Dog Training -- Working Trials

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Do you consider your dog more than just a pet? Do you think of your dog as a partner? Then you should check out the sport of working trials.

Working trials are competitions where people and their dogs work together. Various tests are used to demonstrate the dog's skills and the owner's training abilities.

"In a nutshell, it's a lot of fun for you and your dog," says Mark Donnell. He is a working trial enthusiast from Georgetown, Texas.

A collie leaps a hurdle as part of a working trials competition.
Courtesy of: Associated Sheep, Police and Army Dog Society

Working trials were invented to test the skills of working dogs. What's a working dog? They are dogs that herd sheep or other livestock. Working dogs are also used to track game.

"This sport was originally developed in Britain as a practical test of a dog's working knowledge. Its purpose was to test how well a dog would get along as its master's trusty companion," says Donnell.

Common working dog breeds are the border collie, corgi, bearded collie, Australian cattle dog, Shetland sheepdog, German shepherd, Old English sheepdog, Rottweiler and Samoyed.

You don't need a purebred dog to get into working trials. Many trials will accept any type of dog, says Kathy Cooper. She and her dogs have been competing in working trials for several years. They are even into sheep herding!

Almost any dog can learn to do agility tests or play flyball (a game for people and dogs). "The dog does not have to be a registered animal," says Cooper. "They can do herding, agility, flyball."

Some competitions are open only to certain breeds, like border collies. It all depends on what group is holding the trial.

Working trials are made up of a variety of events. They are designed to demonstrate a dog's ability in three areas -- obedience, agility and scent work. Dogs are required to perform different tasks in each of these three categories.

  • Obedience testing may include tasks like heeling on and off the lead at varying speeds, retrieving a dumbbell and returning it to the handler, sitting in one spot for two minutes with the handler out of sight, and traveling on command in a straight line away from the handler until told to stop.
  • Agility exercises test the dog's ability to travel with its handler and include a three-foot clear jump over a bar, a 10-foot long jump and a 6.5-foot scale jump where the dog is required to scale a wall.
  • Scent testing has a dog find and retrieve four hidden articles from a 39-foot square box. The dog is only given three minutes to sniff out articles. The dog is also required to follow a human track across varying terrain.

There are five stakes, or levels, in working trials. Each stake requires a higher degree of ability from the team. The levels are:

  • Companion dog
  • Utility dog
  • Working dog
  • Tracking dog
  • Patrol dog

While there are specific rules for these exercises, working trial enthusiasts say they prefer this type of competition because it tests a dog's practical knowledge and is done in a much more relaxed setting than typical obedience trials.

"There is room for you to see here how the dog might perform in a real-life setting," says Rhonda Bell, a dog trainer.

Working trials take place outside on a designated course. There are judges for the events.

While dog trials are fairly well established in Great Britain, they are less well known in North America.

Many North Americans got their first look at working trials in the movie Babe. Check it out on video for an entertaining introduction to this sport.

While competition is the ultimate goal for the team, trainers say the day-to-day process of working with the dog is reward enough.

"It is a learning process that I think never stops. I'm not yet as good at it as I'd like to be, but I'm better than I used to be," says Ian Caldicott, a handler in Arizona. He spends about 10 hours a week training border collies.

Getting involved in working trials doesn't have to be expensive, if you already have a dog. You don't need a pedigreed dog, and you can make much of the equipment yourself. You'll need a jump, a wall to scale, a dumbbell for retrieving and a lead for the dog. All this will probably cost about $150.

The dog does the strenuous physical work in working trials. So just about any handler, at any ability level, can participate.

"I know a guy in a wheelchair that does quite well. So if you want to do it badly enough, I don't think there are any physical limitations," says Caldicott.

Handlers who train dogs for working trials have valuable skills that can be transferred to commercial dog training. If a handler was interested, he or she could train pets for obedience. An experienced trainer can make as much as $30 per hour.

Getting Started

If you'd like to get involved in working trials, your first task is to learn more about it. Get in touch with someone who's involved in this activity and ask questions. They may even be able to provide training tips.

Some dogs are better at working trials than others. That said, many dogs and people can enjoy this activity.

"A working trial dog should be a well-rounded dog with intelligence, focus and some basic ability in the areas of control, agility and nose work," says Bell.

If you've never trained a dog, start by taking an obedience class with your dog. You can find a good trainer through your local SPCA or your vet.

"You need to be prepared to make a lot of mistakes early on. Read all you can and attend training clinics. Try and find a method of training that you're comfortable with," says Caldicott.

Since this is a competitive sport, most of those involved belong to a club or group. This is how you'll find out about competitions.


American Association of Working Trials Societies
2016 Rowe Loop
Pflugerville , TX   78660

American Herding Breed Association
277 Central Ave.
Seekonk , MA   02771


Working Dogs Links
You can find lots of dog links hee

NetVet for Dogs
Information on just about any breed you can imagine plus dog associations

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