This article was posted in the February 2018 issue of NAVHDA’s Versatile Hunting Dog Magazine:
According to the NAVHDA AIMS book, The Utility Preparatory Test (UPT) is designed “to evaluate the dog midway in its training towards becoming a reliable versatile gun dog,” and the Utility Test (UT) is “designed to test a dog’s usefulness to the on-foot hunter in all phases of hunting, both before and after the shot, in field and marsh, and on different species of game.”
For an inexperienced handler, the UPT is a great introduction to the hunting team concept and the different areas of focus for the full UT. There is no age limit for a dog in the UPT, so it can also be a good way to evaluate a dog that missed running a Natural Ability test.
But what about the UPT as a measure of a dog’s usefulness to the hunter? Years ago, I had a Lab and then a Boykin spaniel. I was a novice bird-dog man, but we found, flushed, and shot birds and had fun. With some retrieving and steadiness training, it would have been a lot more fun (and much safer). There were shots taken that should not have been—low-flying birds with dogs on their tails. There was a time in Iowa that I dropped a rooster across a dredge ditch, and the dog refused to go across. It was half a mile to a bridge, and I became the dog on that one mile retrieve. For those of you who do not hunt waterfowl and feel all the water work required of a Utility dog does not apply to your hunting style, think again. Pheasants, grouse and woodcock all live near water, and it seems almost every year one of my dogs retrieves an upland bird from water.
In the NAVHDA UPT, a dog is evaluated across many areas, but, for the purposes of the points I am trying to make with this article, let’s focus on Steadiness (in the field and at the blind) and Retrieving (land and water).
In NAVHDA testing, Field Steadiness is brokendown into four parts as described here:
“Steady to Flush” – Judging “Steady to Flush” begins when the dog is aware of the presence of the handler. Think of “Steady to Flush” as behavior during the flushing period. The steady to flush judgment ends when the bird leaves the ground.
“Steady to Wing” – Judging “Steady to Wing” begins when the bird leaves the ground and ends when the gun is fired.
“Steady to Shot” – Judging “Steady to Shot” begins when the gun is fired and ends when the bird hits the ground.
“Steady to Fall” – Judging “Steady to Fall” begins when the bird hits the ground and ends when the dog is sent for the retrieve.