With the ongoing  COVID-19 Situation and the Governor’s Stay at Home Order, we decided as a chapter that we could not hold any organized training, although some chapter members were getting together in small private groups on their own, which we supported by taking some limited bird deliveries and helping coordinate the acquisition of grounds passes at Four Brooks and Kelley Farms.

At our Chapter Board meeting this week, it was decided that with Governor Walz’s relaxing of the Stay Home Order, we can begin some organized  events and small group training, in groups up to 10 people, using common sense social distancing guidelines.  We did previously conduct an online training survey to try to help sort people into groups, and we thank all of you who completed that.  With the training season and testing season delayed, we know many people may have changed their plans and goals, so we are pretty much tossing that data out, and are starting over.

To get things rolling and to help members formulate a plan for their training this summer, we are going to hold 2 full weekend  “OPEN” Training Events at Kelley Farms on June 6th & 7th, and June 20th & 21st.  These will be open to all chapter members, and you will NOT need the annual $375 Kelley Farms pass.    The Saturday sessions will focus on NATURAL ABILITY EXPOSURE, and the Sunday sessions will focus on UTILITY PREPARATORY & UTILITY TRAINING.  In addition to exposure and training techniques, there will be discussion about testing standards, NAVHDA AIMS rules & principles and scorecards.  Pre-registration  for these sessions is required and space may be limited.  Cost will be $30 per session.  Birds are extra.  If these events get crowded, main group preference may be given for those chapter members who are TESTING in 2020.  There will be more availability and flexibility for those members who just want to buy birds and train on their own or form their own small groups, and we highly  encourage that.   Cost will be $30 per day, and pre-registration is required so we can get an idea on attendance.  (For members who already have a Kelley Farms annual pass, there will be no daily fee.)

More details and online registration for these Events here:

In addition to these events, we do want to start the formation of small weekly training groups, we will be sorting people into groups based on age of dogs and your training and testing goals.    We are also looking for several more people to LEAD some training groups.  If you are willing to help lead or co-lead a group, please let us know.


To get in a weekly group for young dogs of  Natural Ability age (roughly 16 months and under) , please send an email to  our Director of Training Mitch Carlson at Mitch.Carlson@mnnavhda.org  Please include your full name,  mobile phone number, and age and breed of your dog.

To get in a  weekly training group for UPT or UT advanced training, please send an email to Pete.Aplikowski@mnnavhda.org.  Please include your full name, mobile phone number, and age and breed of your dog, and if you are entered in a NAVHDA test in 2020.


To get in a weekly training group, please send an email to Jeff Pleskac at MN.navhda.fourbrooks@gmail.com.  Please include your full name, mobile phone number, and age and breed of your dog.   To obtain a Four Brooks annual pass, send a check for $25 made out to MFFTC and  a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

  • Jeff Pleskac
  • 9610 175th St NE
  • Foley, MN 56329

Thanks everyone for your patience during these unprecedented times.  We look forward to seeing you and your dogs and getting our training and testing season underway!

Pete Aplikowski-MN NAVHDA President.

The Minnesota Chapter of NAVHDA was  founded in the early 1970’s, shortly after NAVHDA International was formed and around the same time as the “Green Book.”

Over the course of the almost 50 years that have passed since then, many things have changed in the versatile dog world.  Training methods and technology have improved and evolved.  Most importantly, the DOGS have improved!  The NAVHDA testing system and registry has allowed breeders and dog owners to have a consistent and systematic way of tracking performance and using that information in reproductive decision making.

Some things that have NOT changed are basic dog behavior-what we understand about how dogs learn, and a few CORE NAVHDA principles that have been around since the very beginning of NAVHDA.

The Chapter Mission Statement is:  “The Minnesota Chapter of NAVHDA is a family focused organization dedicated to promoting NAVHDA principles and assisting members to train and test their dogs in accordance with the NAVHDA AIMS Programs Test Rules.  In doing so, we believe members can develop their versatile dogs into the hunting partners they will enjoy for years to come.”

