A Brief Discussion About Hunt Tests

I would like to talk this time about testing. I am not talking about testing for health clearances; I am talking about testing the dog’s ability against a standard and your ability as a handler to get the dog to reach that standard.
“I am a hunter – why should I test my dog?”, “Titles don’t find birds”, and a bunch of other phrases we have all heard in the past about why someone won’t take the time to test the dog and validate the training that he/she is putting into the dog.
I have always been taught that, when it comes to training, if you are not talking about a task, the conditions that the task needs to be accomplished in, and the standard to which that task is to be performed, then you are not truly talking about training. So with that in mind, let’s talk about some of the organizations that test and some of what that they are looking for.
The organizations that I would like to talk about here are NAVHDA, AKC, and UKC. I know there are other organizations that test, however, in the interest of keeping this discussion to a reasonable length, I am going to only cover these three.
Let’s start with NAVHDA. For those that are not familiar with this acronym it stands for North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. This organization is devoted to the Versatile breeds.
The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association defines the versatile dog as one “that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water.” ~ NAVHDA Aims, Programs, Test Rules
These are your German Shorthaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Small Munsterlander, and the likes. My favorite of the Versatile breeds is the Pudelpointer. This is probably because, other than my own GSP, I have hunted behind a Pudelpointer the most of all versatile breeds.

Photo by Monica Brady

There are three levels in the NAVHDA system: Natural Ability (NA), Utility (UT,) and if you score well enough in your UT test you get invited to the Invitational.
The NA test is for dogs that are younger than 16 months. They are evaluated in four areas: Field , Tracking, Water, and Physical Attributes. These areas have their skills that are evaluated to be performed to get a pass. They include use of nose, desire to work, and cooperation, to name a few.
The UT test is for your older dogs.This test is divided into three areas. These are Field, Water, and Physical appearance. While the NA is for younger dogs that are not as finished in their work, the dogs at the UT level are expected to perform as finished dogs. Steady in the blind as well as steady to wing, shot, and fall. There are other performance traits that are evaluated, but to list them all would make this a long read.
The invitational is exactly that. This event is held once a year and the dogs that get an invitation have scored at the highest levels in their UT test. The dogs here are the cream of the crop for that year in all of NAVHDA. This is a national event and this is the only place in the NAVHDA system where you can earn the title Versatile Champion (VC).
NAVHDA has been testing Versatile Dogs and helping handlers for over 50 years. So if a versatile dog is what you have this is a great way to get out with your dog, meet new people, and see if you and your dog can perform to the standard and get the NA, UT, or VC titles.
Next I am going to talk about the American Kennel Club Hunt Test system. This system I am a little more familiar with as I put a Junior Hunter Title on my dog about two years ago. The AKC has three levels where the dogs are tested: Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter, and Master Hunter.
Junior Hunter is the most basic level of the three. At this level the dog is evaluated in the areas of Hunting, Bird Finding Ability, Pointing, and Trainability. From my limited experience in doing these at this level, the most important aspect is finding a bird on the field and pointing that bird. The dog is required to point fifty percent of the birds it encounters and must hold point until the handler gets into reasonable shotgun range.

Senior Hunter is the next level. Here the dog is evaluated on the same traits as a Junior Hunter plus the dog has to Honor (Back) and retrieve. The dog is expected to be steady to shot at this level. The shooting is done by designated gunners and not the handlers.
The next level in this system is Master Hunter. This is a finished bird dog. The team must work together without a lot of handling. The dog must be steady to wing, shot, and fall. Retrieve to hand and honor its bracemate without any cues to honor. Again, the shooting is done by designated shooters.
The main thing that I like about the AKC and NAVHDA testing is that these are conducted in a non-competitive environment. That means that the dog is not judged by his performance against the other dogs, but by his performance against the standard that is written for that level. With the dogs not in competition with each other it keeps the atmosphere relaxed and is a great place to learn from other more experienced handlers and the judges will talk to you about what they are looking for.
The next organization that I would like to talk about is the United Kennel Club (UKC). You don’t really hear much about UKC tests as they are usually overshadowed by the other organizations or the competitive events that are also recognized by the UKC, which I will talk about another time.

Stock Photo from Internet

The UKC field trial is a blend of both hunt tests and field trials. This is similar to the way they are done in Europe. These events are open to all breeds of pointing dogs and are walking events for companion gun dogs.
So how do they blend? According to the UKC, the field trial program is designed to award a pass/fail credit as deserved for all entries based on the standard for the level they are attempting. Similar to any other hunt test. However, they also recognize the outstanding individual efforts and award placements for the top performances of the event. This is definitely a different take on the hunt test and makes for a fun and challenging event.
In the end, even if you are not interested in titles, these events are fun for you and your dog and a great way to extend your season. They are also social events where you can meet like-minded folks that will share ideas, techniques, and their joy of all things bird dog. So give it a try this season and see how your training stacks up to a recognized written standard.

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