Are show dog qualifiers difficult?

Frightening or not? A perspective of the Show Gundog Qualifiers

Show Dog Qualifiers — what are they all about? They are there to indicate that the entered dogs show working ability, and, in a perfect world, we would all like our show gundogs to at least have this title and to prove that they are in fact able to do what they were intentionally bred for.

But are Show Dog Qualifiers as difficult as rumours suggest? I rather naively suggested to my mother that we really ought to try and give it a whirl with Sh Ch Braemist River Dusk (my mother’s bitch), and I volunteered to train, take her picking up and enter her for the qualifier. If it were not for the help and encouragement of Barbara and Aldo Harkin and my Devon friend Sally Innis, we wouldn’t have braved it.

Preparing ourselves

OK, so we had done the easy bit, played with a pheasant at the Harkin’s to see if Dusk was interested and filled in the form and with some trepidation sent it off. I HAD SIX WEEKS TO GET THIS DOG READY! Was I mad? As you can probably gather I am no handler, and, although I have trained one of my dogs in the past, my mother’s are something else! (And they’re bitches; I am sure they’re more fickle than the dogs).

In all, I attended two picking-up sessions on a local farmer’s shoot in what I can only describe as the most atrocious weather conditions, and managed to retrieve only a total of four birds — the rest was basic training and practising with cold game.

I was, in fact, reasonably confident about the Qualifier but I had heard some horror stories, to the extent that they were run like a field Trial. I looked at little Dusk trembling beside me (I had become her best friend) and thought Oh dear! I don’t know much about field trials, but I do know that one of those superior beings wasn’t sitting beside me! However, I wasn’t going to find out sitting at home.

The day of the qualifiers

The day dawned and, at 5.30 am, I was having serious doubts. We set off, the sun came up, I had my directions, leggings (just in case) and my dog. If only the directions had been a little more specific; after three hours, I was only about five miles from the shoot, but it took me the next half an hour by a process of elimination to find it. I had arrived, I sat and waited for everybody else and it was at this point that I felt quite sick and thought. What on earth did I think I was doing? I was going to make a complete fool of myself and my dog (nothing new there!).

It was while I was ruminating that both Becky and (the judge!!) Peter Johnson arrived (they’d also been lost), and then to be told by Peter that he’d never seen me look so pale. Was I ill? Never mind!

By now everyone had arrived, including the other judge, Mrs V. Cardell. Becky was extremely efficient and we were all given our orders and numbers.

OK. Is everyone ready? Any questions? I put my hand up. Can I go home now, please?

No, you can’t. Off we go! I wasn’t going to get out of it that easily.

Off we trouped through the woods into an open field with the guns in front of us and the woods behind. Each dog individually had the guns fired over them and the handlers were given the option whether to keep them on the lead or not. This was to enable the judges to assess whether the dogs were gun shy. Now, all we had to do was wait to be called into the woods for our retrieve. This sounds easy but, as we all know, Flatcoats do tend to do their own thing and Dusk was no exception!

We were called into the woods by the judge, who told me where the pheasant was. I directed Dusk and she shot off straight as an arrow, straight out of the wood, down the field to where everyone else was standing with their retrieved pheasants. I momentarily stood there openmouthed, Oh well. I was just going to have to make good out of a pretty awful situation. I called her back and started again and everything went fine. The judge said thank you and that I could go now. Was that it? I had no idea whether I had passed or not.

All of the group were very supportive of each other and the judges were kind, helpful and in no way made you feel stupid. They wanted all the dogs to pass and were very encouraging to everyone. Of my group, we all passed except for one, but there is no shame in failing because at least each of us had the courage to give it a go, and after all, it’s no different than entering a show and being thrown out (and I’ve been there!).

So, in summary…

It was nowhere near as difficult as I had expected; judges and competitors were friendly, no one wanted you to fail and the most frightening aspect was taking the plunge and getting yourself there. Dusk and I thoroughly enjoyed the day and hopefully will continue picking up next season, foot-and-mouth permitting.

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