Our new Director of Training, Mitch Carlson and I had a plan to expose our members to some new ways of thinking and training this season and reinforcing how handlers can use the AIMS Guidelines and principles to shape their training program and timeline for their dogs.  The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of our training season and we have had to cancel many of our Introductory Training nights and 2 very important clinics-The NAVHDA Handler Clinic (AIMS/Rules Clinic), and the Steadiness Clinic with a pro-trainer that was going to illustrate alternatives to the use of check-cords and use more modern methods when training a dog to be steady to flush, wing, shot and fall.

Given we cannot present some of these ideas in person, I have taken some time to put together some training videos and created a Chapter Youtube Training Channel to share some concepts, and hope that this article will help handlers clarify some understanding of some key NAVHDA principles.

There are two very important NAVHDA principles an owner/handler needs to understand when helping their dog develop, and applying these to a training program and timeline.

  1. Pointing is a Natural Instinct.  The AIMS book says: “The instinct to point must be clearly evident in the dog.  Pointing and Searching are the two major aspects of the dog’s work ‘before the shot.’  When game is located the dog must establish point naturally.  The handler is strictly prohibited from giving any commands or gestures which may induce the dog to point.”

Keep this in mind when you are exposing a dog to birds and helping it develop it’s “point”.  If you have a dog that is riding right in on a planted bird without any discernible natural pause or point, you need to STOP and seek out experienced help.  (see more below about the use of pigeons & launchers)  This is a delicate situation.   Check cording, using e-stimulation or WHOA-ing the dog into birds, before it establishes a natural point (like even a brief point) can have lasting long term effects.   Note on the scorecard area below that Obedience is not and CANNOT be scored on a dog’s Point.  Think about that.

2. From the AIMS Book:  Judgement of Pointing begins when a convincing point is established and ends when the dog is aware of the handler’s presence.  Points must be intense and productive.   Pointing ends when the dog is “aware of the handler”.  “Steady to Flush” is the start of the steadiness sequence.  If you look at a UPT or UT scorecard, you will notice that there are 2 attributes being judged equally here-Cooperation AND Obedience.  This is because this is a transitional phase where it takes a dog’s natural cooperation while it is on point to allow the handler to move in front to flush the bird.   AFTER this phase, you will notice on the scorecard that Steadiness is ALL Obedience training. Before you start training steadiness, you need to truly comprehend this concept and be able to identify when your dog is on point, and when to time any commands you give him to allow you to move in front to begin the flush.   Ideally, a dog that allows you to move in front without any commands at all (natural or learned cooperation) will be much easier to get steady all the way through wing-shot-fall, because now you are physically adjacent to or in front of the dog and can influence the dog much more effectively with commands.   Having a dog that is properly WHOA trained can be pivotal here as well.  Here is a secret from the Judge’s Handbook:  “A quiet caution, e.g. ‘whoa’ may be given without lowering the score if, in the opinion of the judges, the caution was just that; a caution, not a command.”  This further pounds home the concept  that the Steady to Flush stage is a transition combining cooperation and obedience.

How does a dog “learn” to be cooperative enough to allow the handler to move in front?   The dog needs to understand that they are in this “together” with you, the handler, and that success in harvesting game is a team effort.  Ideally, you would give the dog LOTS of exposure to wild birds that will flush with too much pressure, and you would NEVER shoot a bird that was at least not briefly pointed long enough for the dog to be “aware” of your presence.   For those who cannot give the dog that much wild bird exposure, this can be simulated with the use of pigeons and launchers, but it is a very technical exercise and great care must be taken.  Knowing how to read the dog and the timing of the release of the launcher is VERY critical.  This method can also be used to assist dogs in bringing out and enhancing their natural “point” if they are riding in on planted birds at initial bird exposure.  Novice handlers should seek out help with these methods.  Better yet-hunt your dog on LOTS of wild birds BEFORE you begin your steadiness training.

A dog’s pointing intensity will also be maintained by reducing the amount of pressure you put on it during the Pointing/Steady to Flush Transition.  Note on the scorecard that there cannot be any Obedience judged during Pointing, that it is primarily Desire & Cooperation.  Understanding how to read your dog, knowing exactly when it has established a point, and when it is “aware” of your presence are key factors in formulating your steadiness training program.

Pete Aplikowski- NAVHDA Judge

While we have not started chapter organized group training due to the stay at home order, some members are getting together on their own in small groups, so we have started to take some birds to the pens at Kelley Farms.

