Category: News

The Euro Challenge – 2021 Game Fair

Rumours that the Retriever breeds able to compete in this year’s Euros would be limited to Labradors and Goldens appear to be premature!

This from the Game Fair website:

Teams travel from Europe to compete against England on the Friday of The Game Fair. The competition takes place over a variety of tricky retrieves. Each team consists of three handlers and three dogs. The dogs must comprise of three different retriever breeds: Labrador retriever, Golden Retriever, Flat Coated Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly Coated Retriever, Irish Water Spaniel or Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

The test will simulate the many and varied situations that arise when shooting and picking up with dogs including walking up in line, standing at a drive and retrieving from cover, over fences and from water. It is interesting to see how the various types of retriever deal with the same exercise.

2021 Teams competing for The Euro Challenge title include: England, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and France.

David Savory – Hon. Field Trial Secretary’s report to the 2020 Annual General Meeting

I submitted the following report to the Hon. Secretary of the Flatcoated Retriever Society on 23 February 2021, for inclusion in the AGM papers to be circulated to members of the Society at the end of March 2021. Before publication, my report was altered without my agreement, but was still issued in my name. I have emailed a statement to the Society’s membership, making them aware of this extraordinary action, and this can be read at the end of my report.

Following receipt of the 2020 AGM papers (on 1st April 2021) the extent of the changes made to my report are now apparent and those parts of my report that were censored are shown in BOLD.

My full report is as follows:

All Members of the Society:

I have to confess that writing a report for a cancelled AGM, concerning a period that started over 2 years ago, reflecting on what went before, knowing what happens next, and at the time of writing there is only three weeks until I cease to be the Society’s Field Trial Secretary, is a somewhat peculiar and perhaps unique situation.

As we all know, the period from March 2020 until the present day, has seen our lives dominated by the pandemic, so whilst the 2019 season was a normal and in many ways a very successful year for the working side of the breed, what followed was far from normal. Alongside everything from March 2020 being cancelled, various events unfolded that could not have been predicted or anticipated. 

The most notable in my opinion was the uncharitable behaviour and misleading statements (largely via social media) of a few Society members towards myself and representatives of the Field Trial Sub-Committee concerning a document (the “Discussion Document”) sent to the Kennel Club in March 2020, and the origins and role of the workingflatcoats.org website. It is regrettable that there have been no firm rebuttals and too few corrections by the Society to the often entirely false allegations or conspiracy theories that continue, even now, to be perpetuated. I shall return to this at the end of this report.

The main events of the 2019 season were the Inter-Area Team competition which took place at Packington Hall, Meriden on 10 August 2019. Twelve teams were in the running (which I am sure was a record for this event), and which caused some logistical challenges and the deployment of a very large team of helpers, too numerous to list here, but whom are worthy of one final big thank you for making the day such a success.

The 176th Society Open Field Trial was held at Bretby Shoot, Burton-upon-Trent on 24th October 2019, with the 1st place honours going to Ms Linda Vågberg handling Skeppartops Enjoy the Freedom, and second place awarded to Mrs Hilary Rosser handling Mahinda Pompoko. Once again many thanks to all those who turned out to help run the day.

The 177th Society Novice Field Trial at Fretwell Shoot, Beckingham on 7 December 2019 was cancelled due to insufficient entries. This is not the first trial that I have had to cancel because of a lack of entries and no doubt it will not be the last.

A successful FCRS Shooting Dog Certificate Day was held at Fretwell Shoot, Beckingham on 19 October 2019, with 5 “A” Certificates being awarded and one “B” Certificate. Two dogs also received their KC Show Gundog Working Certificates.

There are two other events that took place in 2019 which should also be mentioned and in which I was only there as a competitor! On 25/26 May 2019 a joint show and work weekend was organised by the Egginton and Davis families at Astwood Bank, Near Redditch, Worcestershire. Teams of 4 dogs and handlers competed in a working test on Saturday and a show match on Sunday, combined with a social weekend with camping on site and a bbq on the Saturday evening.  An excellent event and something I sincerely hope will be repeated.

