Working Trials is one of the earliest competitive canine activities and could be described as the canine equivalent of three-day eventing: with nosework (cross country), obedience (dressage), and agility (show jumping). There’s also the potential of a further section of patrol work later on.
Working Trials rewards the efforts of the team, with the emphasis on reaching a standard rather than winning. It is a sport that is open to many; anybody who is fit enough can take part – we have people in their teens to 80 plus regularly competing!
Participating breeds over the years have included Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Labradors, Border Collies, German Shepherds, Poodles, Schnauzers, Jack Russells, Papillons and crossbreeds – and many more.
From a dog’s point of view, as long as the dog is 18 months of age and registered with the Kennel Club, it can compete. Crossbreeds can be placed on the Kennel Club ‘activity register’ to comply with this requirement.
Working Trials is divided into different levels called stakes:
- Companion Dog – CD
- Utility Dog – UD
- Working Dog – WD
- Tracking Dog – TD
- Patrol Dog – PD
With the exception of the Introductory stake, which has no specific level and is designed for newcomers, there are two levels of each Stake – Open and Championship – and in all but CD stake, you need to qualify at Open level before competing at Championship level. The stakes are designed to encourage progress and are carefully structured to allow the inexperienced dog to learn each step thoroughly before progressing to the next.
At Open level, a Certificate of Merit is awarded to those teams gaining at least 70% of the marks for each Section and 80% overall. The Certificate of Merit counts towards entry in the equivalent stake at Championship level.
At Championship level, those gaining 70% in each section and 80% of the marks overall will be allowed to add the stake initials to the dog’s Kennel Club name: for example, Our Lad Rover CDex
There are winners and places in each stake, but in the lower stakes this is very much secondary to the qualification, and the ultimate aim is to reach the top stakes and compete for Challenge Certificates (or ‘tickets’).
If Rover has been good enough to win a Championship stake at either TD or PD level, he will have won a Challenge Certificate (ticket) and if he does this twice, under two different judges, he will awarded the title of Working Trial Champion and retain his qualifications, so becoming: WT.CH Our Lad Rover CDex, UDex, WDex, TDex / PDex
Because of the way that dogs progress through the stakes at their own pace, without having to beat their fellow competitors, the atmosphere at trials stays friendly, with handlers genuinely wishing each other well and sharing successes and disappointments.
The various exercises in working trials were originally based on police dog training with the German Shepherd owners starting the tests as a means for assessing the quality of their dogs for breeding.
Nowadays, working trials are for fun and have often been described as the most enjoyable and satisfying way of working your dogs, bringing out their natural ability.
The exercises are in nosework (tracking and search square), obedience control (heelwork, recalls, sendaways, stays, dumb-bell retrieval, speak on command) and agility (5ft 6” scale, 8ft long jump and 3ft clear jump).
Tracking is a fun and engaging way for dogs to use their best sense. Many will say that there is no better feeling than going out in the mist and dew of early morning and following your dog round a track that you can neither see nor understand, and watching him take turns and find articles, working out a pattern in a way that is beyond our comprehension. It is the most amazing feeling.
What is a track? A track is a disturbance of ground. Nothing is dragged or laid other than articles and it is not necessary for there to be any visible sign of the track in order for the dog to follow it. Obviously, on some terrain (for example, mud, snow or long grass) the handler can see the track, but this is no advantage to the dog that still follows a scent train with no regard to visible signs.
In WT tracking, the dog has to follow where a person (tracklayer) has walked previously. Depending on the level of the stake, this track may have been walked from half an hour for a UD track to three hours for a TD track before the handler and dog come to work it.
After putting in a pole to mark the start of the track, the tracklayer will walk the required pattern (designed by the judge), turning as necessary and placing articles on the track. After the required time has elapsed, the handler and dog will approach the pole and, with no knowledge of the pattern, will proceed to follow the track, finding articles along the way.
The dog will be marked on how accurately they track. Tracks are around half a mile long and have corners and angles, not just a straight line. Tracking surface can be grass, heather, stubble, wheat, or any other crop.
