiting for further clarifications before investing in needed equipment. In any case – should clubs be in a position to move ahead – these events would be clearly advertised as to exactly what their status was.

From my own experience of extensive hunting, trialling, judging (Field/Retrieving) – how do I really feel?
If any of my current generation of dogs titled in a system using the partial use of replica game they would not lose one iota of value to me compared to past generations who titled - nor would it diminish the value of their preparation or potential as full blown hunting dogs. The transfer of skills would be seamless. Hunting is a unique road travelled in many respects all on its own with its own set of issues to be dealt with.
At the moment and for as long as I can remember in all our personal, formal or informal and club training sessions with all the folk I’ve trained with - various breeds have been expected to pick up an assortment and variety of dummies, dokkens, a mish mash of feather and fur in any number of permutations and combinations. They generally do it without missing a beat. The level of success, reliability and predictability of it all happening without fuss – relies on the application of properly developed training techniques. The chatter about dogs not being interested in dummies/dokkens or not being able to scent them etc doesn’t hold up in any shape or form.

In my view -giving dogs one, two or three pieces of pristine game to pick up in a retrieving trial where replica game is used in parts – provides a clear enough guide for the judges –because the cold fresh game is only used once -no excuses to fall back on for handlers or judges.
Overall – in my experience – I believe this approach is an acceptable benchmark for our OZ style sport of retrieving.
The future of the gundog sports won't be driven by people the likes of me who have hunted all their lives. It will include a significant proportion who have never fired or intend to fire a firearm at live game -but want to test their dog’s natural retrieving skills.
Others like me who hope to continue hunting won’t just be relying on performances in Retrieving Trials as the key guide in the preparation of our dogs for what they will be expected to do in the real hunting world. Picking up a blend of replica and traditional game at trials won’t be a negative and won’t make a skerrick of difference or detract from their hunting preparation.
So anything that make it easier to keep the retrieving sport afloat and the new wave of participants wanting to stay with it and dare I say possibly even increase participation has to be considered seriously.

* Elio Colasimone Clarification: Traditional cold game Items still to be picked up: Novice 1 Rest 2 AA 3.
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Please note that the author has requested further contributions on this topic be paused "until some clear outcomes are seen in relation to the bodies wanting to run retrieving trials differently are formalised and properly worked out with the support of their constituent and are actually sanctioned and clearly understood info is released through official channels..via state bodies and the ANKC." RA Admin.
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