On 29 September 2019, Heather Harley organised a KC Working Gundog Certificate event (on dummies), which was I think a new event for the Society and proved a useful tester for novice handlers. This was in addition to a number of training days that Heather had organised during the year (alongside her Treasurer duties).

On training, the number of training days and events run during the period are too numerous to mention here, but were organised across the Area Working Test representatives and FT Sub-Committee members, and despite comments to the contrary, regularly involved professional trainers and mixed retriever breeds. The latter part of the year saw the roll out of a “Back to Basics” training programme organised through Phil Bruton, with over 30 Flatcoat handlers taking part, and progressing onto more advanced training including on live game. Hopefully it will be possible to continue with this programme once restrictions ease.

I want to finish this report with a few brief words about the “Discussion Document” and the workingflatcoats.org website, and in the hope that I can set the record straight. The “Discussion Document”  was the product of deliberations within the Field Trial Sub-Committee (and not me alone as has been alleged) during the latter part of 2019. The document was approved for submission to the KC Field Trial Liaison Council by a significant majority of the Sub-Committee, and was subsequently discussed at the Society’s General Committee meeting held in February 2020.  No objections to its submission to the Kennel Club were raised by anyone present and the Discussion Document” was therefore submitted by me (as Secretary) to the Kennel Club via the Society’s KC Field Trial Liaison Council representative in March 2020. 

When published as part of the KC Field Trial Liaison Council meeting agenda in May 2020, two Society members wrote to the Society Chairman claiming that the “Discussion Document” would lead to the loss of the Society’s Open status (the ability to run “Open” qualifying field trials) and as a consequence the Flatcoat breed would be demoted to “Minor Breed” status. Based on these two representations alone, the Chairman, without the approval of General Committee, had a letter sent to the Kennel Club withdrawing the “Discussion Document” from the KC Field Trial Liaison Council meeting agenda.

But there was a problem: based on advice obtained from the Kennel Club, the claims made by the two members, and subsequently repeated by others, were without any foundation; in summary the Kennel Club has never removed “Open” field trial status from a Breed or Field Trial Society for any reason, and they do not (and apparently never have) recognise the term “Minor Breed”. It might be of interest to Members that some of those who have been active in promoting these claims against the “Discussion Document” are now standing for election to the Society’s General Committee.

At the same meeting in February 2020, the workingflatcoats.org website was demonstrated by me to General Committee, just as it had been to the Field Trial Sub-Committee a little earlier. The site had been developed and funded by me personally (the cost was about £1000.00) to support the increasing activities of the working side of the breed. Password access to the Society’s website www.flatcoated-retriever-society.org had been repeatedly denied and when eventually changes to that site were agreed it became clear that they could not be delivered fully or within an acceptable timeframe. The other objective of the workingflatcoats.org site was to demonstrate what is possible with a modern website platform (the Society site was built about 20 years ago and technology has obviously moved on). With no objections from General Committee and what I took as their full support, the workingflatcoats.org website went live shortly after the meeting. Events have conspired that a possible plan to merge the two sites at some future date will not now happen and I retain ownership of the site which will be independent of the Society.

For anyone who wants to read it, the “Discussion Document” remains available on the workingflatcoats.org website. My real hope was that the “document” would start a mature discussion about the status of today’s Flatcoated Retriever in the Kennel Club’s Field Trial system, a conversation which I and some others feel is long overdue.

To conclude what could well be my last report to the Society’s membership, I want to repeat the objective that I set out very early on in my tenure; to encourage more people to work their Flatcoats, and for those that do to work them to the highest possible standard. I believe that with all the help given by very many, we have made some progress but there will always be more to do, and I hope that I will be able to continue to make a small contribution to that progress in the future.

David Savory

Hon. Field Trial Secretary

Ends

The following was sent as an email to the Membership of the Flatcoated Retriever Society on 31 March 2021:

Like me, you will shortly be receiving the papers for the 2020 AGM.  Under normal circumstances this AGM would have taken place 12 months ago, and the 2021 AGM would have happened last weekend. But of course there is very little that is normal at the moment.

