Field trial

Field trial

A field trial is a competitive event at which hunting dogs compete against one another. Field trials are usually organized by kennel clubs or other gun dog organizations. Field trials are generally considered more competitive than hunt tests in that success at a field trial requires a higher level of training than success at a hunt test requires. For example, in Retriever Field Trials, dogs retrieve over longer distances with a more complex path than a Retriever Hunt Test would generally provide. Field trial dogs must be "finished" in order to enter. Their purpose is also different, as they exist mainly for breeders, while hunting tests are made for users.

The term is confusing as it means different things to different breed organizations. Spaniel field trials demand that dogs compete against one another, whereas retriever field trials are more similar to hunt tests among other breeds. In most hunt tests, on the other hand, dogs are evaluated against a written standard and all of the dogs in the hunt test may qualify if they meet the standard. To further complicate the issue, various kennel organizations have differing definitions of field trial.

All dogs in the field trial are polished dogs and the competitors are evaluated against one another, meaning that only one dog can win.

Field trials come in various grades including Open, Amateur, Sanctioned and non-sanctioned. An Open field trial permits entry from any handler or trainer while an Amateur trial only permits non-professional handlers/trainers. Sanctioned trials are ones that are held under the control of a national kennel club, while the non-sanctioned can be organized by a local club.

Field trials in the UK and Ireland

A field trial that is held under the auspices of the Kennel Club, the UK's governing body in respect of working gundogs, can be described as a competition to assess the work of gundogs in the field. By definition this means that all field trials are held on live, unhandled game that is shot for the purpose of that field trial. Game that has been handled in any way, whether it be live or dead game, may not be used for testing dogs in any part of a field trial. The only exception to this rule is where dead game may be used in the conduct of a water test at a field trial. The reason this exception exists it to acknowledge the fact that game will not necessarily be shot over water, although for dogs to qualify for titles in field trials will be required to demonstrate their ability to retrieve from water.

Gundog clubs and societies that are registered with the Kennel Club and which have been authorised to organise and run field trials may do so, provided that a licence is issued to that club or society for every field trial. Field trials not licensed by the Kennel Club are liable to be deemed as unrecognised canine events.


Field trials can consist of one or more stakes, which can be considered as separate competitions within a field trial. Such stakes can be run for any of the four sub-groups of gundogs recognised by the Kennel Club. The four sub-groups are;

#Retrievers and Irish Water Spaniels
#Sporting Spaniels other than Irish Water Spaniels
#Pointers and Setters
#Breeds that Hunt, Point and Retrieve

Open Stake

This is a stake in which the dogs have the opportunity of gaining a qualification towards the title of Field Trial Champion (FTCh) and towards entry in the Championships or Champion Stake for its breed.

All Age Stake

This is open to all dogs of a specified breed or breeds without restriction as to the age of the dog, but which may be restricted by other conditions that are deemed necessary by the organising club or society. Four placements plus a Reserve JAM and JAMs (Judges Award of Merit).

Novice Stake

This stake is confined to dogs that not have gained the following awards:

*Retrievers; First, second, third or fourth award in a 24 dog Open Stake; or first, second or third award in a 12 dog Open Stake; or first award in an All Aged or Novice Stake
*Spaniels; First, second or third in Open Stakes; or first in an All Age or Novice Stake
*Mixed Breed; First

Puppy Stake

Confined to dogs whelped not earlier than 1 January in the year preceding the date of the field trial. If a Puppy Stake is run in January then a dog that was a puppy in the previous year is deemed to still be a puppy.


The judges at field trials are appointed by the Field Trial Secretary of the organising club or society, after having been instructed to do so by the committee of the club or society. It is considered and honour to be asked to judge at a field trial and the highest standard of judging is expected from appointed judges. The club or society running the trial must satisfy itself that the persons being invited to judge at a trial have practical experience of both field trials and sporting shooting. Judges may not shoot at a stake at which they are judging nor may they enter a dog for competition at that trial (except for retriever stakes where someone else may handle their dog in a stake other than the one the owner has been asked to judge).

Judges are classified as either A or B "Panel Judges and Non-panel (NP). However, an A Panel Judge must be present at all field trials. Judges are appointed to panels after recommendation from a Field Trial Secretary of a club or society which is approved to hold Open Stakes for the appropriate sub-group of gundogs for which he or she has judged within the past three years. The opinion of all previous A Panel judges with whom he or she has judged field trials over the previous three years will be sought by the Kennel Club's Field Trial Sub-Committee. The experience of the perspective Panel Judge over the last number of years is taken into account but this must include having judged at trials for at least two different clubs or societies and with at least five different A Panel co-judges.

In addition, judges appointed to the B Panel must have a minimum of three years judging experience and six stakes, with at least five A Panel Judges. For appointment to the A Panel, judges must have served at least three years as a B Panel Judge, judging at a minimum of six stakes of which three must have been Open Stakes and with at least five different A Panel Judges.

