Working Dogs

Top dogs have their day

Roz Buckley and her dog wait for the bird to be thrown

This year, the annual Easter Gundog Retrieving Trial was run at Heart Morass by the
Victorian Gundog Club assisted by the newly formed Gippsland Retrieving Club.

By Trevor Stow

Retrieving trials were started more than 100 years ago by shooters who wanted to test who had the best gun dog. In those days competition was fierce and live game was used for the retrieves.

Today the competition is still fierce to see who has bragging rights but there is no longer any live game used. Over Easter, competitors camped at the magnificent Heart Morass at Sale.

The first day saw competitors go to their respective stakes in different parts of the Morass. Duck hunters were also camped and present at the Heart but they were finished chasing their feathered friends by the time the trial started. Some of the hunters took the opportunity to come and have a look at the trialling dogs in action.

Competitors came from Victoria, Queensland, NSW and Western Australia to run their dogs. At trials, labradors tend to have the most entries as they are a very versatile and hardy breed of dog, popular with hunters. There were also a good number of german shorthaired pointers together with weimaraners, golden retrievers, flat coated retrievers and the odd spaniel.

On the first day, novice stake saw a great field of 25 dogs that impressed the judge, Mrs Margaret Hall. Mark Davis won it with a pup he bred himself and was only one point ahead of Garrick Bridges. Mark scored 175 points out of a possible 180, so he did not do too much wrong.


Catherine Thorburn, who travelled from Western Australia, judged restricted stake. Di McCann and her young GSP won the event, ahead of Jim Hargreaves with his golden retriever. All age was fiercely competed with only four points separating the first four dogs. Jim Hargraves got the lollies just ahead of Russell Whitechurch, Kevin Andrews and John Stott.

On Saturday, competitors packed up and travelled a short distance to new trialling grounds just out of Sale. A good field of 26 dogs started in novice under the watchful eye of judge Leanne O’Sullivan. Leanne broke a finger in the morning before the trial started but completed her duties before going to hospital Saturday evening and getting it attended to. Gutsy effort, Leanne!

Leanne set two nice runs over flat farming country before putting the dogs into the water for the final run of the day. Russell Thomas scored heavily to win from the unlucky Garrick Bridges, who was runner-up again. Mark Davis was not far away in third position. Di McCann had another win in restricted, just one point ahead of Mal Tyrie.

Championship and veteran judge Trevor Stevens set some very testing runs for all age dogs, including a third run that saw numerous dogs eliminated and others sorely tested. Most of these lost dogs picked up the wrong bird. The run consisted of a bird thrown into the water about 100 m upstream of the dog. Dogs lost sight of the bird once it hit the water and handlers lost visual contact with their dogs once they went to retrieve.

Once in the water, a second bird was thrown over the dog — the task was to bring back the first bird to the handler and remember where the second bird landed so it could be gathered in a separate retrieve.

Bob Tawton took out first prize with his imported labrador, Aussie. Bob has been trialling since the 1970s and is an excellent handler, having won numerous National Championships. Right behind Bob was John Lawton and Leanne O’Sullivan.

Sunday brought different runs and terrain for the dogs and their handlers. Judge Carrick Bridges decided to test the novice dogs by throwing a bird across a small creek, up a hill and into some tussocks with his first run. He then mixed up the terrain with a flatter second run followed by a swim across water and a retrieve from the opposite shore for the dogs. Most dogs got through the test with the winner being Trevor Stow, followed by Russell Thomas. Mark Davis and his wife Wendy finished off a good trial taking out 3rd and 4th place respectively.

Restricted was judged by Di McCann, who took a break from competition to judge, and it was the girls who stood up. Prue Winkfield won with her GSP just ahead of Dodo Kelly and her golden, with Mal Tyrie and his lab bringing up third place. Mark had a very successful Easter with his two dogs being placed numerous times.

All age saw judge Jim Hargreaves set his usual challenging runs. During the three legs he lost many dogs with only five dogs finishing the trial: John Lawton, Mal Tyrie, Karl Britton, Russell Whitechurch and Trevor Stow. John and his ‘Dog of the Year’, Ben, took out first prize but the complexity and difficulty of the runs was reflected in the comparatively low scores.

What a top way to spend Easter, out playing with our gun dogs.

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