Even if you only have a passing interest in the world of dog training, you may have heard about French Ring Sport. But what exactly is it? What purpose does French Ring serve? Who takes part in it? What are the rules?
I’ve been involved in French Ring since 2001, competing for the first time in 2007. I’ve competed in this amazing sport with five dogs across four different countries, travelling extensively North America and even competing in France. I have entered over one hundred French Ring trials, taking multiple dogs to Ring III (the highest level possible in the sport).
I want to help spread the word about the wonderful sport of French Ring. To provide more information, this article provides an overview of the sport. I also spoke with former President of the Canadian Ring Association and my good friend, Tim Watts, who was instrumental in the early growth of French Ring in Canada.
What is French Ring Sport?
French Ring Sport is a dog sport which focuses on obedience and protection commands. It is classed as a personal protection sport. Handlers have to instruct their dogs to perform certain commands and are judged accordingly on the dog’s ability to perform these commands.
When competing in French Ring, a dog does not wear a collar and is not on a leash (the only exception to this is during the ‘heel on leash’ discipline). Handlers are not allowed to offer food rewards or corrections. Points are deducted if the dog fails to perform a command correctly, or if a handler issues an incorrect command or issues multiple commands. Judges must issue an explanation for each point deduction on the scoresheet for each competitor.
How many levels are there in French Ring?
After earning a Brevet (essentially a test which results in a certificate qualifying the dog as having the aptitude for French Ring), there are three levels of French Ring: Ring I, Ring II and Ring III. Each level increases in exercise complexity and difficulty.
What is the scoring system in French Ring?
Scoring in French Ring differs at each level.
Brevet – 100 points available. Entrants must achieve at least 80 points in both protection exercises, as well as obedience, to advance to Ring I.
Ring I – 200 points available. Entrants must achieve two scores of at least 160, trialling with two different judges and two different decoys, to advance to Ring II.
Ring II – 300 points available. Entrants must achieve two scores of at least 240, trialling with two different judges and two different decoys, to advance to Ring III.
Ring III – 400 points available. This is the top level of the sport, and is the level at which national championships are held.
Which breeds compete in French Ring?
There are no breed restrictions in French Ring, but the nature of the exercises make it difficult for smaller or low-drive breeds to be successful. The most common breeds to see competing in French Ring are the Belgian Malinois (all of the dogs I have competed with in French Ring are Mals), German Shepherds, Dobermans and Beaucerons. These dogs combine athleticism with trainability, making them ideal candidates for the sport.
Where did French Ring originate?
As you may have guessed from the name, French Ring originates in France. It started in France at the turn of the twentieth century as a way to determine suitability for breeding. It is a close counterpart of Belgian Ring Sport, which started at around the same time. The first ring sport took place in Belgium in 1907.
What are the exercises in French Ring?
Brevet (and up)
- Heel on-leash – Dog to heel on-leash in pattern determined by the judge, containing multiple stops and turns.
- Heel with muzzle – Dog to heel off-leash in pattern determined by the judge, containing multiple stops and turns.
- Long Sit/Down – Dog remains in position for one minute.
- Food Refusal – Dog must refuse to eat food whilst in a down-stay position.
- Face Attack – Dog to attack a decoy standing 40m away behaving in a menacing fashion.
- Defense of Handler – A staged situation where the decoy ‘hits’ the handler, after which, the dog bites the decoy and guards the decoy until recalled.
Ring I (and up)
- High Jump – Dog jumps a hurdle of at least 0.9m (points increase for each 5cm increase up to 1.2m).
- Palisade – Dog jumps over a wooden wall of at least 1.7m (points increase for each 10cm increase up to 2.3m)
- Long Jump – Dog clears a long jump on the ground of at least 3m (points increase for each 25cm increase up to 4.5m).
- Positions – Dog sits, stands and downs, with handler 18m away.
- Thrown Retrieval – Handler throws an item (e.g. glove, sock, wallet, etc.) at least 5m, dog retrieves and brings back to handler.
- Fleeing Attack – Dog attacks a decoy who is fleeing.
- Attack with Gun – Dog attacks a decoy who is firing a gun (twice during the attack and once after the bite).
Ring II (and up)
- Seen Retrieval – Handler drops the object and the dog picks it up and returns the item to their handler.
- Search, Hold, and Bark with Escort – Dog locates the decoy, barks to indicate that the decoy has been found, then when the decoy tries to escape, the dog stops the decoy by biting them.
Ring III (and up)
- Unseen Retrieval – Handler drops an object on the opposite side from which the dog is healing. A similar object is placed next to the dropped object; at a signal, the dog must turn around and retrieve the correct object.
- Send Away – Dog runs away in a straight line from the handler until called back.
- Stopped Attack – Similar to Face Attack, except when the dog is about to bite, the handler calls the dog who must stop and return to the handler without biting the decoy.
- Guard of Object – Dog guards an object with the handler out of sight. The decoy tries to retrieve the object, and the dog stops this on three separate occasions by biting.
French Ring in Canada
Now that you know a little bit about the history of French Ring, you might be wondering – how did this sport make its way to North America, and specifically, Canada?
Tim Watts is a former President of the Canadian Ring Association (CRA), which oversees the sport in Canada. I’ve known Tim for over twenty years, and he was a prominent figure in French Ring in the early years of the sport in this country. For this article, I asked Tim to recollect his memories of those early days.
“I started competing in French Ring back in the early-to-mid 1990s,” explains Tim. “At the time, there was no governing body for French Ring in Canada [it had only been introduced to North America in 1986]. Prior to French RIng, I had dabbled in Schutzhund. Once I learned about French Ring through a friend, I was hooked.
Back in 1995, there was one club in Vancouver, called Iron Dogs. Aside from that, most people would go to the United States to compete and watch championships take place.
Then, in 1996, the Canadian Ring Association (CRA) was formed. The rules were identical to the North American Ring Association (NARA) which governed US competitions, except that CRA trials only required five dogs as opposed to six. This was simply due to fewer participants as a whole in Canada.
I served as President of the CRA from 2000 to 2002, and I was actively competing until 2008.”
Tim was instrumental in my own introduction to French Ring over twenty years ago, as he explains.
“We met after I started a French Ring club in Calgary called Prairie Sharks – this was in the early 2000s. Like a lot of people in the sport, the first dog you had wasn’t really a good fit for French Ring.
However, my philosophy is that even if you’re training a dog that you might not be able to compete with, the worst dog in French Ring is still better than 95% of pet dogs out there! You’re building a strong bond with that dog. And it sets you up for success in the future, as you have demonstrated.”
Although he no longer competes in French Ring, Tim still plays an active and important role in the sport in Canada.
“I still have close links to the sport, but it is totally different from being President of the CRA or actively competing. Nowadays, I am the only commercial manufacturer of professional French Ring jumps in North America. I still go with my son to watch some of the competitions.”
Tim also makes incredible custom-made dog crates, made out of quality aluminium. If you need a durable, quality product for your dog, don’t hesitate to check Tim’s store out at nikanda.net.
French Ring has been a big part of my life for over two decades. It is a wonderful sport to be a part of. Our community is close-knit and every trial is a chance to see familiar faces, in addition to seeing the hard work we put in with our dogs come to fruition on the field.
I hope this article answers any questions you might have about French Ring, but if you need any more information on the sport or are thinking of getting involved, I’d love to help! Reach out to me via our contact form or via social media and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.