This Wednesday April 22nd we will be selling birds from 5-7 pm at Kelley to chapter members.  Full info is here:

For those interested in obtaining a 2020 Kelley Farms pass, Steve Grogan will be available.  Those are $375.00, payable by check to Kelley Land & Castle Company

We are continuing to monitor Governor Walz’s slowly relaxing stay at home order and hope that if things keep trending in the right direction, that we can organize more training groups soon.

With the delay in all NAVHDA testing this year, for those of you running a  dog in an NA test, there is really no hurry.   For those of you training for UPT or UT this year, you should STRONGLY consider coming to buy some of these birds to solidify your retrieving work before hitting the field or water.  Your retrieving is never as good as you think it is, especially on fresh or live birds.  this would be money well spent doing some hold & carry work with birds at home.

Hello, Minnesota Chapter Members,

We hope you are all staying safe and taking this time to spend with your 2 legged and 4 legged family members.  Your Chapter Board had an emergency teleconference last night and we want to share the following with you:


NAVHDA International has cancelled all their sponsored events through June 30th, which includes our two May tests, and our May Aims & Rules (Handler) Clinic.   Full announcement is here.  Natural Ability dogs who were entered into tests will receive a waiver on the 16 month age requirement if they need it and wish to enter another test later in 2020.  Our August test is full, and we have closed entries to our remaining September tests, and are looking to possibly reschedule a test for sometime in July to accommodate those affected by the May cancellations.    We will be reaching out to all  of those Handlers in the next week or so with details on all remaining 2020 testing plans and the refund process for those who no longer want to test.

The May 2nd & 3rd Aims & Rules (Handler) Clinic will NOT be rescheduled.  The MOCK NA Test scheduled for May 2nd is also Cancelled.  Those entered in these events will be notified individually by email and refunds will be issued.



Due to the “Minnesota Stay At Home” order being extended to May 4th, and  common sense social distancing practices, we are also cancelling the Steadiness Clinic on April 25th & 26th.  Those entered in that event will be notified individually by email and refunds will be issued.  For the same reasons, at this time we cannot organize any official chapter group training.   We do want to remind everyone that to be on the grounds at Kelley Farms & Four Brooks, you must have a pass. For those of you that want access to grounds, you can obtain passes by contacting:

  • Kelley Farms-Steve Grogan 651-439-3575    Annual pass & sticker $375
  • Four Brooks-Jeff Pleskac mn.navhda.fourbrooks@gmail.com  Annual pass & sticker $25
  • We no longer have access to Major Ave Hunt Club in Glencoe

Please be respectful of the grounds and do not tear them up.  Close gates!

We are trying to figure out a plan to make birds available to members, but as of right now, nothing is concrete on that.

Thanks everyone.

Your Minnesota Chapter NAVHDA Board of Directors

Hello Chapter Members,

In response to the concern over current events, we have cancelled our next group training event on March 29th at Four Brooks.  We are monitoring the current situation and taking a wait and see attitude with respect to any of our Events after April 1st.

Assuming that our 2 tests in May can still be held, our  Board of Directors has decided that we will not be providing lunches at these events.  All Handlers, participants and Volunteers will be notified individually by email as more information is known.  You can also periodically check this website’s pages for any new information.

We had over 90 responses to our training survey, and it is now closed.  Thanks to all those that responded!  We will be reaching out to all respondents  to try to form smaller, more focused focused training groups than we have in years past.  Small groups may be the ONLY way we can hold any training this spring.  We will see.  If you are a chapter member and are  interested in training with us this year and did not fill out the survey, please send an email to training@mnnavhda.org

In the meantime, please reference this Training Resources Page   for information about NAVHDA related training principles and content.

Thanks everyone.  Hang in there!

Pete Aplikowski

MN NAVHDA-President




Hello chapter members, this warm weather seems to have really gotten people’s blood pumping about training & testing season.  We are fielding an increasing amount of emails and calls, so I thought it would be helpful to send out this update.

*Anybody with a Kelley Farms grounds pass please use extreme care and caution the next few weeks if going out to run your dogs.  The roads will be extremely soft and please do not tear them up.  Ideally, it would be best to stay away from there the next few weeks, but if you go, park by main gates and walk-in only-thank you!


