Posts Tagged ‘North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’

The Difference between Field Trials and Hunt Tests

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014


Lots of hunting dog owners, especially newbies, aren’t sure what the difference is between a field trial and a hunt test. While both are great things to do in the offseason to keep us and our dogs in shape, training, and having fun, it can be confusing to figure out what’s right for you and your dog.

Basically, field trials are competitions and hunt tests are not competitive. In a field trial, one dog wins, or depending on the structure of the trial, one dog in each division wins. In a hunt test, each dog is judged individually, not in comparison to other dogs, and is awarded a score based on its performance. At the end of a hunt test, there may be several dogs with perfect scores, several not passing, and all possible combinations in between. The objective of a field trial is to pick a winner; the objective of a hunt test is to assess each dog independently.

Both field trials and hunt tests help breeders evaluate their lines. Both are fundamentally geared towards producing a better hunting dog by way of developing the dogs’ inherent abilities and fine-tuning their training. Both have events running on local, state and national levels, from puppy age to adult dogs.

Whatever level you’re at with your dog, there’s a program you can participate in. And hooking up with a group of bird dog owners training for trials or tests can be one of the best ways to enhance your dog’s training program and connect with people who share the passion.

There are many different organizations running field trials, and the format and style vary. One major difference is that some are walking trials and others are done with handlers, judges and galleries on horseback. Criteria for judging differ depending on whether it’s a pointing dog trial, retriever or spaniel trial. Some field trials use pen-raised birds; others conduct the search on wild birds. There are non-shooting stakes and shoot-to-retrieve stakes.

The American Kennel Club, American Field Sporting Dog Association, and National Retriever Club sponsor most of the national field trials, but other groups – such as the National Shoot to Retrieve Association and National Bird Hunters Association along with a variety of amateur field trial groups and breed clubs – also host trials.

As far as hunt tests go, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (for pointing dogs), AKC, and United Kennel Club (for both pointers and retrievers), and North American Hunting Retriever Association (retrievers) developed hunt test programs with the initial goal of providing a non-competitive yet standardized method of evaluating breeding. Parent breed clubs and multiple breeds clubs like the German Jagdgebrauchshundverband (JGHV) also have developed their own testing systems. The wonderful byproduct of these programs is the training that’s offered for the tests provides handlers and their dog’s outstanding preparation for hunting in general whether or not participants ever end up taking the tests.

Depending on the trial or test, pointing dogs usually must demonstrate their ability to search for game; hold point; remain steady to wing, shot and drop; and retrieve downed game to hand. Versatile pointing dogs will also be expected to search in the water for game; mark and retrieve downed waterfowl; and track game on land. Retriever and spaniel events judge the dogs’ ability to hunt, ability to remain steady, mark downed birds or waterfowl; make blind retrieves; and deliver birds or ducks to hand.

Whereas in a field trial the dog usually just has one run in a day, in most hunt tests, the dog performs several times. For example, in a NAVHDA Utility Test, each dog does a 30-minute field hunt, a minimum 10-minute duck search in a large body of water, a heeling course, a long tracked field retrieve, and a combination of steadiness and retrieving tasks from a water’s edge blind. Both field trials and hunt tests have complex scoring criteria designed to make the judges’ evaluations as objective as possible.

One of the liveliest – okay, let’s be honest and say super-heated – discussions you can find in the gun dog world is whether field trials or hunt tests produce the better hunting dogs. Speed, style, practicality, hunting instinct, finish work and a bird bag full of other elements fuel the debates. What’s important to most of us, however, is what program appeals to us and what we want out of our dogs. The best advice is to attend a couple of field trials or hunt tests, ask your dogs’ breeder for recommendations, and do a little local research to find out what’s available. Then grab your dog and have some fun.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Hats off to the Dogs of Pheasant Fest

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Being a major media attraction isn’t a walk in the park. Neither is being adored by thousands. So hats off – or extra biscuits – to the dogs of Pheasant Fest.

It can’t be easy for a true bred hunting dog to line up in a parade of varied breeds in a strange hallway then march through a crowd to pose before an even bigger crowd. The enormity of the convention center, with its sensory overload of colors and noises, is a far cry from the sharp air and clean swoosh of prairie or sunlit morning gold of the southern quail pines. But these beautiful dogs took it all in stride, wagging at admirers and absorbing pet after pat after kiss.

Some of the dogs posed proudly on tables, others beckoned visitors into their booths. A small Munsterlander waited patiently while conversations rambled on around her. A sleek Weimaraner stood confidently by his owner’s chair, making eye contact with every camera lens turned his way. Reclining on an elevated platform, a noble chocolate Lab seemed to have magnetic fur, luring hands from nearly every passer-by. While their owners answered a myriad of questions about breed and training, the dogs themselves drew the attention. No written or verbal information could equal attendees’ hands-on and eyes-on experience of being able to study and touch each dog.

One of the best moments I witnessed was late Saturday afternoon. Fergi, a young German shorthair, was lying visibly pooped on her training table in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) booth. She’d been doing retrieving demos and obedience drills all Friday afternoon and Saturday. Getting a break from the demos, Fergi was due for a nap. When a young boy came over to give her a pet, her eyes glanced up. His hand went out to stroke her head. Calmly, quietly, Fergi rose up, turned in a very slow half circle and settled back down for her snooze, offering her back and hind quarters to the boy’s hand. She was so tired and so sweet, not wanting to pull away from him but not able to take one more pat on the head. Within seconds, she was deep asleep while the boy stroked her flanks. A win-win situation.

Dogs rested in crates in the back of booths. Dogs performed on stage, focusing on their trainers instead of the distracting crowd. Dogs strolled the aisles with only their owners’ leashes keeping them from tempting jerky treats, french fries, and candies galore. Throughout, it was clear that these dogs enjoyed the opportunity to please their handlers and participate in the event…even if there were no coveys to point or roosters to retrieve.