The 2020 AGM papers that are about to arrive with you will include the Officer’s reports because there was no actual AGM at which they could be presented. Normally these reports, which are to the membership, are confidential until delivered by the author. But as I have said, things at the moment are not normal.

I have spent some of the past 12 months trying to persuade members of General Committee to publish a correction to misleading information posted on social media regarding a document sent to the Kennel Club in March 2020. Each of my requests has been denied, despite the misleading commentary and some offensive remarks remaining in circulation. I therefore decided to use my AGM report to set the record straight.

Regrettably, some members of the Society’s General Committee decided to change my report without my consent, but to still publish it under my name. I don’t know exactly what has been changed because I didn’t see what was sent to the printers, but suspect that a large part of it has been deleted. If you want to read my full report, and not the censored version, just follow the link.

This will be the final email from me via this platform as my term as the Society’s Field Trial Secretary ends today and I shall no longer have access to your contact details via this platform. I will however continue to support the working side of the breed through the workingflatcoats.org website and some initiatives being developed. If you would like to stay in contact you can sign up for emails, and of course opt out at any time.

In my role as Field Trial Secretary I only had one aim, to encourage more people to work their Flatcoats, and for those that do, to work them to the highest possible standard. With very many others we have made some progress and hopefully that will continue. As a member of General Committee, I wanted to try to move the Society into the 21st century, but that has proven rather more challenging!

Finally, I want to thank all those who have turned out to support, offer advice, participate, encourage and particularly to get involved with the many activities we have taken on together during my term. I hope we can keep in touch.

Thank you.

David Savory

STATEMENT REGARDING COVID-19 AND KENNEL CLUB EVENTS

The following statement was posted by the Kennel Club on 13 May 2020. The statement is reproduced below but can also be viewed via the link.

The safety and security of competitors, spectators, volunteers and staff at Kennel Club events continues to be of paramount importance. In light of the continued restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kennel Club has taken the decision with regret to extend its strong recommendation that clubs and societies cancel forthcoming events until the end of September and that serious consideration should be given to events due to be held after this date.

It is vitally important that those responsible for organising events, large or small, conduct a risk assessment which will include ensuring that the event is Covid secure, i.e being compliant with Government advice and guidance on COVID-19.

We will be working on further advice to clubs and societies on the issues which need to be addressed in a risk assessment once the Government publishes further guidance or instruction.

This latest recommendation is based on all advice issued by the Government so far which continues to restrict non-essential travel and maintain social distancing. The Kennel Club also recommends that alternative arrangements continue to be put in place regarding other activities such as meetings, seminars and training classes.

It is appreciated that clarity is important in order to be able to plan, budget and mitigate costs and therefore we will provide more definitive advice as soon as the position is clearer from the Government.

The latest advice on the situation regarding COVID-19 is regularly updated and changes daily and we strongly suggest that clubs and societies keep aware of updates as issued by the Department of Health at www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

The Kennel Club’s current cancellation policy and FAQs, in relation to breed shows, can be accessed at bit.ly/2x5DuzQ and, in relation to all other disciplines, can be accessed at bit.ly/2AjuyZm.

Please contact the KC office on email sass@thekennelclub.org.uk to confirm the cancellation or postponement of any licensed events. If your event is cancelled, please also advise whether you require a refund for your licence fee or require the fee to be carried forward for a future event.

Thank you for your patience and understanding at this time.

The discussion paper originally presented to the Kennel Club Field Trial Liaison Council in March 2020 but subsequently withdrawn.

This item was updated on 8 February 2021.

The Society’s Field Trial Sub-Committee prepared the following discussion paper for the Liaison Council meeting planned to be held on 11 June 2020. The meeting didn’t go ahead because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

The primary purpose of the paper was to initiate a wider discussion concerning retriever field trials run under the Kennel Club’s “J” Regulations. The paper reviews historic data and information concerning the status of the 7 retriever breeds. Reflecting this data and the trends over time, the plan was to invite the KC Field Trials Liaison Committee to consider whether, due to the almost total dominance of one breed in field trials, whether changes are now required to the arrangements for conducting field trials in order to encourage greater numbers of the other breeds to be active in this sport.

