Working trials

At the time of writing (February 2007) only a couple of Lagotto are being trained to compete in Working Trials, but this is an activity they are very well suited to, as they possess all the characteristics required to succeed at the highest level. All that is needed for such success are new owners interested in acquiring a Lagotto especially for this activity!

Working Trials is something akin to three-day eventing for horses, in that it consists of three sections: - Nosework, Control and Agility.

  • The Nosework section requires the dog to follow the track of a person who has walked in a set pattern, leaving articles along the way. The dog must follow thetrack, using its nose, and find the articles. You usually get about 20 minutes to do this. It must also find 4 articles in a marked area, 25 yards square, within 5 minutes. The age of the track varies from 1/2 hour in the lowest stake, to 3 hours in the top stake (more about stakes later), and the articles tend to get smaller the higher the stake. Articles must be picked up and carried without being chewed or dropped, and delivered to hand, not dropped on the ground at the handler's feet! This is the most important section, and carries over 70% of available marks.
  • The Control section consists of Heelwork, Retrieve a dumbbell (or speak on command in the top stake), Send away (with redirection in the top stake), Down Stay (10 minutes with the handlers out of sight) and steadiness to gun. All exercises have to be done with a minimum of commands, and again the standard gets higher in the higher stakes.
  • The Agility section has only 3 jumps - a 3 ft clear jump, a 9 ft long jump, and a 6 ft vertical scale, (these are lower for small dogs in the 2 lowest stakes only) which must all be jumped in a very controlled manner. After the clear and long jumps, the dog must wait until joined by the handler, who is not allowed to go past the jump until told by the judge. The scale has very specific rules; the handler must walk towards it with the dog, stop within 9 ft of the scale, and send the dog over. The dog must wait on the other side in a specified position (sit, stand or down), and then come back over on command.

As with all types of dog competition, there are graded levels of competition, depending on the experience of the dogs. There are basically 4 levels, or stakes, and a dog must "qualify" at one stake before he can move up into the next. To qualify, the dog must get 70% of available marks in each section, and 80% overall. Unlike other competitions, marks are gained, not lost.

The 4 stakes are:-

CD - Companion Dog

Slightly different from the others, as there is no tracking, just an elementary search square with 3 articles in a 15 yard square, and there is a more comprehen­sive Control section. This is the only stake with a sit stay.

Tracking Stakes

UD - Utility Dog

1/2 hour track, with 2 articles, one of which must be found. In all the tracking stakes, the dog must find at least 2 articles from the search square to qualify.

WD - Working Dog 

1 1/2 hour track, again with 2 articles, one of which must be found.

TD - Tracking Dog 

3 hour track, with 3 articles, 2 of which must be found. In addition, there is also PD - Patrol Dog, which has a 2 hour track, with 2 articles, 1 of which must be found. PD also includes the Patrol section, with manwork, quartering and test of courage. In this stake, the tracking makes up quite a small proportion of the overall marks, with the majority of marks being awarded for the patrol section. A fairly small minority of handlers take part in this stake, entries usually being under 20, whereas the other stakes can have anything up to about 50, or more in Championship TD. PD and TD are on the same level - the top!

To further add to the complications, there are 2 levels at each stake, Open and Champion­ship, and a dog must qualify in a stake at an Open Trial before it is allowed to enter that stake at a Championship Trial, and must qualify in each stake before moving on to the next one at an Open Trial. At an Open Trial, qualifying dogs get a Certificate of Merit, but at a Championship Trial, you get the cherished "Excellent" Certificate if the dog gets the necessary 80%, and your dog then becomes Companion Dog Excellent, Utility Dog Excellent. Working Dog Excellent, Tracking Dog Excellent or Patrol Dog Excellent, or CDEx, UDEx. WDEx, TDEx, PDEx. To be able to work in Championship TD, a dog must qualify WDEx twice and TD Open twice, and for Championship PD it must qualify WDEx twice and PD Open twice. Thus, you are working all the time against a standard, rather than other competi­tors, as qualifying is all important, and places are a bonus. If your dog is good enough it can progress through the stakes, without having to win out.

The ultimate ambition of everybody competing in Trials is to make their dog into a Working Trials Champion. To do this, the dog must WIN 2 Championship TD and/or PD stakes, under different judges. Winning a "Ticket" entitles the dog to compete in the Kennel Club Championship, held every year in October, hosted by a different Society each year. This is the WT equivalent of Crufts, and to win it is the peak of a WT dog's achievements.

© Judy Meekings

Training for Working Trials

As with all dog training, all exercises are broken down into their component parts, and each part thoroughly taught before being put together to make the whole exercise. Therefore, for instance, teaching the dog to retrieve (the basis of all the nosework), starts with teaching the 'Hold', encouraging the dog firstly to hold anything you offer without chewing, and giving it up on request, and later (maybe MUCH later) teaching it to pick articles from the ground. Only when these 2 skills have been mastered does it progress to formally retrieving a thrown article. However, you can spend time on the completely separate game of hiding toys around the house or garden, and encouraging the dog to find them, ignoring any mouthing etc., or throwing a toy into long grass on a walk, and encouraging the dog to find it using its nose. Likewise, when teaching the control exercises, the basis on which to build is to teach the dog to concentrate on you, so time should be spent just encouraging it to 'watch'. You will be told at training classes which exercises to concentrate on, but success will only be achieved if you are prepared to put in a lot of work at home. Nosework particularly re­quires frequent work in the early stages, but it is pointless trying to teach your dog to track if it is not in the slightest bit interested in toys (food is a possible alternative, but in this case is somewhat of a last resort, to be used for the minimum possible time). The most important first step is to instil a desire in the dog to recover anything and everything, and have a game with it. Remember, all training should be FUN!!

© Judy Meekings

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