Due to strong demand for Test entry slots this year, we have added a day of testing slots at our May 15th, 16th, 17th Natural Ability Test at Four BrooksThere are a few slots still available to chapter members only.  Although the test is still marked as “Full”, on our website, please contact test secretary Jacob Tillman at jacobtillman80@gmail.com to see if there are openings, and he will send you the registration info.  You will need the password. Do not delay, as this will soon be opened up to the public to ensure we fill the test.

There are also still a couple slots in our MOCK Natural Ability Test set for Saturday May 2nd at Kelley Farms.   This is open to chapter members only, and to see the Event post you will need the password: navhda

We will be looking for Volunteers at all of our tests in 2020, and it is not too early to get these dates on your calendar.  We also expect those of you who are entered to run a dog in our tests to volunteer to help on a day you are not running.  Please review the dates and contact the Test & Clinic Coordinators if you can help.  No experience is necessary.

We also have an upcoming Training/Testing  Clinic this Saturday March 14th at Cabela’s in Rogers.  Preparing for NAVHDA testing.  There are still openings.


As a chapter, we are making some big shifts in Chapter Training Philosophy.   We are not professional trainers, and will not train your dog FOR you, but we will do our best to provide access to the resources YOU need to assist in training your dog to whatever your testing or hunting goals are.  This includes the information we have on the Training Resources page of this website.  These are things you can study and work on at home or on your own.   We want everybody to have a specific goal in mind when they show up to training this spring, and to come as prepared as possible.  To start thinking about your goals and training processes, please check out these News posts I wrote last winter.

We are getting closer to announcing our Training day information and formation of the summer Training groups.  If you have not done so, please take our Training Survey.  We will be closing this survey later this week, and once we sort through the data, will be forming our smaller training groups.

Wondering about what Judges are looking for when you test your dog?  The Handler Clinic on May 2nd & 3rd is an in-depth look at the AIMS Program & Test Rules book and how the NAVHDA scoring & scorecard system works.  There are still a few openings in this Event.

For a full Overview of all of our upcoming Training & Testing Events, please see the last  Training Events Update or our Full Calendar.

Finally, please check out our Sponsors.  We do have 2 professional trainers as chapter sponsors, and encourage anyone who may not have the time or confidence to train their own dog, or needs specialty help to seek out their services.

Feel free to contact me at pete.aplikowski@mnnavhda.org, or our Director of Training Mitch Carlson at mitch.carlson@mnnavhda.org with any questions as we get rolling into Training season.

Pete Aplikowski-President


Last fall, as the newly placed Board of Directors began work to prepare the Chapter for the 2020 training and testing season, it became apparent that the current Bylaws were outdated, left many gray areas open to interpretation, and did not account for the use of technologies we have available today.

Some of the areas that the Board felt needed to be updated were:

  • Update the Chapter Mission Statement
  • Add clarity about Board nominations and voting procedures.
  • Update Board and Appointed positions and responsibilities.
  • Eliminate the Director of Promotions position to get the Board to an “odd number” of Directors for voting purposes and add more Appointed positions to spread out the workload.
  • Acknowledge the need for the use of email, a website and social media for communication with the membership, and allow for electronic voting when necessary.
  • Provide for recognition that there are other policies and programs adopted by the Board from time-to-time that should be documented and recorded as Appendices to the Bylaws.

The Current Chapter Bylaws provide that:

Article VII: Bylaw Amendments.

  • Section 1:        Amendments to the bylaws will be voted on by the membership with a two-thirds majority of Members present needed to pass.
  • Section 2:        Members must be notified of amendments two weeks prior to the annual meeting.

This week, The  Board of Directors of the Minnesota  Chapter of NAVHDA unanimously voted 8-0 that these Proposed Updated Bylaws  be distributed to the members so that they can be voted on for approval at the Annual Meeting.

The 2020  Annual Meeting and Fable Fest is scheduled for Saturday Feb 1st.  We look forward to seeing you all there!

Your 2020 Minnesota Chapter of NAVHDA Board of Directors


Happy New Year Chapter Members!

Hunting season is over for the majority of us, but good luck to those of you still chasing birds in the more southerly states.  Please share your pics on our MN NAVHDA Facebook Page.