The proposal to submit the document was discussed at the FCRS General Committee meeting held on 16 February 2020 and no objections were raised. However, following the publication of the Liaison Council meeting agenda, two members of the Society contacted the Chairman of the Society. They claimed that there were serious risks associated with the submission of the document and on this basis alone a letter, signed by the Society Secretary, was sent to the Kennel Club withdrawing the document.

The text of the document is retained here for future reference and further information will be published in due course regarding the actual events that took place.

The Flatcoated Retriever Society, wish the Council to consider, with the now almost total dominance of the Labrador Retriever and the corresponding decline, or in some cases the total absence, of the other 6 retriever breeds from retriever field trials, whether alternative arrangements are now required that will facilitate the recovery, or in some cases the reinstatement, of the other retriever breeds in competitive field trialling. 

The Kennel Club states: “Field Trials were developed to test the working ability of Gundogs in competitive conditions”. There was no distinction or preference given to any individual retriever breed and it is reasonably assumed that all seven retriever breeds were afforded equal status. However, it is clear that the majority of the breeds are not able to compete consistently within the current regime. Furthermore, the achievement of such field trial awards is a strong indicator of which individual dogs contribute to the working gene pool and ultimately go on to improve the working ability of the individual breeds. 

When asked to judge a field trial, judges have an input into a breed’s development and sustainability. The “J” Regulations at Annex A Para 3a) state: “A Judge must also have a very good working knowledge of the breed or breeds under Trial and have the interest and future of the breed or breeds at heart, since final placings may influence breeding plans and so determine the course of breed development.

It is generally recognised that success in field trials is the pinnacle of gundog working ability. However, it is argued here that the near total dominance of one breed in this sport may be contributing to the decline in the original core purpose of other retriever breeds, and the dominance of the show side of these breeds. If the current arrangements are left unaltered, it can be envisaged that within a generation or two, field trials will become the domain of only the Labrador Retriever. 

Single breed dominance in field trials:

Field Trial Champions: Data from the Kennel Club’s Library shows that over the period 1990 to 2018, 561 dogs were awarded the title “Field Trial Champion”. Of these, 39 were Golden Retrievers, and one a Flatcoated Retriever. The remaining 521 (93%) were Labrador Retrievers. There were no Chesapeake or Curly Coat Retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels, or Nova Scotia Duck Tollers. 

IGL Field Trial Results: The results from the IGL effectively paint the same picture. Page 22 of “The Best of the Best” describes the status of the other Retriever breeds as follows:

The first trial for retrievers in 1899, which was won by the Flatcoated Retriever Painter, was, in fact, a mixed stake with two Clumber Spaniels, one Irish Spaniel and one Field Spaniel competing alongside a Curly Coated Retriever and five Flatcoats. There was no Labrador present. The year 1908 marks the first occasion when a trial had more Labradors than Flatcoats running. The breed’s progress was such, however, that in the fourteen meetings of the last full season before the Great War some 247 dogs were entered and, of those, no fewer than 179 were Labradors. Succeeding years simply accentuated that pattern as Curly Coats departed the competitive scene and Flatcoats receded. Indeed, in the whole history of the Championship Flatcoated Retrievers have qualified on only 36 occasions: just 11 of them in the post war period. The breed’s only post—war Field Trial Champions have been The Hon Amelia Jessel’s FTCh Werrion Redwing of Collyers and, more recently, Phil Bruton’s liver bitch FTCh Shirlett Sweetheart who ran at Sandringham in 2003. 

