Total Newbie takes on NAVHDA!
Oh a hunting we will go! Let me begin by saying I don't hunt. I shoot with cameras, and while I am not anti-hunting, I feel very uncomfortable around guns. Not off to a great start?
I have been a family pet dog trainer for over 15 years, I mainly work with young dogs and rescues. I have done rescue training and re-homing with puppies...so how hard can this NAVHDA thing be?
My breeder wanted me to get his NA “Natural Ability”, so I joined NAVHDA International and purchased the video to see how I should prepare. My Sporting breed friends at dog shows were telling me to avoid this group and instead do the CKC Field Dog Jr, title. It seems that there is a clique/elitist perception around NAVHDA events.
After watching numerous videos and working with Kanoe on tracking and swimming, I was sure that I had it handled.
I didn’t have an easy time connecting with anyone to learn more about the test and to get registered…It was a bit stressful. I ended up paying for 2 NAVHDA NA tests by 2 different chapters to ensure that I had a spot in case he failed the first one. (I didn’t get a refund) This test is time sensitive and has to be completed before they are 16 months of age. I was loathe to cross the border for a hunt test, so things were a bit panicked until I was able to enter a test.
On the day of the test I was up at 3:30am to drive the 3 hours to the test site…FUN!
When I arrived at the test site, cold coffee in hand, I felt like a total fish out of water, in a sea of camo and true blaze orange. Was I the only one in a cute orange equestrian jacket? Was I the only woman? Crowded around me were groups of men. It seems that people brought their hunting buddies, mentors and coaches with them for the day. People had coaches! Some people had trained for months for this test. Boy did I misunderstand the term Natural Ability! At this point I started to sweat. When I was escorted to the test site, I found myself immediately in trouble. It seems that NAVHDA trainers have a different idea than that of my dog show & obedience friends. They are against chain and slip lead collars (nowhere was this written down in any training material)…so I had a bunch of older white men looking at me like I was a clueless idiot. Cue REAL stress sweat…I blew it and the test hasn’t even started yet! Luckily I always carry a spare flat buckle collar. They were also most unhappy to hear that he had not experienced gun shots over his head yet. Yikes!! So without further ado the leash comes off and my dog is free to begin the search and point portion of the test.
It was decided because I was new and the Jr. Judge was new (and female) that she would squire me around the test. I had prepared at home by walking my dog in a zig zag pattern through the field to make it easier to find the birds. I was told however, to not do that, but rather walk in a circle around the outside edge of the field, and my dog was supposed to go through the middle and find the birds. I did not receive much guidance or advice from the judge making this a really confusing and bumbling exercise. Kanoe found the first bird, held a point and flushed it himself, he then preceded to chase after it, not coming back when I called. I was calling him and blowing my whistle like a crazy person. He did return, and found, pointed and held the next point until I flushed…he also came when called this time. He did not flinch or even react to the gun shot. I felt like we had come back from the brink…but the judges wanted him to find and point another bird, they didn’t want him to focus on the area of the field he was sure had a bird, so we gave up and called him back. (I feel like I should have trusted my dog over the judge’s opinion of where the bird was) Feeling a bit down in the dumps, I headed back to get ready for the next exercise and to pick all of the burrs out of his pristine show coat…so far I was hating the day and wanted to cry. I found out after that when he ran off through the thicket he found the man with the bird cages on his ATV and pointed the birds, he didn’t come to me because he had a solid point. It was nice of the man to inform me of this and he said my dog had a natural talent he wasn’t being disobedient…wish he had told the judges!
The water exercise should have been his forte. Kanoe loves water, but we are used to clean water and open spaces, this pond was a small clay filled, muck ringed hole in the side of the field. After much fanfare & encouragement he went into the water 3 times, the judges asked for a 4th time, and while he didn’t retrieve the dummy, he went into the water as asked, swam, turned around and came out. No-one told me that when your dog comes out of the water you have to straddle him. I still cannot figure out the point other than getting me soaking wet and muddy. Having a show dog, I find it very possible to showcase their coat, conformation, balls & bite without holding them in a reverse bear hug. Strange people these hunters! Having survived this test, without my dignity intact, I was sure I failed my dog and was feeling defeated. I was so far out of my element that I could have been on Mars. I had to take a moment and sit in my car to gather myself.
I was feeling bone weary tired, as only those can feel that have walked acres in a stressful situation and had a very excited dog pulling like a lunatic on the end of a lead without much control. One exercise to go…the only one I thought I knew how to do. Working dogs track…I had Kanoe track...but what if he was opposed to a live pheasant…what if he ran away? What if tracking the way I know it, is not how you train a hunting dog? The sweat at my armpits, must have been all the way to my ankles…everyone around me seemed like a pro…and I was just a newbie with no clue what I was doing.
We had to drive along the edge of a dusty road to a farmer’s field where they had set up a blind. Kanoe and I traipsed through the field, with me pulling his collar up high, so I could have more leverage and in his excitement he wouldn’t drag me. I didn’t have much left in me. Finally the judge’s called us out and I took Kanoe to the spot marked with feathers, let him smell and unclipped the lead. He was off! What a spectacular beautiful sight to see dogs in action, doing what they were bred for. Kanoe followed that track directly to the pheasant and pointed it! He held the point and I was able to walk up to him and clip his lead back on.
As I was walking back my peers were literally clapping and cheering! We did it! He followed the exact track they said! That was perfect they said, High five you did it! They said.
And with that…when they read the scores HE PASSED! Kanoe earned his NAVHDA NA (Natural Ability) title with no help from me!
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