Our Annual Meeting and Fable Fest is rapidly approaching and will be held Saturday February 1st from 6-9pm at Chomonix Golf Course Clubhouse in Lino Lakes.  Catch up with your fellow chapter members, share hunting stories and talk about your upcoming training plans.  Please consider donating a wrapped item for our silent auction fundraiser.  It can be serious or funny.  Include a creative hint to entice (or mislead) your fellow bidders.  (Watch out for the Norwegian briefs!  You never know where they will show up.) Chili with all the fixings  will be provided.  Please bring a side dish to share-salads, hot-dishes, and desserts of all types are welcome.  One change this year is that NO Outside alcohol can be brought in.  (New Anoka County Parks Rules.)  There will be a cash bar with beer, wine and liquor at your own expense.    In addition to Officer Reports and a short Business meeting, there will be a VOTE on updating the Chapter Bylaws. Click here for Full Event details.

Minnesota NAVHDA Chapter membership renewals  were due by 12/31.  You can renew online, or do a print & mail option.  Renewals are $40.00.

2020 Training Season kicks off soon.  Follow the links for Registration Info.

  • There are still a few openings for the NEW Winter 10 week Positive Obedience Class geared towards puppies 12 weeks to 12 months old.  Starts Monday January 13th in Stillwater.
  • The traditional Winter Barb Jensen Obedience Class is FULL and closed to entries.
  • The NEW Retrieving/Force Fetch Clinic on Feb 8th is FULL and closed to entries.
  • Training/Preparing for NAVHDA Testing Seminar Saturday March  14th 10am-2pm at Cabelas in Rogers.
  • For the 4th consecutive year, we will be holding a NAVHDA Handler Clinic, on May 2nd & 3rd.  It will be led this year by longtime Chapter member and Senior Judge Terry Petro.  Limited to 20 participants, so sign up early.  These clinics have filled the last 3 years.

Last Year, Our Chapter led the entire NAVHDA system with 16 testing days over 5 weekends.  We are repeating that schedule this year and  our 2020 testing calendar is now published and all tests are open for entries.  New this year is online test form submission and payment options. We encourage those with testing plans to sign up early.  Tests filled quickly last year.

**So that we can help better serve your training needs & goals, we are asking all those who plan on participating in Training this year to complete our 2020 MN NAVHDA Training Survey. Weekly small group Training information will be published by the end of February. **

Lastly, I would like to thank all of our Chapter Sponsors for 2020:

  • Waconia Ford
  • Autumn Breeze Kennels
  • The Natural Hound & Naked Bear Naturals
  • Pete & Kathleen Aplikowski RE/MAX Results Real Estate
  • Jan’s Hanging By A Thread Embroidery By Design
  • Kelley Land & Cattle Company
  • Oakwood Gamebird Producers
  • Sudden Valley Kennels


Pete Aplikowski

MN NAVHDA-President




According to the NAVHDA AIMS book: “The Utility Preparatory Test (UPT) is designed to evaluate a dog midway in its training towards becoming a reliable versatile gun dog.

The Utility Test (UT) is designed for more experienced dogs in an advanced state of training.  It evaluates their ability to perform as reliable versatile gun dogs and demonstrate their physical and mental capability to take training.”

What follows in this article will make more sense if you are familiar with the different segments of the UT test.  You can refer to the NAVHDA AIMS Programs Test Rules

The UPT test requirements allow a dog a bit more slack in Retrieving and Steadiness, but for the sake of this discussion let’s start with looking at how dogs are evaluated and judged at the UT test.

OBEDIENCE:  If you look at the scorecard for the UT test, there are 13 areas where the dog is being judged on Obedience.

RETRIEVING:  Their are 3 different retrieving events on the UT test.   There will be multiple opportunities to retrieve shot birds in the field.  Dead ducks will be retrieved on land & water, and an opportunity to retrieve a live duck is also a possibility during the Search for a Duck.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to train a versatile dog, and all dogs respond to training differently.  The following steps provide some guidance on the order in which one might consider training a dog for the UPT or UT test without getting bogged down in the various methods of training  retrieving and obedience.

