Griffin’s Working Certificate Test

Apparently all I have to share is Griffin doing fun things. I promise the young dogs are getting trained and that I intend to post things useful to my behavior/pet training clients!

All retriever breeds have a “Working Certificate” test through their national breed club. These tests are supposed to show the dogs have a very basic interest in hunting and to have dogs do well with (supposedly) limited training. The Golden Retriever Club of America’s Working Certificate (WC) test is supposedly one of the harder ones.

Field dog Tonks
Field dog Tonks

Griffin wasn’t very ready but decided to enter a test last Sunday as we were close to being ready and won’t have another opportunity until spring.  Test day was a perfect fall day – sunny but not too hot and in a field surrounded by perfectly colored trees. The “Working Certificate Excellent” (second level) teams went first – only  2 of the 5 did the land portion well enough to be eligible to do the water portion later in the afternoon. Many of the teams had been at another test the day before.

Griffin was the last of 8 WC level dogs which gave me some time to watch.  I knew the hardest part would be walking him to the blind near the test area. He wants to watch and each gun made him more alert and excited. We did training and tricks for treats as we went closer to the trial area. Eventually we got close enough I couldn’t use food and he also was not interested in calm walking.  I carefully moved him to the first blind and pet him a lot and distracted him with the grass while there was a delay- cleanup from a previous dog getting feathers all over a section of the field.  Then we moved to the second blind…. and again, waiting.

Griffin is so cute.
Griffin is so cute.

Once it was our turn, things moved very quickly. Just  like the weekend before at the MondioRing trial, as a new exhibitor I had moments where I had to ask for direction and the judges were happy enough to answer my questions.  I held his collar as Griffin happily watched the first bird down – gun noise and a thrown, dead duck. I held his collar and backed partway around in a circle to face the second bird – not a normal strategy but it would look more controlled than if he had lunged forward. Not so good for training – but test handling is sometimes different.  He did see the second bird fall.  We waited for the judge’s permission and then I sent him.

There was a good chance of a great retrieve, but it was also possible he might get the bird and roll on it (a Griffin thing) or be hesitant (he hasn’t seen many ducks – really, not many birds at all).  He was great! He immediately brought it back even with a wing obscuring his face, he bounced into heel position and happily waited for me to take it.

He lined up well, we paused, and I sent him for the next bird.  He ran out to the right area. The judge said “He’s got it!”  But he didn’t.  Griffin searched briefly and then moved on – eventually back to the first bird. That’s called “Switching” and disqualified us. After searching that area, he offered returning to me and to heel position for more direction. I was allowed to re-send him for the sake of training and he gave a much more persistent search, finding it, and bringing that duck back.

Tonks in a field.
Tonks in a field.

Even though it wasn’t a pass – I was so happy! He did well on new birds, new environment, with other people in the field, the first time actually around guns and once he was released I was sure he would come back and be on task. He was great with the birds and happy to work.  He was bouncing up and down at my side as we went back to the car, eager to do more together – or eager to get his biscuits.

We were offered to be the practice dog for the water portion but declined, I was very sick and ready to leave even with our great day.  Of all the non-passing handlers, I was probably the most happy and excited – this success for us gives us more options! He did well with so little training, what is possible if I actually spend a little more time training for field? As soon as I got back, I looked up AKC hunt test events – and again have to wait until spring.  It seems like the beginning level tests are within our current skill set and I’m very excited to give Griffin that opportunity – even if I don’t like handling the birds.

A few other observations:

  • The judges were great. They were very efficient and friendly and calm.
  • The host club was organized and kept things moving – they hold this once per year which does add up in terms of experience, but also is long enough to have forgot things but it seems like they have a great system.
  • Griffin was the oldest dog. Most dogs were 1-3 years old.  Many of the dogs have had training by a professional or with the owner taking lessons from a field training professional.
  • Viktor and Tonks  have siblings who have passed the test – but those two are very immature still. They may be ready in the spring!