National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2015 will be February 20, 21 & 22, 2015 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

No “Versatile Champion” Title This Year, Yet Still the Ultimate Reward

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Nancy Anisfield sends “Scratch” on a 100-yard blind retrieve at the NAVHD Invitational Test. Photo by Rick Holt

Nancy Anisfield sends “Scratch” on a 100-yard blind retrieve at the NAVHD Invitational Test. Photo by Rick Holt

“Scratch,” my German shorthaired pointer, and I just got back from the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’s Invitational Test. The Invitational is a multi-day event designed to evaluate hunting dogs for “superior ability, versatility and obedience in all phases of work and a variety of hunting situations.” It is a pass/fail test. Dogs that pass are awarded the title “Versatile Champion” with a “VC” placed before their name in all pedigree records and registries.

At the Invitational, the dogs must run a one-hour field hunt in a brace, being scored by three judges on search, backing, pointing, steadiness and retrieve. They must complete an off-lead heeling course, a 100-yard blind water retrieve, honor another dog’s duck retrieve at the water, and do double mark water retrieves. Throughout, the dogs are also being scored on nose, desire, cooperation and obedience.

NAVHDAprogramWe trained for the event since Scratch qualified last September. To prepare, we’ve put on about four million road miles, since it’s important for the dogs to train on strange fields and water. Between Scratch and my husband’s dog, “Rudder,” who was also testing, we planted about four million pen-raised chukar this summer. The search for just the right water to practice the blind crossing seemed endless. And I’d wake up at 3 a.m. analyzing why Scratch would veer wide before coming to me on his retrieves or how I could get him to stop surging forward in his heeling.

Despite getting so amped up before his turn in the field that upon release he exploded like a ballistic missile, Scratch had a terrific field run. During training he’d occasionally creep while honoring the other dog’s point, but on test day he was solid. His retrieves were straight and clean. On the blind retrieve he went straight across like a pro. He even settled down enough for a passing score on the dreaded heeling course. Then it was time for the double mark which I never worried about because he’d been doing it perfectly for months. Until test day.

In short, everything I worried about, he did well. The one thing I didn’t worry about, he blew big time. We did not pass. (Fortunately, Rudder saved the family honor with her new Versatile Champion title.)

The road to the Invitational is nerve-wracking and somewhat obsessive. It’s also a journey of discovery about facing a challenge and working towards a goal in partnership with your hunting dog. But the VC title isn’t the highest prize. Getting to know other handlers and their dogs– sharing the disasters, surprises and success – is the reward.

NAVHDA couldn’t run this major event without the support of its conservation partners and corporate sponsors. Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever is one of NAVHDA’s Conservation Partners. For that, Scratch and I say a heartfelt “thank you.”

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

The Bird Dog Name Game

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

According to DOGWatch, the newsletter from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, a study of close to 500,000 Veterinary Pet Insurance policies shows pet owners in general tend to prefer people names for their dogs. Currently the most popular dog names are Bella, Bailey, Max, Lucy, Molly, Buddy, Daisy, Maggie, Charlie and Sophie. This is not necessarily true, however, for hunting dog owners.

A few years ago I did some highly unscientific research on dog names. I went through one month’s records of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’s test results for Natural Ability and Utility Tests, grouping dogs’ registered names into categories to look for trends. I disregarded the kennel part of each name, and I also skipped tongue-twisting German names, most of which had more than 37 letters per word. My goal was to see where hunting dog owners’ creativity led them.

Max was the most popular human name, but in the people category I discovered a curious, if not notorious, cast of characters such as Outlaw Josey Wales, Orphan Annie, Goliath, Cleopatra, Daisy Duke, Valentino, Buster Brown, DB Cooper, Jesse James, Son of Sam (!) and D’Artagnan. Owners of a more lyrical bent chose names to delight the senses, such as Rhythm of the Tide and Ray of Light.  Gun names were big – Citori, Benelli, Browning, Kimber, Ruger and Red Ryder. Important hunt-related designations showed up, too: Reload, Decoy, Scout, Gunner, Hunter, Silver Bullet, Buck Shot and I Can Pointabird.

Good will and positive thoughts sparkled from optimistic names such as Coasting Smoothly, New Beginnings, Revelation, Feeling Groovy, Practically Perfect, Bound ‘n Determined, Symphony of Dreams, Radiance of Paradise (try to live up to that name!), Razzle Dazzle ‘Em and Amazing Grace.

EZ Come EZ Whoa apparently came pre-trained.

Power names appeared in spicy (Hot Pepper, Black Pepper, Sage Pepper), climatological (Stormbuster, Speak Thunder, Rainmaker, Perfect Storm) and downright scary (Blazing Howl).  Adult beverages were a source of inspiration, as well. There were dogs named Budweiser, Zinfandel, Absolut, Rolling Rock, Bourbon Sippin Broad, and Jaegermeister.

Before drawing the totally superficial, statistically unconfirmed conclusion that hunters are inspired by notoriety, good vibes, hunting, booze and power, I checked  the most recent posting of NAVHDA test scores. Sure enough, Cleopatra and Artemis filled the famous name category; Ricochet, Camouflage and Hunter were on the hunting list; and Epiphany, Ace in the Hole and Luck Be a Lady joined the positive team. Power names included High Explosive, Solar Flair and Shock & Awe, with Grey Goose and Stolichnaya at the bar.

My research is not over. I’m not sure what category Moose in the Woods belongs to. And I’ve started to wonder…what if Bucky Badger met Nothing But Trouble who was actually Born to Boogie, then found Heart’s Afire but wanted No Strings Attached when he discovered the dog Ain’t No Pussycat?

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.