Awards & prizes

It is the judges at field trials who decide whether or not awards are to be made. In tests where the dog and handler team are judged against a standard, in some instances it has been adjudged that none of the dogs reached the required standard and awards have been withheld. This is, however, an unusual occurrence. It is more common for awards to be limited to one or two places than not to be awarded.

An award is any placing in a stake decided by the judges which may be first, second, third or fourth position. The following can also be conferred at the discretion of judges:

*At a Championship Stake :Diploma of Merit
*In Other Stakes :Certificates of Merit

Regulations for retriever & spaniel breeds

Dogs competing in retriever or spaniel field trials must not wear a collar of any kind when under the order of the judges. Leads can be used when dogs are not under the order of the judges, but these must be removed prior to the dogs entering the competition line. Any dog that, in the opinion of the judges, does not reach the required standard for the breed will not receive an award. Judges will eliminate dogs from the trial if they have committed and "eliminating fault." Where the judges eliminate a dog for hard mouth, the handler must be given the opportunity of examining the game in the presence of the judges. Their decision, however, is final and binding.

In general, all dogs must be steady to the shot and the fall of game and should have the ability to retrieve on command. Handlers at field trials must not send their dog on a retrieve until they have been instructed to do so by a judge. Because all field trials in the UK are conducted in live shooting environments, judges will have instructed their guns not to shoot directly over a dog when it is already out working on a retrieve. All wounded game is gathered and dispatched at the earliest possible opportunity and is normally retrieved before dead game. It is possible that game cannot be gathered by the dogs in competition and in such cases the judges would assign this task to picker-up appointed for this purpose.

As good marking is essential in a retrieving breed to avoid the disturbance of game in the vicinity, judges will give full credit to a dog that goes directly to the fall of the game and gets on with the job of locating and retrieving. A clean pick up is preferred but judges will normally not penalize too heavily dogs that set game down to get a better grip. They will, of course, make a distinction between this and dogs that are guilty of sloppy retrieving or that deliver short of the handler.

Whilst dogs are required to be obedient and respond to its handler's signals, good game finding dogs will be scored higher than those dogs that need handled to the game. Usually the better dogs require less handling, appear to have an instinctive knowledge of direction and make a difficult find look simple. In the UK, Judges will call up dogs that are performing indifferently on a runner and another dog will be tried on it. The work of subsequent dogs on the runner will be assessed in the order in which they are tried. Missed game that is picked by the second or subsequent dog constitutes an "eye wipe." All "eye wipes" will be treated on their merits but dogs that have had their "eye wiped" during the body of the stake will be discarded by the judges. Where a dog shows ability by acknowledging the fall of game and making a workmanlike job of the line to the fall, it should not be barred from the awards by failing to retrieve the game if that game is not collected by another dog, tried by the judges on the same game.

All retrieved game is examined by the judges for signs of "hard mouth." Because hard mouthed dogs seldom give a visible sign of hardness by damaging the skin of game, the retrieved game should be placed in the palm of the hand, breast upwards and head forwards. Judges will examine the rib gage of the game, looking for any signs of the ribs being crushed by running the index finger and thumb along each side of the rib cage. If a judges suspects hard mouth, he or she would normally consult with their co-judge who will also examine the game. Where judges are in agreement that the damage has been caused by the dog crushing and not by the fall or the shot, the handler will be given the opportunity of inspecting the game in the presence of the judges. The decision of the judges is final and the dog will be eliminated from the trial.

FDSB / AFTCA Field Trials

Definitions of field trials differ based on the organizations that sanction them. The above definition is quite different from, for example, FDSB (Field Dog Stud Book) and AFTCA (Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America) field trials primarily for pointers and English setters. The FDSB is the oldest stud book in the USA. The American Field publishes a weekly newspaper announcing field trials around the country and reporting the results of previous trials. There are primarily horseback and walking Shooting Dog trials (including Grouse and Woodcock trials held in areas where those birds exist) and All Age trials. Today, All Age refers to a particular type of stake and the dogs that run in those stakes which include open championships run on the Canadian prairies (i.e. The Dominion and The Manitoba All Age Championships), the endurance championships of the south (i.e. The Southern, The Continental, The Free-for-All, The National Field Trial Championships) Many of these championships are over 100 years old. The National Field Trial Championship is perhaps the most famous endurance trial. It has, for many years been run on the Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, Tennessee. Grand Junction is the home of the Bird Dog Foundation and the Bird Dog Museum. The National Championship is a three hour long stake for which the dogs must qualify in other trials throughout the year in order to participate. Please visit The AFTCA and American Field websites for more information on FDSB field trials.

External links

* [ The American Field]
* [ Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America]
* [ Strideaway]
* [ Bird Dog Foundation]
* [ National Field Trial Championship]
* [ National Field Trial Championship Sequel Book Project]
* [ National Red Setter Field Trial Club]
* [ Pointing dogs FCI Field Trials]
* [ AKC Field Trial Rules and Standard PRocedure for Retrievers]
* [ Field Trials in Europe (compared to the american system)]
* [ North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association]


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