Gundogs and Retrieving

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Retrieving Ability Tests for Gundogs are a great way to get dogs working on what they were bred for. Your dog will love the activities, and you’ll have fun training and competing as well.

Retrieving Ability Test For Gundogs - RATG

The RATG is open to both registered and associate gundogs. It is a test of basic retrieving ability.

RATG’s are normally held by obedience clubs, or at Gundog Group shows and obedience trials. They tend to be held at ovals or dog club grounds, so have limited area and terrain.

Titles are awarded at two levels; novice retrieving ability (NRA) and open retriever ability (ORA).

Novice level consists of four exercises; walking to heel, a recall, and two single mark retrieves.

Open level also consists of four exercises; walking to heel, one minute stay with recall (incorporating a stop on command), walk-up retrieve, and either a double mark retrieve or a double rise retrieve.

To attain a qualifying score at either level, a dog must receive at least 50 per cent of available points in each exercise and an overall score of not less than 75 percent of available points. The handler may use whistles, voice and hand signals to control the dog, which must complete all exercises without lead or collar.

RATG Novice

The Novice level is judged out of 100 points and includes obedience and retrieving components. The obedience part of the test is not as demanding as the novice level of obedience trials; it is intended to demonstrate that you have your dog under control. First exercise consists of your dog walking at heel for 20-30m.(10 Points) Second Exercise is a recall (15 Points).

The retrieving component consists (Exercise Three and Four) of two single mark retrieves of approx. 50m (30 Points) and 70m (35 Points) each, and may include land and water. Your dog is allocated up to 10 points for Style and Action.


The second level in the Retrieving Ability Test for Gundogs, the open competition is judged out of 100 points.

The first exercise is your dog walking at heeling over 30-50m including at least 3 turns (10 Points). The Second Exercise is a one minute stay with stop on recall at a distance of 30–40m (20 Points). Exercise three is a Walk up Retrieve of approximately 50m (25 Points). The fourth exercise is either a Double Rise at a distance of approx.70m or A Double Mark Retrieve of approx. 50m and 80m (35 Points). Your dog is allocated up to 10 points for Style and Action.

Retrieving Trials (RT)

The purpose of a retrieving trial is to test and determine the dogs’ natural hunting ability in the field, under natural conditions. Retrieving trials allows the owner/breeder the opportunity to test the natural working instincts of their dogs, and a chance to select breeding stock based on preserving natural working instincts which have been developed over centuries.

RTs are held on country properties, where the terrain can be quite challenging; it may be up hills, through gullies, and with thick cover. The cover may include tussocks or long grass, which conceal the retrieve and force the dog to use its nose to scent it out.

Usually, RTs test dogs over three ‘runs’, sometimes more. Each run includes heeling and general obedience in the control area, plus the retrieves.

In the RT control area, the handler removes the lead and collar, takes the gun, and heels to the ‘firing’ point. The handler sends the dog for the retrieve and may use voice, whistle, and hand signals to control the dog if necessary.

Items to be retrieved are cast from a mechanical thrower and dogs must be able to determine the depth of fall of the ‘game’ and then be able to seek and retrieve the game and gently deliver it to the handler. All retrieving trials are held under the rules and regulations of Dogs Australia, and are held in all states around Australia. All dogs entered must be over six months of age and trials are conducted by various Gundog Clubs during the year.

Retrieving trials are a great way to see our gundogs exhibiting their natural ability in the field. All types of gundogs compete and at any trial you can see breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shorthaired Pointer, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Brittany, Flat Coated, Retriever, Weimaraner and various other breeds of gundogs.

Retrieving trials are conducted at five different levels, beginners, novice, restricted, all age and championship. Novice, Restricted and All Age Stakes form the basis of most trials in Queensland.

A Beginners Test is the entry level for retrieving trials and consists of two runs (retrieves), one on land and one in or through water which is of sufficient depth for the dog to swim. Beginners handlers are generally given instruction on the procedure for the conduct of the test and shown the mechanics of the run over which the dog is required to compete. It is a great way to be introduced to the sport of retrieving trials.

