What are gundog working tests?

For those of you who are competitive, like me, now is the perfect time to get your head around the world of gundog working tests ready for 2024.

If you’ve been making some real progress with your gundog training this year, you might be wondering about what’s next.

For some of you, the buzz you get from working your well-trained gundog on a shoot will be sufficient.

But for those of you who aren’t interested in working your dog in the field, or for those of you who are competitive, like me, now would be the perfect time to get your head around the world of gundog working tests ready for the 2024 season.

Before we dive in… Entering competitions isn’t for everyone. Some handlers don’t like the pressure of being pitted against their peers. Some dogs don’t perform when their handler is stressed. Others, dogs and handlers, don’t enjoy waiting around in between tests.

But for me, it’s a great way to put my dogs through their paces, usually in a really nice setting with some challenging ground, while meeting like-minded people and catching up with gundog friends. It's my way of seeing where I am at and seeing if I am heading in the right direction with my training.

What are working tests?

Organised by gundog clubs and societies across the UK, working tests are normally held in the spring and summer months from March to September, with most advertising their dates from February.

By definition, gundog working tests are competitions which, by artificially simulating shooting day conditions, seek to assess the working abilities of the various breeds of gundog without game being shot.

It is about trying to replicate a shoot day with 1 lb green dummies in place of the birds. With this, those running and judging the tests can make it fairer for the competitors because, as we all know, birds don’t behave the same way and can’t be shot in the same place for each dog and handler.

Judges will set up scenarios to try and assess the full depth of what might occur on a shoot, and the dog who wins should have been put through its paces and be deemed a good asset on a shoot.

What working test level should I enter?

The Kennel Club have three official working test classifications - open, novice and puppy.

Open - this is usually considered to be the advanced level but theoretically the rules mean that it is open to all dogs of a specific breed or breeds.

If the test has a lot of entries, preference might be given to dogs which have gained a place, or certificate of merit, at a field trial, have previously placed in the top three in an open working test before, or have come first in a novice working test.

Even if you win in an open working test you can carry on competing in open tests. This is the top level, so it will be challenging distances and directions, pushing the dogs to their limits to see who is at peak performance.

Novice - this is for dogs who have not gained a place, or certificate of merit, at a field trial, who haven’t placed in an open working test, and who have not won in a novice test before.

These are mainly designed for young and unexperienced dogs, that have not won anything yet. But the handler could be experienced and could have won a lot in the past. Once you win a novice working test, you have to move up to open level and will be unable to compete at novice again.

Puppy - these are for dogs less than 18 months of age on the date of the test. You might also have heard of special puppy tests which allow dogs up to 2 years old. Special puppy is an unclassified level which some clubs hold for young dogs who are not ready to go straight into a novice test.

There are lots of other unclassified test levels which clubs and societies will hold such as novice dog / novice handler (where neither the dog nor the handler have won anything before), veteran (for dogs over 8 years old on the day of the test), intermediate (for dogs between novice and open), and junior (for handlers under 17 years old).

Top tip: If you have a young dog and have the choice between puppy, special puppy or novice dog / novice handler, then providing you are eligible to enter, I would always recommend you go for the ND/NH. This is because in puppy and special puppy you will be up against experienced trainers and handlers who are seeing where they’re at with their young dogs. In ND/NH you might be with older dogs, but they won’t have won anything before and the handlers will be a similar level to you.

How to enter a working test

To enter a gundog working test you will need to know which gundog clubs or societies are holding competitions near you.

Everyone has different limits of how far they will drive to compete, and you can use the Kennel Club directory to find those within a suitable travelling distance from you. Facebook groups are a good source of information too.

When you’re ready to put in an entry, some gundog clubs and societies use a system called FTMS to allow you to book the working test you want to enter online. Some clubs do still use paper entry forms so you will need to check.

You don’t usually need to be a member of the gundog club or society to enter the working test but there are often discounted entry fees for members and if space is limited then non-members might not get a place.

The FTMS also features a really useful calendar resource which divides the working tests by breed allowing you to look at what tests are coming up, where they’re taking place and if they have levels suitable for you and your dog.

You will need to have a Kennel Club registered dog if you want to compete. When you come to enter you will need your paperwork at hand as they’ll ask for your KC number along with some information about your dog’s pedigree.

Some clubs and societies do allow you to enter not for competition, which means you can still take part but you won’t be able to get placed, but you will need to check. There are also charity working tests which might allow dogs that are not registered with the Kennel Club.

Learn more about working tests

Want an in-depth guide to how working tests are run, what to wear, bring and etiquette on the day, examples of working test scenarios, the Kennel Club J regulations and how to avoid getting zeros? 

All this and more is covered in our masterclass replay “working tests: a beginners guide”. You can find out more here: https://www.completelygundogs.co.uk/courses/working-tests

Following the success of our 2023 working test workshops, we've also added 4 working test workshops for 2024.

On Friday and Saturday, the training focus will be on helping you and your dog to get in sync and in the zone ready for the working test on Sunday.

Exercises will be planned with typical working test scenarios in mind. I will be able to help guide you as to the best way to approach these set ups and will give feedback on performance.

While the tests will be held on our ground, the working tests are organised and run independently by the Mid Wales Working Gundog Society. For more information head to: https://www.completelygundogs.co.uk/courses/working-test-workshops-2024