During the summer of 2016 Merlin and I have been training for the Kennel Club Working Gundog Certificate (KC WGC) with the South Eastern Gundog Society (SEGS). Our training has taken place once a month from March to July and culminated with an assessment day in August.
The KC WGC is loosely based upon an award known as the Shooting Dog Certificate (SDC) introduced by the Flatcoated Retriever Society (FCRS) in 1981/82. Prior to the introduction of the SDC, the only way of assessing the inherited characteristics essential for a dog working in the shooting field was by entering and winning Field Trials. However, historically there had been few Flatcoats with Field Trial awards and therefore people wanting to breed a working Flatcoated Retriever were limited to a very small gene pool or had to rely on an owners say-so as to their dog’s abilities in the shooting field. The FCRS addressed this problem by encouraging people who had good working dogs to have them assessed via the SDC. The aim of the SDC was (and is still) "to find and to register those flatcoats that are most likely to pass on the right inheritable characteristics to their progeny and to eliminate from the breeding programme those that display the major faults of whining, hard mouth, stubbornness or lack of desire to please”. Subsequently the Kennel Club introduced the WGC, an assessment that could be taken by all gundog breeds, not just Flatcoated Retrievers.
The KC states that the aim of WGC is to provide an assessment of a handler and their dog as a partnership, demonstrating that they have the qualities needed to work successfully together on a shoot. Handlers and their dogs are required to demonstrate control, obedience, sound temperament, hunting ability and retrieving. The WGC can be achieved at a variety of events, on a shoot, at a Gundog Working Test or at a specially organised WGC day. At a WGC test day, the criteria are assessed using thrown dummies or "cold" (previously shot) game and simulated shooting field exercises.
For those of you unfamiliar with driven shooting, on a shoot day, those people who will be shooting, "the Guns", line up at numbered pegs. Behind or beside the Guns, "Pickers-Up" stand with their dogs waiting to retrieve the shot game. Meanwhile, under a gamekeeper’s instructions, a group of "Beaters" and their dogs move through areas of woodland or cover, flushing the game birds ahead of them. The aim is to get the birds to break cover, under control, and fly high over the line of Guns. Shot game will be retrieved quickly by the Pickers-Up sending their dogs out from the pegs once the drive has finished. A well trained gundog therefore needs to be under control and responsive to its handler's instructions all the time. The dogs must remain silent (not whine or bark) while waiting to retrieve. They need to be steady (not to chase) birds or indeed any other animals encountered. The Pickers-Up's dogs should be able to mark (note and remember the position of) fallen birds but also be capable of being directed towards game that they did not see fall. They should deliver the game willingly to hand, without damaging the game. The dogs need to be able to retrieve shot game quickly from all kinds of cover, including from water, and they should be capable of jumping fences and other obstacles with game in their mouths.
The SEGS WGC assessment day was held on the Isenhurst Estate in East Sussex, by kind permission of Clive and Gilly Nickols, and included the following exercises: The handlers and dogs walked together to the start area with our dogs off-lead and under control. A drive was simulated with our dogs being assessed both in the beating line and waiting at the pegs. Gunshot was used and dummies thrown both in front of the dogs in the beating line and in front of the peg dogs. After the drive the peg dogs were assessed hunting for and retrieving both seen and unseen dummies, including a marked retrieve from water. As a further test of steadiness we then reversed roles so that the teams which had been picking up formed a beating line for a second drive and those that had been beating first time around were now sat at the pegs. Again during and after the drive dummies were thrown for marked retrieves, including a water retrieve, for each peg dog. A blind retrieve was also included, where the dog had to be sent over a ditch, through cover and into woodland to hunt for and retrieve an unseen dummy. We then proceeded to some long marked retrieves, which required the dogs to negotiate wire livestock fences and to work together with their handlers, as a team, to retrieve dummies.
After lunch there were further tests of control and obedience, with more off-lead heel work this time walking over more difficult terrain including crossing a stream. A steadiness exercise was arranged where the dogs were left together whist the handlers went out to collect the thrown dummies. The dogs were then required to work together in pairs, with their handlers, hunting bracken cover for a number of unseen dummies. This tested not only the dogs' hunting drive and willingness to enter cover on instruction, but also their temperament and ability to work alongside other dogs without being distracted by each other. A final test of steadiness and temperament was arranged, with the dogs being left in line while their handlers moved out of sight, reappearing on the other side of a stream. The dogs were then recalled across the stream to rejoin their handlers.
I will admit to finding the wait to hear the outcome of our assessment quite nerve wracking. I knew that Merlin and I had worked hard on our training and that he had matured and developed as the summer progressed; I felt he was ready, but had we done enough to pass?... 16 dogs and handlers had signed up for the SEGS WGC course but for various reasons only eight of us attended the final assessment, seven Labrador Retrievers and me with my Flatcoated Retriever. Eventually our assessors, Kim Jinks and Clare Wood completed their deliberations and were ready to give us their verdict and I couldn't have been happier with my boy. We passed and Merlin may now be known as Foxpath Lelantos For Larksburn KC WGC. He is now qualified for Crufts for life (as holders of the KC WGC may enter a special Working Gundog breed class at Crufts) but much more importantly we are ready for the shooting season to come.