PHASE 1: Retrieving-A dog needs to be a RELIABLE retriever of game to qualify for a prize (pass) this test.  The game it is sent out for MUST come back to the handler to receive a passing score.  Dogs that retrieve reliably to hand with minimal commands achieve the highest scores.     There is NO point in training the segments of the UPT or UT test if your dog does not bring back game RELIABLY.   Having to correct this behavior while actually out running the test event segments during training is a waste of time, birds, and can confuse the dog.  Even if your dog is a very natural retriever, reinforcing that by doing a force fetch or conditioned retrieve process and making sure you use real birds & ducks during the process will pay off on test day, and in the field during hunting season.

PHASE 2: Search for a Duck-A dog needs to achieve a minimum score of 2 out of 4 in this segment to pass the UPT or the UT test.  In general, this means the dog must go out and search for a wounded duck that it did not see fall for a certain amount of time and search a certain amount of the water & cover.  This takes a tremendous amount of independence and desire to work AWAY from the handler.   Dogs that are overly cooperative or have had too much steadiness training BEFORE building this independent love of searching for ducks can often struggle with this part of the test.   High prey drive dogs with a strong passion for ducks can master this task in a short amount of time, and even recover quickly from too much steadiness training. In general, though, it is best to err on the safe side with this and make sure your dog has the GO and loves to search for ducks before you teach it to WHOA ! (Steadiness).  Another  caveat here is to avoid throwing too many objects for your dog during retrieve training, especially at the water.  Dogs that get too accustomed to going on the strong visual cue of a marked object oftentimes have trouble expanding their water search out of the range and distance  they are used to retrieving these items.  Another tip-NEVER train duck search in the presence of a blind at the water.  Dog;s learn by association, and we do not want the dog confusing this segment of the test with the “Remain by Blind” portion.

PHASE 3: Heeling-Your dog should have been accustomed to walking on a leash and trained to not pull and have some basic manners while it was a puppy, but now the test requirements call for a much more higher level of obedience.  You will notice on the UT scorecard that the ONLY trait being judged and scored  during  heeling is Obedience.  Teaching a good clean heel with your dog is a very good place to start more advanced obedience because you have a direct connection to the dog to make timely corrections and it can really set the tone for making the dog know you are the boss.  Achieving a good level of Obedience in heeling will pay off big time when you move on to whoa training and steadiness.

PHASE 4:  Field Steadiness (Flush, Wing, Shot, Fall) and Steadiness at Water (Marked Retrieve Sequence)-Whether you train steadiness by the  blind at the water next or move to the field and start working on steady to flush, wing, shot and fall is not critical.  They both involve off leash obedience and training a dog to stay put in the presence of distractions until you release the dog.  There are various ways to train steadiness.  The point I am trying to make is WHEN to work on it, not necessarily HOW.  When training steadiness for the field (Flush-Wing-Shot-Fall), great care should be taken in the amount of pressure being put on the dog in the presence of birds so as not to diminish it’s pointing intensity or it’s field search.  The use of check cords and e-collars in this phase need to be done very carefully IF AT ALL!   A really solid WHOA foundation BEFORE putting birds down for the dog will really cut down on the number of birds you will need.  In a NAVHDA test, you CANNOT use an e-collar, and being able to STOP a dog that breaks with a verbal WHOA or a whistle can save your bacon!  Ween yourself OFF of e-collars as soon as you can and verify that you can WHOA your dog in any situation, with any distraction, including in the presence of a flushing bird.

PHASE 5:  Putting it all together-When your dog has shown it has a good understanding of all the UT test segments and is meeting your expectations of performance, it is time to start mixing it up and moving from segment to segment and take note of any problems you see.  A common thing that can happen is that after doing all the steadiness training, the dog’s duck search will diminish and you will have to go back to that for awhile.  When field training, you will also want to make sure you run your dog not just on a couple birds, but do a full 30-45 minute field run in a variety of cover and weather conditions.  Strange things can happen on test day, and you need to be prepared for these and train for these.  If the cover is sparse, and birds are visible and running, can your dog handle it?  Did you train for that?  If birds are grouped up and multiple birds flush, can your dog handle it?  Did you train for that?  If your dog is coning back with a bird on a retrieve and goes on point on another bird, how are you going to handle that?  Did you train for that?  If it is raining and the birds are soaking wet at the test how will your dog react to the change in scent and bird behavior?  Did you train for that?

