Working Clumber Spaniel Society holds its first working test of the year in South Yorkshire
These are working Clumber spaniels in their favoured environment, rummaging through brambles, overgrown shrubs and fallen leaves on the hunt for their quarry - at this time of year, a well placed dummy.
The Working Clumber Spaniel Society’s first working test of the year took place last weekend on the outskirts of Rotherham in a private woodland with the permission of the owners.
The breed is a minority one, which only a few years ago was rarely seen on the shooting field, overlooked in favour of Labradors, cockers and English springer spaniels.
The Society was set up 39 years ago to address that, and the breed has seen somewhat of a resurgence, albeit a small one, with still only around 200 working Clumber puppies born every year.
But what they lack in numbers on the sporting field, Clumbers more than make up for in enthusiasm, with a nose for scent that a bloodhound would be proud of.
And all of that enthusiasm and ability was on show at the working test, with 21 dogs, from puppies, novices to more experienced dogs and their handlers taking part.
Winners on the day were Ann Curtis, with her 15-month-old bitch, Puzzle, in the puppy class who had travelled down from Cumbria; Nigel Stock, with his two-year-old bitch Willow in the novice class; and Andy Parker, with his dog, Gino, who is three in May, winning the open class.
The test was run under Kennel Club rules for minority breeds, with a Spanish water dog and a Welsh springer spaniel also competing.
Judges John Eyre and Anthea Shelley, and Mr Eyre said they were looking for dogs which showed a good hunting instinct, with natural ability, intelligence and drive.
“These working tests are just like field trials (where live game is hunted by the dogs under strict rules and watched by a judge) with the same rules, but using dummies.
“It is testing the dog’s ability, we are looking for that extra something that puts a dog above the others, it’s flair if you like,” he added.
“It’s good to see these minority breeds working, and the quality of Clumber spaniel seen in tests has improved massively.”
Gary Barstow, the Society’s field trial secretary, is the man tasked with organising and stewarding such events, which are held across the country.
Mr Barstow, who has seven dogs (not all of them Clumbers), said the Yorkshire test was a good get together at the start of the year.
“It is testing the dog under as close as possible to a shoot situation,” he said. “We’ve had people come from right down near the Isle of Wight and up in Cumbria. There has been a really good turnout and the ground has been fantastic.”
Clumbers are the heaviest of the spaniel breed, and were believed to have been originally owned by the Duke of Newcastle, and taking their name from his ancestral home in Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire.
Their resurgence in the shooting field has been put down due to their tenacity, fearlessness in wading through thick patches of brambles and fantastic nose to track down fallen birds.
They have a reputation for being slower to mature and therefore more difficult to train than the easier Labradors and other spaniel breeds, a claim which many owners dispute.
“Training a Clumber can be a bit more challenging,” said Mr Barstow.
“I was brought up with labs and they are brilliant, it’s like they are born ready trained. Springers and cockers have a bit more character than labs, and Clumbers have a bit more character still. There is something about them that is that bit extra.”