To use an analogy, NAVHDA is to hunting what rodeo is to ranch work.  Both rodeo and NAVDHA training/testing take a practical skill set and turn it into a technically judged event.  As Chuck Johnson says in his book Training the Versatile Hunting Dog, “You can successfully train your dog and end up with a brag dog without participating in one of these (NAVHDA or VHDF) tests” (p 124).  A few members and trainers at the Heartland NAVHDA Chapter’s training day even said that NAVHDA testing takes away skill from the field and vice versa (the field takes away skill from the testing).

Sam is starting the NAVHDA process at the age of two.  I think this works to our advantage and disadvantage.  The advantage is that he has solidified his natural field skills hopefully to a point where any training we do on the table or in the yard won’t have an adverse impact on his natural ability.

Yet this also proved to be a disadvantage on our first run at the NAVDHA training.  Sam had never been trained using pigeons or bird traps (or bird flingers, whatever you want to call them).  Once he found a trapped pigeon, he wasn’t even sure if he was supposed to be pointing it.  The decision was made to take the pigeons out of the traps and replant them.  The pigeons were replanted, but when Sam approached them, they didn’t move.  The only birds in the hunting field that don’t move are either dead or wounded, so naturally (in his mind) he grabbed it.

Further adjustments were made to the training scenario, because at that point we all realized that Sam was confused.  A pigeon was flushed by kicking the grass, then a shot was fired, just to attempt to impress in his mind that we are actually trying to “hunt” these things.  We then broke it down further, to where one of the trainers played with a pigeon about 5 feet in front of Sam, while Charles was giving the “whoa” command, to show that he is not allowed to grab the bird.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Sam watching the pigeon while on "whoa"

Another challenge in the training field was the number of dogs that had passed through and scent marked.  Sam thought that he had to “mark” as much as possible.  This isn’t something that we’ve ever had to worry about, even at our dog training wildlife management area.  Yet as it is a display of dominance, we need to correct him for “marking” at inappropriate times.

Even though there is a part of us that is wondering if this is something that is truly necessary, we really want to push ourselves in this direction.  The Heartland NAVHDA Chapter is full of breeders and trainers who have multiple decades of experience under their belts.  As an example, we worked with the folks out of Rufnit Kennels ( who are probably the #1 breeders and trainers of the Bracque du Bourbonnais in the country.  They have 20 dogs who live with them in the house!

Bracque du Bourbonnais

Sheri Stueck of Rufnit Kennels and "T"

So even though Sam has hunted up and retrieved 75+ wild birds in his first two seasons, we have set up a new challenge in trying to get him ready for testing.  Due to the special situations that are presented in NAVHDA training/testing (even having a large group of people walking behind him was confusing for Sam), we will need to start from the beginning in many ways.  We’re already looking forward to the September 11th training session, where as an experiment I plan on taking Sue out in addition to Charles running Sam.  We truly appreciate the opportunity to learn new things about versatile hunting dog training.