Posts Tagged ‘North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’

Yep, plenty of Real Bird Bumpers are ready for Manny's UT training.

“Pottering” is an old-time word describing someone messing about with their plants, re-potting, and other garden-shed er, potting shed-related tasks. It was not all work; as Merry Olde England (where the hobby reached its apex) was chock-a-block with humdrum chores that morphed into hobbies (poor buggers – where else would pinning insects into picture frames be ‘fun?”)

My pottering was in the right place (our garden shed) but had nothing to do with plants – unless “planted birds” qualifies.  That humble structure has been transformed into my dog-training headquarters. And with Manny’s date with a NAVHDA Utility Test looming, it was time to get my gear together, ready for an intense spring and summer.

Don’t you have your own version? Varying with the season, it might be reloading, or gun cleaning. It could be poring over catalogs or helping in your club booth at a sportsmen’s show.  It might be exactly what I was doing – messing with gear that might –  or at least you think it might – help your dog excel next season in the field or at a test or trial.

The seemingly mundane task was full of bright spots, starting with Manny’s peaceably sharing the yard with his mentor Buddy without one whit of dominance behavior or aggressive posturing. (Many of you know that’s been an issue since the pup got huskier than his great-uncle.)

When not over my shoulder, my new Jaeger leads have their own hooks in the shed too.

The balky #2 bird launcher needed nothing but a new battery. A little gun oil on moving parts, and both were poised to help teach steady to wing-shot-fall. A few test launches on both dogs proved their functionality. New tie-outs installed along the fence near the training table. Bumpers and dummies arrayed on the shelf that formerly harbored terracotta and trowels. My go-to steadiness tool, the balsa-wood windup airplane, flew straight and true after a quick adjustment to the tail.

The Garmin Astro 320 is now handy instead of buried under hunting gear, my Tri-Tronics collar chargers are plugged in constantly and in a place where I’ll actually use them daily.

I found the training shotgun, sling and blank ammo, and they too performed to expectation with a couple pops for the doggies … who stood straight and true alongside each other … which might have been the best part of the whole day.

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A perfect example of why steady to shot makes sense - that's pretty tall grass! This was shot at Nebraska's Pheasant Bonanza; the photo is by Nancy Anisfield

Along with the other things we’re practicing, Manny is now learning that a gun shot means “whoa.” Yep, I sometimes shoot birds that fly wild, nowhere near my dogs … especially on a slow day, the first day, the last day, or any day when the adrenaline is flowing faster than the wisdom. When I actually hit something, I want my dogs to find it.

By stopping to the shot (or a flush, or a command or a whistle) Manny and Buddy might actually see the bird drop. If not, at least they are ready for the fetch command and a hand signal assist to the right general area. When a chukar tumbles among the rockfalls and scree, I like to think they appreciate the heads-up – literally.

In the NAVHDA Utility Test, there are several instances where a shot-whoa sequence will come in handy: after pointing birds in the field, sure. But also when standing at the duck blind, watching birds fly and hearing shots from several directions including from me! The duck search also includes a shot prior to sending him to the water, where he should remain calm and at my side … so you can see how this training might help.

That said, do you think there are any downsides to “whoa to shot?”

As an aside, I’ve found many uses for a long whistle as another “whoa” command, much like the retriever guys use. And last night, Manny did me proud – 150 yards from me, he locked up tight when I blew! Good boy!

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He'll have a big cheering section, including Uncle Buddy.

Every one of my wirehairs deserved a NAVHDA Utility Prize I. None (so far) has even run that test.

It’s not their fault, it’s mine. In fact, most of their so-called weaknesses are “operator error,” not the result of their disobedience, or lack of intelligence. That’s why this is the time, and here is the place.

Manny is going to be a “finished” dog. And I’m not going to stand in the way. He has all the raw materials: incredible conformation, beautiful movement, air of confidence. But until he can fill out the entry form himself, I’ve got to do my part.

It will be in honor of all of his predecessors, from Bill (the first, who convinced me to buy a shotgun), to Yankee (who taught me to hunt), to his great-uncle Buddy (in his golden years now). They worked so hard for me, the least I can do is pay homage to them by giving their young protegé’ the chance to meet his potential.

Because I’m like that kid Mikey in the old cereal commercials, I’ll do anything on a dare. If there’s an audience, I’m waiting in the wings for my cue. This time, I’m daring myself … with your help. Or to use a music industry analogy from my past, all the practice and good intentions mean nothing if you never set foot on a stage and play for an audience (that’s you).

Whether you are a NAVHDA member or not, a flusher, pointer or retriever owner, you are now officially deputized to get us both to the finish line and reading of test scores. You may not be there in person, but in spirit every one of you will be sitting under the tent next to me, in an uncomfortable lawn chair, agonizing as the judges scratch their heads and glance surreptitiously at all of us handlers while arguing over scores.

I humbly seek your counsel, and best wishes. See you in the fall somewhere in the west. Until then, I’ll see you in the training field.

Next: what’s involved in a Utility Test, and the challenges I foresee for both of us.

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Dear Manny,

You are so much better than I let you be at your first NAVHDA Natural Ability test. So many distractions that you hadn’t been prepared for, a driving, drenching, bone-chilling rain, and  stressed owner who let it show. I’m sorry.

We'll do better next time, Manny

You did your best, when you could figure out what I wanted from you. But when your pent-up energy and my tension met, they created a perfect storm on the field. Judges called it “willful mutilation of a game bird as to be unfit for the table” and we were out. They judges did their best to help you – and me – do things right after that, but we weren’t in the running for any kind of prize after you reduced that chukar to its component parts.

Yes, it is a test of your genetics, designed to find out if your family tree is fruitful. But more training from me would have helped bring out your instincts, or at least insulate you from the distractions. You shone in so many areas: searched in that high-energy balls-out way that shows so much joy, pointed like a champ in that downpour, tracked a pheasant 50 yards then pointed it. But one slip and we were off the “A” list – for that day.

I could have been a better cheerleader when you hesitated at water’s edge, maybe focused you more when that woman came along the dike, and when the gallery looked so inviting. But you eventually swam the requisite two times. Again, the judges did their best to help you succeed, and to relax when they checked your eyes, teeth, and coat. Even when one judge had to jog back to the gallery to catch us and count your testes, you were calm.

If it’s any consolation, you weren’t alone that stormy day. Your packmates were also troubled by the pelting rain, cold, and crowd. Commiseration was thick as we shivered under the tents, dogs and humans alike wishing we could have a mulligan on this dreary day.

It’s true that on any given day any dog can pass – or fail – this test. And I know you will pass next time. I’ve learned what needs work (obedience, especially to “here”) and promise I will help you become a great versatile dog with the test scores to prove it. Thanks for trying so hard.

Your hunting partner,


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