Handling Tips for Llewellin Trials
The following tips were compiled by Byron Sanders and Bill Janssen using FAQs they have received regarding walking Llewellin trials
Prelude: The premise behind Llewellin trials is to go bird hunting for either thirty minutes or one hour as the case may be and see how the dogs compare with one another for a brief period of time on that day. However, because there are, by necessity, rules and your dog is under judgment, there are some things you can do as a handler to help your dog look its best.
General: The rules state that handlers are to proceed at a comfortable hunting pace. This makes sense for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is safety. In addition, because one of the goals is to find every possible bird on the course, it only makes sense for you and your bracemate to work out every section of cover thoroughly before moving on. Be mindful of the time remaining in relation to the area to be hunted. This is where many Llewellins tend to shine in comparison to a lot of other dogs.
Many savvy handlers dope the wind and work the course in such a way as to put the dog in as many downwind situations as possible. However, if your bracemate is working either very slowly, not working the wind to best advantage or is skipping some spots entirely. It's not bad manners at all to split up and go your own way, much as you might do when bird hunting with a chum in order to cover a certain area more efficiently.
Pointing: Once your dog is pointing, it's your job to get that bird up as quickly and safely as possible. Liberated quail can present problems. Sometimes it's easy, other times the bird is buried and cannot be found, or is running around and won't fly. Some handlers find that it's advantageous to approach the dog from the front. Many dogs are reassured by knowing what's going on around them, and you're more likely to "cut off" a bird that may be on the move. If you have trouble locating the bird, pay attention to wind direction, unless it's moved the bird will nearly always be upwind of the dog. Watch your dog's eyes, sometimes this is a dead giveaway.
If a bird is moving and you see it, call this to the attention of the judge. If you caused the bird to move and not the dog, and the judge sees this, you have fulfilled the requirements for your dog to get credit for a find. The better your dog behaves from now on in this difficult situation, the better the score you will receive for this piece of work.
As soon as a point is established, it is perfectly all right to whoa or reassure the dog. However, unless you think it's really necessary, it looks a little better if the dog will stand pointed without additional commands. Always be thinking about how to put your dog in the best possible light in any given situation.
Don't fret about tail position. This is a matter of individual taste; the rules don't even mention it as judging criteria. Intensity, self-confidence and intelligent handling of situations are what count most here.
Retrieving: Here's where a handler can help his dog more than any other area. Your job, once a bird is in flight, is to either call a safety or hit the bird. If the bird is flying low and you're worried about shooting close to your dog call a safety. If you shoot once, miss, and now your dog is closing in you can still, and should, call a safety! Say a bird gets up and you're uncertain whether or not the other handler or their dog is just over the next rise; once again call a safety. If you only shoot at birds that present a 100 percent plus perfectly safe shot most shooters will seldom miss a liberated quail.
It's a good practice, when approaching a dog on point, to survey the field and determine the location of all dogs, judges, handlers and spectators. Determine the safe directions available and try to flush the bird in that direction, and resolve ahead of time to call safety if the bird flies elsewhere.
Once a bird is down, as ethical hunters, one of our primary goals is for our dogs to recover and return to us all dead or crippled birds. You must stand in the spot you shot the bird from; "handler assist" should be minimized. Retrieves should be quick, efficient, near to hand and soft mouthed. Handler assisted retrieves are scored relative to the degree of handler assist offset by the difficulty of the retrieve. Dog must retrieve bird within one step (3 feet) of handler to receive a score. Derby and Puppy may be scored for partial retrieves.
Here are some examples. If a bird is dropped and marked by the dog, the handler's best tactic would be to stand in one spot and receive the bird. Say the dog is in heavy cover and doesn't mark the bird down, but you do. If your dog will do hand-signal retriever trial-style blind retrieves, go for it, your dog will no doubt receive a retrieving score. If not, direct the dog to "hunt dead" or whatever command you routinely use when hunting. Once the dog locates the bird, then demonstrate that your dog will bring you a bird across a distance. If you're hunting dead and you see the bird, try to direct your dog into the area and let him find it and bring it to you. Many sportsmen make this a practice while wild bird hunting, anyway. Once again, always be thinking about how to show off your dogs best ability.
Backing: Because backing is the one aspect your dog's effort in a trial that is in large part reliant on the actions of your bracemates dog---as a compromise---only one backing opportunity is scored in an open scoring trial. However, these are very valuable points and it could pay to pick the right occasion to take that opportunity.
For instance, perhaps your bracemate's dog is having difficulty on a running bird, flagging, moving, and generally loose. You might want to pass on this and wait for a better circumstance. It could be that the pointing dog is rigid and stylish, but buried in a quagmire that might make it difficult for your dog to see. Or the other dog is a considerable distance away and your dog is getting birdy, these are all good reasons to hold out for a more ideal chance.
On the other hand, if the pointing dog is solid and nicely styled up on the outside edge of and perpendicular to a feed strip, and you're dog is handy to the area, this is the perfect time to get a thrilling, jam-up back. Here again, your putting your dog in a position to succeed. As with pointing, don't command your dog to back (although its fine to call your dog into the area), until the back is actually established.
Although it's not specifically required in the rules, it's not a very mannerly for the handler of a backing prospect to ask the handler of a dog on point wait forever while the backing prospect is hacked in over a great distance. Similarly, it's good etiquette for the handler of the pointing dog to allow some time for the handler of his dog's bracemate to maneuver into position for a back before attempting a flush, especially if the dog is nearby. Over and over again, we see this kind of sportsmanship in spades at our Llewellin trials.
Ground Work: This is a subjective category whereby the judges rate a dog's hunting effort and application. Is the dog hunting or just flat out running? Are they working cover and slicing the wind effectively or just out for a stroll? There's not a heck of a lot a handler can do here, other than having their dog fit, rested, emptied out and feeling good prior to the start of the brace. Very rarely, someone will needlessly carry on and holler to the point of distracting their dog from its duties, possibly even to the point of affecting the other dog. As a rule, most Llewellins don't respond well to this particular type of encouragement.
Handling. Here again, it's a good policy to give your dog the best chance to succeed, and look good doing it. The slickest way to accomplish this is to never give your dog a command that you don't think it will obey, which is not a bad idea under any circumstances. Take a situation where you are negotiating the course and wish to change direction. If your dog is paying attention to you and will change course simply because you do, that is the route to go - your dog is truly handling with ease. If your dog responds to a soft lip whistle, a toot on a Roy Gonia Special or a verbal command, go with the least conspicuous coaching that your dog will obey. If your dog will pay no attention whatsoever to you no matter how many commands are given, you're probably better off following the dog around and making out like that's where you wanted to go anyway. Fortunately, very few Llewellins seem to have trouble in this category.
Epilogue: Field trials can give us an excuse to spend time with and enjoy our dogs long after the regular hunting seasons are over, as well as get to know and meet like-minded folks, along with their dogs, from all over the country. Knowing your dogs and what they do well, and putting them in a position to do these things can add to the enjoyment of the experience. Hopefully, some of these tips will give a little insight into competing in a safe, successful and sportsmanlike way.