Prizing or Passing a dog in either the NAVHDA UPT or UT test will be a rewarding experience for the handler. Even obtaining a Prize 3 in UPT shows that you have a useful hunting companion on land and water, before and after the shot.



All new puppy owners take pride in seeing their dogs’s first few “points” and snapping a few quick photos to commemorate them.   It is a beautiful thing to see that inherent natural trait come out in a pup, and sometimes also a relief if it comes easily, since some dogs need more specialized exposure to bring out their inherent pointing instinct.  (That is a topic for another discussion.)

Once a new puppy owner gets a few photos of their dog on a nice pretty point, there can be a natural rush to keep advancing the dog into steadiness training, especially if that first hunting season is approaching.  Having a dog that is at least “steady to wing”, is a big step in improving the safety of the dog, and increasing the hunter’s chances of bagging game.  That said, for young pups, especially prior to their Natural Ability Test, caution should be taken in advancing to obedience work like steadiness and retrieve training.

While initial bird exposure and building search desire is vitally important to the development of a young bird dog, this is a period of a pup’s development where an owner/handler should exercise caution and not be in a hurry.  Some key NAVHDA principles can provide some guidance with this.

In the NAVHDA Natural Ability test, a dog is not being judged on Obedience.  As the name implies, the test is a measure of a dog’s inherited natural abilities including Nose, Search, Pointing, Cooperation, and Desire.

Thinking beyond Natural Ability evaluation, a key NAVDHA principle is that the the judging of “pointing” ends when a dog on point “is aware of the presence of the handler.”  The reason this is an important concept is that it defines the transition between what a dog coming into contact with a bird does naturally (Pointing and Cooperation) and Trained Obedience.  Obtaining steadiness in a bird dog requires Trained Obedience.

The pup is also not being judged on Retrieving, either of birds in the field or bumpers in the water.  In the Natural Ability test, because dogs are not expected to be steady, they will most likely run down and catch a flushed bird.  Some dogs that are natural retrievers and exhibit a lot of cooperation will bring these birds back to or near the handler,  and move on with the test.   If your dog does this, be happy with it and encourage it!   For dogs that do not willingly bring birds back (playing keep away, for example,) caution should be taken not to train (i.e force fetch, conditioned retrieve)  the dog to retrieve to the handler, as it may affect the dog’s Desire, Search, Pointing, or even willingness to enter the Water after a bumper toss.

The NAVHDA AIMS Programs Book states that a puppy is eligible to run their NA test up until the day they turn 16 months of age.  While all dogs are different, and develop at different rates, this 16 months of age timeline perhaps should not be ignored, even for dogs who have already run or are not running the natural ability test.  A dog at least 16 months old has had more time to mature and form a bond with its owner/handler.  Being around gunfire and wild birds in real hunting situations will also build a pup’s confidence prior  to being subjected to the training pressure it takes to becoming a “finished” gun dog.

Young dogs that have not had enough proper bird and field exposure can have their natural abilities diminished by the obedience training required to achieve steadiness and a finished retrieve.  Obedience training requires “pressure” and all dogs react differently to various types and levels of corrective training pressure.  Pressure can come in the form of physical or verbal commands, a check cord,  an e-collar, gunfire, or even a poorly timed launch of a release trap.    Some dogs can take a lot of pressure without affecting or diminishing their inherent natural abilities. Some cannot.

Dogs learn by association and the last thing you want is for a pup to associate negative experiences (too much training pressure) with the tasks of searching, pointing  birds, swimming and having fun.    Some traits exhibited by over-pressured dogs:

  • Lack of Intensity on Point
  • Flagging tail on Point
  • Taking out and/or mutilating birds
  • Blinking (avoiding birds)
  • Diminished Search (clinging to handler)
  • Avoiding the field altogether
  • Avoiding the Water
  • Gun Shyness

The pace at which a dog develops and when to apply certain training techniques to achieve your goals with your dog is a personal decision.  Understanding the proper amount of corrective pressure to use with your dog and thinking about some basic NAVHDA principles related to pointing and steadiness just might help you avoid some mistakes and setbacks.