The Association of American Working Trial Societies (AAWTS) * exists to promote and organize the sport of Working Trials in the United States. While Working Trials have a 70+ year history in other parts of the world (see the general Working Trials page for more history), active efforts to promote them here have been going on for only a few years.
The first Working Trial was held in England in 1924, with the formation of the first Working Trial society (under ASPADS, the Association of Sheep, Police and Army Dog Societies) in 1927. The original focus of Working Trials was to evaluate the fundamental skills of all types of working dogs in a realistic working environment. Working Trials can be seen as a practical test of a dog's working knowledge, testing how well a dog would get along as it's master's trusty companion. The working trials test a dog in three areas: control (in a natural and relaxed manner), agility (how well the dog can travel across the hills, dales and creeks with you) and scent work (can the dog find a person, find your lost keys, etc).
There are 5 levels, or 'stakes', in working trials. The first is the Working Companion Dog, which tests the basic skills of the dog in each of the above areas. Above that is the Working Utility Dog, which requires additional skills in a wider range of activities and greater control of the dog, followed by Working Dog, Working Tracking Dog and Working Patrol Dog, each requiring even greater skills, versatility and control.
You can see the practical roots of this sport in the design of the trials - while they consistently test the same skills, each trial is typically unique in design, and much of the actual structure is left up to the judge. Therefore you might see heel work leading through a sequence of jumps or through a crowd of spectators and you might see down stays in the vicinity of other activities. The result is a test of a dog's capabilities, not under tightly controlled conditions, but in varied environments such as might be seen in the 'real world'. In addition, this variety helps keep the training and trials exciting and interesting, for the dog, the handler and the spectators.
In a nutshell, it's alot of fun (for you and your dog)!
Although Working Trials might have been experimented with in America before, my first knowledge of this sport in America was the Working Trial, put on at the end of a 5 day seminar in Austin, Texas in October of 1995. The seminar was put on by John Rogerson, the noted animal behaviourist and British Working Trials judge, and his wife, Moira, herself an accomplished Working Trials judge and trainer. The trial was small (a grand total of four of us completed the trial), but was incredibly exciting nevertheless. In fact, we were so enthralled by this sport that we decided to encourage it's development into a full-fledged American sport.
To provide a platform for this development, we created the Association of American Working Trials Societies*. Our goal is to provide the infrastructure for Working Trials in America; building up a core group, standardizing rules (based tightly on the British rules), providing a titling organization, and hosting the first few trials.
*Note: this organization was previously known as the American Working Trial Association (AWTA) and briefly, as the American Working Dog Association (AWDA). This final name change was done to reduce confusion between what we do and Schutzhund.