This is an overview of the sport of Working Trials and was designed to help the working dog community to learn more about the sport. I believe that the information I have here generally/mostly applies to this sport in all active countries, but where there are differences I have typically followed the English rules & guidelines. See AAWTS for details of the U.S. variant of the sport. -- Mark
Working Trials involve the evaluation of the performance of a dog and handler working as a team to perform activities which each alone could not perform. In the process, the dog's intelligence, attention, physical prowess, focus, and drive are tested, as well as the handler's ability to read, direct & train the dog, and the team's ability to cooperate in a constructive manner.
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. From those humble beginnings, Working Trials have grown to become a popular and expanding multi-national working dog sport. At this time, I am aware of well established Working Trial organizations in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Recently, the Association of American Working Trial Societies was formed to promote and organize this sport in the United States, and some effort is being made to initiate Working Trials in Canada, as well. For more information about these various groups, see the Other Countries.
The skills evaluated in Working Trials can be partitioned into three groups: control, agility, and nosework. A forth group, patrol work, can be found as one of the highest stakes in some countries, but it's participation typically is only a very small percentage of the active participation in the other stakes. The control group involves activities typically found in obedience competitions, such as heel, go-out, recall, retrieve and stay, but in a variety of forms and under a variety of conditions. The agility group involves three obstacles performed independently of each other. They are the clear or bar jump (3 ft maximum height), the broad or long jump (9 ft maximum length), and the scale wall (6 ft maximum height). Shorter dogs are allowed to jump lower/shorter at the earlier stakes. The nosework group includes two major exercises, the search square and tracking. In the search square, a number of small human scented articles are hidden in a large (15+ yard) square of grass, each of which the dog must find and return to the handler, who must remain outside of the square. At the lowest stakes, the objects are often so large as to be visible to the handler, but at the higher stakes they might typically be a small stick or a one inch square of material. Tracking requirements progress from a 1/2 mile, 30 minute old track with 6-8 corners, to a 3 hour old track over rougher terrain with more difficult corners.
A significant emphasis is made in Working Trials on the 'realistic working environment'. This can be seen in a number of aspects of the trials & rules. Rules which describe the various Working Trial stakes and exercises are purposely brief and general, leaving a great deal of lattitude as to the exact design of a trial the the trial judge. In addition, exacting performance standards are purposely avoided, instead relying on guidelines such as 'the dog must perform the exercise well and in a relaxed and confident manner'. These two aspects play well off of each other, resulting in much more varied and interesting (and hence, perhaps harder) trials than you might see in, say, kennel club obedience, but allowing greater flexibility in handling style, so that the handler and dog can better match their techniques to their particular strengths and weaknesses.
As examples, I have heard of heel exercises being performed through crowds, food courts or trees, or interleaved with agility exercises (heel up to a jump, do it, heel to the next, ...). Apparently at one English trial, the judge gave the handler 2 minutes and an open field, and told the handler to 'impress me', desiring to see the handler work his dog in heel patterns which would best demonstrate the dog's full capabilities. At the same time, the dogs are not required to be rigidly or tightly placed next to the handler's side, but must simply stay at the handler's side with focus and enthusiasm (for that matter, the handlers are not required to work in any sort of rigid posture, but are encouraged to work naturally and freely).
There are typically four to five stakes (levels) in Working Trials. In England, these are the Companion Dog (CD), Utility Dog (UD), Working Dog (WD), Tracking Dog (TD), and Patrol Dog (PD), each of which can result in a title at that stake (eg: CD), or an excellent title at that stake (eg: CDex). The most basic stake, CD, is not required to go on to the UD trials, and is often the only stake addressed by casual competitors. Beyond that, though, entry into a championship stake (where titles are awarded) requires an excellent title at the preceeding stake (note that the TD & PD stakes (the 'ticket' stakes) are at the same level, both having as their prerequisite appropriate titles at the WD level). In addition, due to the large field of competitors in England, entry into a championship stake first requires qualification at the same level in an open trial. Championship status in Working Trials (WTCh) is awarded for two wins in the TD &/or PD stakes, with qualifying TDex &/or PDex scores. That is, to be awarded a WTCh title, a dog must win twice in TD trials, with TDex level scores, or it must win twice in PD trials, with PDex scores, or it must win one of each. Therefore, the typical critical path to championship status might look roughly like:
(optionally CD or CDex); UDex -> WDex -> TDex/PDex (2 wins) -> WTCh,and might take anywhere from a few years to a lifetime to attain.
To see details of the U.S. variant of the sport, go to AAWTS.