Years ago I had a Lab and then a Boykin spaniel. I was a novice bird dog man, but we found, flushed, shot birds and had fun. With some retrieving and steadiness training, it would have been a lot more fun (and safe.) There were shots taken that should not have been (low flying birds with dogs on their tails.) Then there was that time in Iowa that I dropped a Rooster across a dredge ditch and the dog refused to go across. It was ½ mile to a bridge, and I became the dog on that 1 mile retrieve.
Watching a NAVHDA Utility Test for the first time a few years ago, it really blew me away how much a fully trained “finished” versatile gun dog was capable of. Training a dog for a NAVHDA Utility (UT) or a Utility Preparatory Test (UPT) is essentially doing hunting training, and the work you do will immediately translate into the field during hunting season.
The Utility Preparatory Test, (UPT), is the least run of any NAVHDA test, but it shouldn’t be. According to the NAVHDA AIMS book, The Utility Preparatory Test is designed “to evaluate the dog midway in its training towards becoming a reliable versatile gun dog.”. I would make the argument that if you made the UPT test your final goal in NAVHDA, and trained your dog to those test expectations you could quit there and would have a MUCH more reliable hunting dog than most bird hunters.
On a NAVHDA UPT test, 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 and Retrieving. In NAVHDA, Steadiness is broken down into 4 parts as described here:
A UPT dog is expected to be steady only to flush & wing, and to retrieve birds “within reach of the Handler”. In the real world of hunting, this solves a lot of problems. Safe shots can be taken, and the dog can be relied upon to retrieve game.
The Minnesota Chapter of NAVHDA has more training days than any other NAVHDA Chapter, and is expanding its test days/slots next year in part to allow for more dogs that want to test in UT or UPT at the June & September full tests at Kelley Farms. Take advantage of these opportunities. Commit to signing up for a UPT test in 2018, engage in training towards that next spring & summer. You will have a much more enjoyable hunting season in 2018, with more birds recovered.
The NAVHDA Aims book is always good reading, no matter what level of training or testing you are working on.
MN Chapter Director of Judging & Apprentice Judg