A Look at the NAVHDA Invitational

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association holds a championship event only once every two years, and it's quite an honor just to qualify. The dog must earn a Prize 1 score in Utility during the two years prior to the Invitational in order to enter this championship event.

For some, what comes after the Prize 1 score is a "rude awakening" because there is a quantum leap in difficulty between the Utility and Invitational Tests. Unless you have thoroughly prepared your dog for the Invitational, the odds for a passing score are not good.

One team that was prepared when it participated in the 1994 NAVHDA Invitational was David Carlson and his German Wirehaired Pointer VC Kaiser der Jagd. This team received the ultimate honor at this championship event by earning a perfect score of 200 points. Not only did Kaiser understand how to succeed when asked to perform, he was willing to take David's directions when confronted with a long water blind retrieve that had several hazards to overcome, including a punishing side wind. This team displayed truly great hunting skills and was a joy to watch.

What differences will you encounter between the Utility and Invitational tests?

During the land work phase, you will be asked to hunt for a minimum of one hour in the field with a brace mate. During this test, your dog will also be required to back the other dog.

In the water work phase, the dog must retrieve a duck that is attempting to swim away. The duck is thrown as a mark into water about 50-70 yards away from the dog. By the time the dog arrives at the place where the duck landed, the duck has usually left the area and is attempting to escape. Since the pond is a minimum of two acres with plenty of vegetation, there are lots of places for the duck to hide.

Also during the water work, your dog will be asked to honor another dog's water retrieve. The mark used for this test is very tempting, as it is thrown close to both dogs, with gunfire adding excitement.

Then there is the blind retrieve. A typical test would consist of swimming across 100 yards of water, then following a trail that extends 25 yards beyond the shore to find the dead duck.

What training will you need?

There are four additional areas of training needed to become a NAVHDA champion.

For the fieldwork, you will need to develop the dog's physical stamina to enable it to hunt for over an hour. It also needs to become used to working with strange dogs, and must learn to "back" another dog's point, as described in the July/August, 1993, issue of the Pointing Dog Journal.

For the water work, the dog must learn to honor. Since many repetitions are required to make a dog reliable at honoring, don't pass up any opportunities for your dog to honor while another dog retrieves.

For the retrieve of the escaping duck, the dog must have a reliable retrieve. If the dog has been through the "trained retrieve" lessons described in the May/June, 1994, issue of the Pointing Dog Journal, the retrieve of the wing-taped duck is really just an additional requirement added to the pursuit it had to perform in the Utility Test.

Finally, there is the blind retrieve across water. This test probably presents the greatest training challenge. The old-time method of teaching a dog to swim across a pond and then expect it to find birds by hunting along the far shore will usually work if there is no crosswind. But when a crosswind exists like the wind encountered at the 1994 Invitational, the dog will drift too far with the wind to be in a position to hunt successfully when it lands. This is where you will need a "handling dog" to complete the test.

In addition to perfecting the above skills, dogs must also learn to overcome various hazards. In two of the tests, there were major hazards that prevented several of the contestants from successfully completing the 1994 Invitational. The first hazard was the wind condition during the retrieve of the escaping duck. The fastest route to the bird required the dogs to swim into the wind, which is a difficult challenge in itself. Also, cattails became a hazard, because the dogs thought they looked like land. Since dogs don't like to swim into the wind but do like to run the shore, many swam straight across to the cattails, only to be drawn farther away from the bird--while the bird swam away.

In the blind water retrieve, the wind became a major hazard again. The dogs that had been taught to swim to the far shore and then hunt the shoreline for the duck were in trouble from the beginning. Because of the strong crosswind, they ended up too far down the shore to pick up the scent trail. To overcome the severity of this test, a handler needed a dog that was trained to take direction by stopping to a whistle and taking hand signals.

Preparing for the NAVHDA Invitational water tests.

To prepare adequately for the NAVHDA Invitational water tests, you should train on a "water program" that includes several elements. We will cover the following procedures in future articles.

  1. The trained retrieve on water.
  2. Teaching hand signals, and the stop to the whistle on land.
  3. Running the dog on a "single T" pattern on land.
  4. Introducing the "single T" pattern in water.
  5. The "double T" pattern, done as a land/water combination, where the dog can put all of its handling skills together in one exercise.
  6. Back trailing water blinds to build distance and confidence.

If, like David Carlson, you would like to make your dog a NAVHDA champion and have the memory of a lifetime, now is the time to start training for the 1996 NAVHDA Invitational.

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