The Cape Field Trial Club (CFTC)
Our Club was affiliated to the Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA) in May 1993 and exists to promote, develop and bring to perfection the natural working qualities of the different varieties of pure-bred, registered Gundogs used in the field. We do this primarily through the organisation and holding of Field Trials, held on an annual basis in the Western Cape.
Alongside field trialling, under the auspices of KUSA’s Field Trial Liaison Council, we also carry out Working Tests and special events and, from time to time, provide training for dogs and handlers alike.
What is Field Trialling?
Ms Dale Fabian - South African Dog Directory
Who does It?
People from all walks of life participate in the sport. There are dedicated hunters, who want to prove their dogs. There are others who are very competitive and train almost every day to reach the high standards demanded to achieve the points needed for a Field Trial Champion. Overseas the number of participants are such that there are professional trainers and handlers in field trials who make a living just by doing this. Then again, there are others who just enjoy watching their gundogs do what they were originally bred for, and enjoy the company of others who feel the same. Even young children enjoy training their dogs for this purpose. Everyone gets a chance to get out into nature for training, tests and trials.
How is it done in South Africa?
Field trialing is run under the auspices of KUSA and the NFTA - both bodies have reciprocal agreements. At the moment Pointer / Setter trials are run mainly in the Eastern and Western Cape, with HPR trials in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Spaniel trials are run in Gauteng and the Western Cape, and there are a larger number of Retriever trials run in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Natal and the Western Cape.
Different stakes are run at varying levels of difficulty, starting with puppies and up to the Open Stake which carries points towards Field Trial Champion title. Every two years there are the KUSA National for Retriever trials, for which dogs must qualify, by either being Field Trial Champions or being placed first or second in an Open stake in the last two years. Except for the Open stake, which is often run over two days, the other stakes are one-day events. Usually most stakes are offered over a 3-4 day trial. Dogs are run in the stakes according to draw numbers.
What happens at a trial?
The dogs are required to hunt up and point, in the case of Pointers for a specified time, and are judged on their style and game-finding ability. Spaniels and Retrievers are set specific series, whereby their hunting and retrieving skills are fully tested. Spaniels are mainly tested in their quartering, game-finding and flushing abilities. An example of Retrievers is an Open Retriever stake, in which a dog is required to walk quietly at his handler's side and mark (watch) two or three birds down on land and water. There will also be a bird placed in cover that it has not seen. The handler will then be required, when commanded by the judge to send his dog to pick up the birds in a designated order. The most difficult task for the dog, is to ignore the birds is has seen go down, and to go for the one it has not seen, especially if it is on the far side of a large expanse of water, approximately 100 meters.
How to get started, who to ask and where it happens
To get started, one should get in touch with the various Clubs that run field trials specifically for your gundog breed. Unfortunately only registered gundogs may run in trials.
Recognized gundogs that currently run in SA are: English Pointers, English, Irish and Gordon Setters, Brittany, English, Clumber Cocker, and American Cocker Spaniels, Wiemaraners, Hungarian Vislas, German Shorthaired / Wirehaired Pointers, and Chesapeake, Labrador, Golden and Flat Coated Retrievers.
Those with unregistered dogs may partake in training and tests, and enjoy the fun days. Since there are so many Clubs around the country, it is best to contact KUSA, which will put you in touch with the Club Secretaries.
Some clubs hold regular training courses over weekends, and in this way you will meet people who are trialling in your area. Most of the training is done on farms, as the area needed to work is very large. Basic exercises can be done around the parks or public open ground. Often people living close to one another get together in smaller groups, and help one another in training during the week.
How to train for Field Trials?
Most retrieving training and some tests are done using dummies (an oblong canvas "bird" stuffed with sawdust of foam chips). Water dummies are made of hard plastic for floating. A slip lead is used for heeling in the beginning stages. A whistle is of great importance, as the dog must be taught to sit on the whistle and take hand signals to the unseen birds. Gunshots can be simulated with sports starting pistols or dummy launchers using blanks.
You can do certain basic exercises with your dog on your own, but as you advance it will be necessary to train with other people to help you throw the multiple dummies out at the required distances.
There are very many books and videos available from the UK and USA on Gundog field trials, which can help you immensely. However, nothing trains better than the real thing.
Fitness of your Gundog?
Like all animals, gundogs do best early in the morning and later afternoon. However, trials go on all day, and if you were out shooting you might expect your dog to work for longer hours, so you will need an extremely fit dog, and one that can handle a little heat. Having said that, it must be pointed out that dogs get heat stroke very quickly and you have to be very vigilant and try not to work them in the heat of the day. At most trials, dogs are not working all the time, and closeness to dames and rivers is uppermost in the officials' minds. Handlers take great care to bring along water for their dogs, and even teach the dogs to drink out of their flasks. Trials are run from April to October, avoiding the very hot months.
If you can train your dog every day for at least 10 minutes of solid running and a little longer over the weekends, you will have it up to steam for the trials.
There is no greater thrill than watching your dog hunting cover with style and speed, suddenly winding the scent, and zooming onto a point, its body frozen - or lifting it head into the wind, screeching to a halt at the scent and racing onto its target from a distance.
Nothing exhilarates a gundog more than when it is doing what is was bred for.
It is with sincere appreciation that we thank all our fantastic sponsors for their amazing contributions.
The CFTC is a volunteer-run organisation; its success depends on the enthusiasm and generosity of its members and sponsors. For further information about our fantastic sponsors, simply click here.