Each straight line of the track is referred to as a leg and, depending on the stake, the track can be anything from 6 to 26 or even more legs. Many things can affect a track while it ages and wind, rain, or snow can affect how or if it can be tracked. Terrain also plays a big part and some grounds track better than others.
Examples of track patterns:
A search square is an area marked out by walking and placing poles on the corners. In CD it is 15 yards square (3 articles to be recovered in 4 minutes) and in all other stakes it is 25 yards (4 articles to be recovered in 5 minutes).
The dog should be encouraged to work all the square and the handler may encourage and talk to the dog but must not enter the square. The dog must deliver all articles it finds to the handler outside of the square. A minimum of two articles must be recovered to qualify this exercise. The handler can assist their dog by taking account of the wind direction and sending their dog into the square accordingly.
Although the exercise itself does not vary much between the stakes the articles do, and those used in CD will be much bigger and easier than those in the top stake.
This section should demonstrate the bond between dog and handler and their ability to work as a team. The judge is looking to see that the exercises have been thoroughly taught and are competently performed.
Both on and off the lead in Introductory and CD, but entirely off-lead in all the other stakes. The test contains normal, fast and slow pace with changes of pace on steward’s command. The pattern and the order of the paces are at the judge’s discretion, and they will be judging the ability of the dog to keep its shoulder reasonably close to the left knee of their handler who should be walking in a natural manner following the steward’s instructions.
The dog is commanded to wait in a sit or down position while the handler walks away and, at the steward’s command, turns and faces their dog. Then, once again on the steward’s command, the dog is called to sit in front of their handler and return to heel.
In this exercise, the dog is sent away from the handler in a straight line to a point specified by the judge and remains there until further commanded. The minimum distance that the judge will set for the sendaway is 20 yards for the Introductory and CD stakes and 50 yards for all other stakes. In the Introductory stake, the maximum distance that the judge shall set for the send away shall be 50 yds.
In Introductory, CD, UD and WD a sendaway only consists of a send out to the designated point and a wait before recall but in the top two stakes the judge will specify a further point or points for the dog to be redirected to. As the stakes progress distances for the sendaway and /or the redirect will increase.
Sit (Introductory stake 1 minute, CD stake 2 minutes). In the Introductory stake, these positions should be in sight, but in the CD stake, where possible, such positions should be out of sight of the dogs, but bearing in mind the short duration of the exercise, this may not be practical.
Down (Introductory and CD stake 5 minutes. All other stakes 10 minutes) Handlers must be out of sight of the dogs who may be tested individually or in a group or groups.
Retrieve a dumb-bell
The dog should wait by the handler’s side while the dumbbell is thrown and should not move forward to retrieve nor deliver to hand on return until ordered by the handler on the judge or stewards’ instructions. The retrieve should be executed at a smart pace without mouthing or playing with the dumb-bell and the dog should sit in front of the handler and return to heel.
Speak on command
Teaching your dog to bark on command. The judge will control the position of the handler in relation to the dog and may require the handler to work the dog walking at heel. If the dog is not required to walk at heel, the handler may place the dog in the stand, sit or down. The dog will be ordered to ‘speak’ and cease ‘speaking’ on the instruction of the judge or steward who may then instruct the handler to make the dog ‘speak’ again.
5ft 6” scale, 8ft long jump and 3ft clear jump. For the clear and long jump the dog is sent over but the handler must not touch or pass any part of the jump and the dog must remain in a controlled position on the other side of the jump until joined by their handler on the command of judge or steward.
For the scale the dog must be sent over, wait in a pre-determined position until recalled over on the handler’s command when directed by the judge or steward.
Jumps are reduced in height for small dogs however this is currently only in Intro, CD and UD stakes.
Patrol Round (Optional)
The patrol round is only suitable for dogs of exceptional temperament. They should be confident, friendly and well controlled.
The protected stewards wear a sleeve on their right arm. Training a dog for the PD Stake uses the dogs prey/play drive to train the exercises. By using this method, it teaches the dog to target the sleeve not the person carrying it. This results in dogs that are not biting a person; they just want that toy which just happens to be around someone’s arm.