Golden Retrievers, which were initially registered as Flatcoated Retrievers, were defined at that stage only by colour, and they were not registered by the Kennel Club as a separate variety under the title ‘Golden or Yellow Retrievers’ until 1911. The following year the breed secured its first trial award when Captain H. F. H. Hardy took second place in the Gamekeepers National Association Open Stake at Netherby. In more recent years it is only Golden Retrievers who have managed, on occasion, to mount a serious challenge to Labrador dominance at the highest levels of competition. On just four occasions during the period since 1945, in 1952, 1954, 1982 and 2006, a Golden has won the IGL Retriever Championship. The breed’s first victory had been in 1937 at Hungerford in Berkshire where FTCh Haulstone LdW won impressively. He did, however, carry Labrador blood because three generations before his owner Joseph Eccles, had put his bitch Haulstone Rusty to FTCh Haylers Defender, the first yellow Labrador to gain his working title. 

Goldens are currently the only breed able to challenge the Labrador in field trials, winning about 7% of the FTCh awards in the last 30 years, but significantly below where they should be based on numbers bred. Flatcoats are the only other retriever breed entitled to run Open Trials, regularly achieving awards in Open breed stakes and very occasionally wins or places in AV novice stakes, but despite this it is hard to see where a successor to Shirlett Sweetheart will be found. For the other four retriever breeds, the situation is far more parlous and it is nigh on impossible to ascertain how they could recover under the current arrangements.”

Possible causes of Labrador Retriever dominance in AV Field Trials:
It could be argued that part of the dominance of the Labrador may be due simply to numbers,  and this is no doubt a significant factor, with the Labrador Retriever being, until very recently, the most popular breed in the UK. However, this numerical dominance in numbers bred does not fully account for the figures above.

Regulation 6, 3 (c) states: Before being added to the A Panel, candidates must have handled a dog to win at least one Open Stake or in the case of Retrievers, been placed 2nd in a 2-day Open Stake and, since being added to the B Panel, have substantially increased their Field Trial experience. It is certainly the case that the majority of ‘A’ Panel Judges have qualified with Labrador Retrievers and in the majority of cases, the required experience will have been gained with Labradors. Indeed, the likelihood of the majority of judges acquiring experience in the assessment of the other retriever breeds in field trials will, at best (and for obvious reasons), be rather limited. This may lead to unconscious bias where judges unintentionally assess breeds against their own preference rather than the credit points stated in the ‘J’ Regulations. Going forward it is inevitable that the majority of those added to the ‘A’ Panel will have run Labrador Retrievers.

It is possible that with many judges having gained experience solely or predominantly in the handling of Labradors, some may be less likely to appreciate the natural working characteristics of the other retriever breeds when observed, and there is certainly anecdotal evidence to support this. Unconscious bias in favour of a single breed’s working characteristics is probably inevitable, but when one breed is dominant, the risk is that the preference becomes prevalent. 

With the Labrador’s numerical dominance in trials, it is difficult to see how future judges would have “a very good working knowledge of the breed or breeds”.

Another potential consequence is that when judging other retriever breeds, they are being compared with Labradors and not assessed on the basis of the individual breed’s natural working ability, style or behavior in relation to the ‘J’ Regs.  It is also difficult to see how the current arrangements are having a positive impact on “the course of breed development”.

The fact that 2 of the retriever breeds are characterised as air-scenting dogs inevitably results in a behaviour different to that of a ground-scenting dog. There is also some evidence that the conduct of Open field trials favours the Labrador: straight-lining, control and the ability to replace the natural hunting instinct with handler control; an example of unconscious bias. 

Many actively involved in field trialling, who started with another retriever breed, have migrated over time to the Labrador, citing the fact that their chances of success are much higher with a Labrador. This trend is also apparent with professional handlers, with only a few electing to compete with other retriever breeds. 

It is the case that of the other retriever breeds, only the Golden is currently able to run a 2-day breed stake, and the Flatcoat able to run a 1-day breed Open stake. For the other breeds still trialling, they rarely have sufficient dogs to run a 1-day Novice breed stake and therefore their only option is to run All-Aged stakes and give preference to selected breeds in order to exclude Labradors. As the Council will be aware, awards in All-Aged do not count towards the award of FTCh. 