Novice level: consists of three marked retrieves which are generally 60-80 metres but no more than 100 metres long. One Mark retrieve must be in or through water were the dog must swim.

Restricted and All Age: introduces the concept of the blind retrieve, where game is placed instead of thrown, and the dog is directed to it. Also more complex marks occur such as walk ups, relocations, and marks thrown while the dog is on the way out/in from another retrieve. Maximum distance of retrieves in both stakes is 150m.

Restricted Level: Must involve at least one Blind find retrieve.

All Age: Must involve at least one blind find retrieve and the dog must be tested for unsteadiness in a hide. A dog must win two All Age stakes to earn the title of Retrieving Trial Champion.

Championship Stakes: One championship stake is conducted in each state in Australia each year. A Championship Stake consists of not less than five (5) runs, with at least 13 items of game to be retrieved. At least two (2) blind find retrieves and tested for steadiness in a hide at least twice.

A National Championship consists of a minimum eight retrieves with at least 17 items of game, two of which have to be blind finds where the dog has to be tested for steadiness from behind a hide twice.

Championships are a great spectacle of working gundogs and generally attract many competitors from other states.

More information on tests, latest trials and training is available from

Field Trials

There are three types of Field Trials in which a registered Gundog may compete according to breed. Pointer & Setter Field Trials, Spaniel & Retriever Field Trials and Utility Gundog Field Trials. A Field Trial is a competition where the working ability of dogs is assessed under actual hunting and shooting conditions in the field. The breed categories are listed as follows:

Pointer & Setter Breeds

English Setter
Gordon Setter
Irish Setter
Irish Red & White Setter
Pointer (English)

Spaniel & Retriever Breeds

Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Clumber Spaniel
Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniel (American)
Curly Coated Retriever
Field Spaniel
Flat Coated Retriever
Golden Retriever
Irish Water Spaniel
Labrador Retriever
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Sussex Spaniel
Welsh Springer Spaniel

Utility Gundog Breeds

German Shorthaired Pointer
German Wirehaired Pointer
Hungarian Vizsla
Italian Spinone
Large Munsterlander
Weimaraner (Long Hair)

Utility Gundogs are breeds identified as those which hunt, point and retrieve, fur and feather on land and from water.

Field Trials (FT) are tests based on real hunting situations and are therefore held in rural and regional areas. Field trials are based on the idea of companions going out for a day's shooting. Dogs work in braces 'Pairs' and must 'point' the game (excluding Spaniels & Retrievers FT), with the second dog backing up the first dog ('honouring'), flush the game, and then retrieving the shot game. There are several FT categories, including trials for Spaniels and Retrievers; Pointers and Setters; and Utility Dogs.

There are normally fewer Field trials held each year than RATG or RT and some states are more active with these trials than others. Trials are mostly run on rabbits, but dogs finding and flushing other legal game will be scored with a 'find' by the judge. If the game is out of season it cannot be shot but the dog will still be given a score for the find.

Field trials are judged on a point scoring system and dogs run in two heats (provided they are not eliminated in their first heat). Shooting accuracy is not the main criteria in scoring, the trials are to test the dogs and not the aim of the handler.

The majority of the dog's work is judged on:

  • Finding game
  • Ability to work ground and wind properly
  • Ranging and quartering
  • Style, eagerness and action
  • Steadiness and control
  • Be good at facing cover
  • Show that it has a nose

Retrieving is the only purpose that shooting is connected with and the retrieving performances of the dogs make up most of the scores. Handling a gun is not always compulsory and, in some instances, rules may allow for a judge to appoint a ‘shooter’ so that all the dogs can be tested with a retrieve. So, if you have a great dog, but are not overly fond of guns, don’t be put off Field trials. Contact your local club to find out what the licensing requirements are in your state.

If FT interests you, check here to look for future trials. FT event notices and other useful information are also often posted on the Field & Game Australia website and elsewhere.