Exercises in the Patrol Section consist of a series of tests where the dog is required to find hidden or missing persons, defend its handler from attack, chase and detain a running person (protected steward), face a test of courage and recall from a chase on command from its handler.
These exercises are aimed at testing the courage, obedience and stamina of the dog which has to be qualified up to Championship WD level before competing in PD.
Introductory Stake (Intro)
This is a non-qualifying stake and you do not need any prior qualifications to enter. The introductory stake may be held at championship working trials, open trials or as a separate intro only trial; stays are shorter and extra commands are permitted in some of the exercises. This stake is ideal for newcomers as a starting point in competition.
Companion Dog (CD)
The only stake where it is possible to enter at Championship level without first qualifying at Open. The emphasis is on control with only an elementary search square with three articles within 15 yards to be found in four minutes. There is heelwork both on and off the lead and at all three paces with no extra commands. Stays at both sit and down and a retrieve, recall and sendaway. Agility – clear, long and scale.
Utility Dog (UD)
The first tracking stake designed to encourage young dogs and new handlers. It involves a half mile track, usually 6-8 legs with two articles, aged at a minimum of 30 minutes.
Control and agility are similar to CD stake though heelwork is all off lead and the down stay is 10 minutes out of sight. There is a sendaway, retrieve of a dumbbell and the steadiness to gunshot is introduced in this stake.
The Search is carried out in a larger 25 yard square containing four articles of which two must be recovered to qualify with five minutes allowed to locate and retrieve articles.
Articles themselves vary greatly but some examples are: wooden clothes peg, plastic tie wrap, plastic bottle top, a door key, two-inch piece of carpet or cloth and a piece of scouring pad.
Once again, the Agility Section stays the same but the Control Section will have less heelwork than in CD and just off the lead.
Working Dog (WD)
This a natural progression from UD with the age of the track (which is now one and a half hours old) being the only major difference. Although the exercises are the same as UD, the judging criteria is higher. The older track allows the judges to expect more accuracy from your dog.
The Control Section will usually have a longer and more testing sendaway than UD with more accuracy required. Steadiness to gun, heelwork, stay, retrieve and agility all remain.
Tracking Dog (TD)
The highest standard of tracking with a two-hour-old track, three articles, more legs and corners. A search square of 25 yards with four articles. Control section consists of heel free; speak on command; sendaway and re-direct, steadiness to gun shot and a 10-minute out-of-sight down-stay. The Agility section consists of clear, long and scale.
The judging criteria throughout this stake is at its highest and a win for the competitor, at Championship level, providing sufficient marks have been obtained in each section and overall, will result in a Challenge Certificate – two of which give the dog the WT Champion title.
Patrol Dog (PD)
This stake is optional. In PD the nosework consists of a track which is two hours old with two articles. A search square of 25 yards with four articles. Control section consists of heel free; speak on command; sendaway and re-direct, steadiness to gunshot and a 10-minute out-of-sight down-stay. The Agility section consists of clear, long and scale. Additionally in the PD stake is the ‘Patrol’ test, which includes quartering; test of courage; search and escort; recall from protected steward and pursuit and detention.
As per TD, in PD at Championship level, providing sufficient marks have been obtained in each section and overall, a win will result in a Challenge Certificate – two of which give the dog the WT Champion title.
Working trials is great fun and extremely rewarding for both dog and handler. Events/ training days/trials are held throughout the UK.
More information about Working Trials can be found on the Kennel Club website under Events and Activities. There are also Working Trials Rules and Regulations set by the Kennel Club and these can also be found on their website, giving full details of stakes, entry requirements and everything else you need to know when competing.
The website Working Trials Info, which also contains a trials calendar, training articles, judges reports and much more is also a huge source of information. Many training clubs and Societies contact details are found on WTI, some also have their own websites and can also be found on Facebook, including the pages ‘The Active Trialist’ and ‘Working Trials’.
For a recently compiled directory of Working Trial clubs, visit https://www.flipsnack.com/DTWPREMIER/wt-club-directory-2023.html
About the author
Lorna Cottier has been in working trials since 1992, competing, judging, and helping in every capacity.