The impact on the individual retriever breeds of show competitions is highly varied, but may also be a contributory factor. The Labrador in the show ring is a very different dog to the working variety, and the same can be said of the Golden, but to a lesser degree. The Flatcoat remains dual-purpose (for those dogs that are proven to work) but the increasingly dominant side is Show, as it is for the other retriever breeds, with only very small numbers being worked or used for picking-up, if at all. 

There may be other factors at play in the evolution of field trialling that has led to the dominance of the sport by a single breed, and the decline in the working side of the other 6 retriever breeds. Whatever the blend of factors, they appear to have created a virtuous circle for the working Labrador, and a vicious circle for the other breeds. 

Whether for some of these other breeds “natural working ability” is still genetically hard-wired, or has been lost from the gene pool for all time is a matter of conjecture, but we consider that whatever the current situation is, we believe that this Council and the KC should view this situation with concern. 

The rules that govern field trials inevitably evolve. Field trial rules have become more onerous over time, in part as the popularity of the sport has increased, and there have been calls from some quarters to raise the bar even higher. Whilst raising the bar is understandable for those breeds whose participation in the sport is increasing and needs perhaps to be regulated, the rules don’t make any distinction between breeds and that limiting or confining pressure may also be a contributory factor in the decline or absence of most retriever breeds from the sport. 

As a final observation, the KC will be aware that a similar single breed dominance occurred in Obedience and Agility, namely the Border Collie. This led to the introduction of ABC (any breed but Collie) Classes and qualifications alongside the existing competition regime. Accordingly, the precedent for change under conditions of single breed dominance has been established. 

Conclusions: 

The Flatcoated Retriever Society has no wish to see the current arrangements for conducting AV Retriever Open and Novice field trials altered. Instead it seeks the Field Trial Liaison Council’s views on whether a parallel system is now required that might encourage the working of the other retriever breeds and enable them to ultimately gain field trial awards or titles recognised by the Kennel Club. 

Field Trials were developed to test the natural working ability of Gundogs in competitive conditions and to improve the breeds “working” gene pool.
The outcome of field trials has become dominated by the Labrador Retriever, with the presence of other breeds being progressively reduced or eliminated over time. 

The causes are many but the dominance of one breed has influenced the conduct of trials arguably to the Labrador’s benefit, and to the decline and possibly the detriment of the other retriever breeds.

The Field Trial Liaison Council is therefore requested to consider proposing changes to the KC Field Trial Committee that would support the recovery and development of the working side and the more numerous participation in field trials of all retriever breeds. 

Ends. 

Travelling abroad with your Flatcoat

DEFRA has recently published the following information:

As the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill was agreed by Parliament and received Royal Assent, the UK left the European Union on 31st January 2020 and has now entered a transition period until 31st December 2020.

During the transition period, to travel with your pet to the EU until the end of December, you can continue to use your Pet Passport. If you don’t have a current UK–issued EU Pet Passport, you will need to speak to your vet. More information is available here.

Survey: Why do we retire working Gundogs?

The following item was sent to the Society on 24 January 2020 by John Houlton.

I have a favour to ask of you for the benefit of working gundogs!  I am a semi-retired veterinary surgeon who specialised in canine orthopaedics while in clinical practice. For the last 25 years I have had working Labradors (currently I have six) and pick-up around 80 days each season. I am passionate about the health and well-being of gundogs and some years ago undertook a survey on their injuries. This was published (Houlton, J.E.F. (2008) A survey of gundog lameness and injuries in Great Britain in the shooting seasons 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 Veterinary Comparative Orthopaedics & Traumatology 21, (3), 231-237) and now I want to investigate why gundogs stop working. We all think we know but there is no good data on this subject and I suspect there may be some surprises. So I have launched a survey which takes around 3 minutes to complete. 

I would be very grateful if you could bring this to the attention of your members either by email or via social media. The link is https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/M5J7K38

Thank you in anticipation and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me on john.houlton@btinternet.com or on 07901 622639.

Regards John Houlton

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