“Easier said than done” is more than a cliché. Just look at the NAVHDA test rules if you don’t agree. A dog that passes, let alone earns a Prize I in the Utility Test would be a worthy hunting companion anywhere, anytime, on any game.
And that’s the challenge. As the new year gets rolling, so do we.
Training, of course, is critical. This is not a test of fundamental “natural ability.” That train leaves the NAVHDA station at age 16 months. From flawless retrieves to a civilized partner in the blind a dog’s gotta do it all, well.
But poise just as critical. A dog must be cool and calm when necessary, then kick in the afterburners when required. Add three judges trailing him, an oozing, loudmouthed gallery and gaggle of other dogs waiting their turn, and it’ll test any dog’s intestinal fortitude.
Manny was cool and collected from Day One. On his first visit to the vet, he occupied the high ground of the exam table like it was his own, lying down and crossing his front legs while surveying his new territory like a just-crowned monarch. But as with everything, only practicing for a test will be good practice for a test. I hope to recruit a crowd of helpers/observers.
Water is another story. Few of my wirehairs have had what some call “water love.” Partially my fault, as here on the desert it’s hard to find enough to become comfortable with it. The pup will swim the English Channel for a bird, though. In front of judges, we’ll see. And sustaining a duck search for 10 minutes will be as much an endurance test for Manny as it will be an emotionally wrenching ordeal for me. I almost lost Buddy to a long water retrieve a couple seasons ago and will do everything to avoid a repeat.
One of the problems that my career may have exacerbated is Manny’s steadiness on flushing birds. For two seasons on Wingshooting USA, he’s been allowed to break at the shot and start his retrieve. (No snide remarks on the quality of those, please!) Now, I’ll have to un-teach that, instead working toward rock-steadiness from flush, to shot, to fall.
There is an obedience component to this test as well. Steadiness at the blind in the face of multiple gunshots and dropping birds is one example. We have to walk – at heel – a little obstacle course. And our nemesis in the Natural Ability test was cooperation after Manny picked up a bird. He’s got to bring it right back, without passing “Go” or collecting $200. (As opposed to deconstructing it in front of three patient judges like he did last test.)
None of it will be easy. Dogs – and humans – have good days and bad days. I think I’m ready for the unavoidable natural and human-caused goofs that are out of our control. It’s the other ones I’ll be preparing for … And you?