"With 5,000-plus current members who have 100,000-plus dogs, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association is one of the oldest, largest and most successful dog training and dog testing organizations in North America," Jim Applegate says with genuine pride and great enthusiasm.
Having served as the information resource person since the beginning of the Association in 1970 — he recently retired from this position — Applegate has some clear ideas of how and why NAVHDA has developed the way it has.
"What makes NAVHDA so popular? Multiple opportunities for members and their hunting dogs," he says.
"For example, anyone with a new puppy will find that NAVHDA offers a training program that is thorough, effective, and inexpensive — a program that will train the pup and train its owner. There are 80 local NAVHDA chapters in the United States and 10 chapters in Canada, with each chapter offering regular training and testing sessions in which all members can participate.
What Makes the NAVHDA So Great?
"Every chapter will have a place to train, training equipment and, most important, fellow dog owners who are willing to help each other by sharing their training experiences and expertise," Applegate emphasizes. "Most clubs may also have as members full-time professional trainers who can help with all phases of a training process."
All training sessions are formulated to fulfill a prescribed set of testing objectives. On the first level is the Natural Ability test, which is designed to measure a young dog (up to 16 months of age) for "natural ability" in nose, search, tracking, pointing, water aptitude, desire, and cooperation.
"A passing score means that the pup has what is necessary to become a good hunting dog — with some training," Applegate says.
"Any young dog with a passing score in Natural Ability is also then eligible for the Utility Test," he continues. In this test a qualifying dog is now trained to perform in a series of real-life hunting situations that demonstrate the canine student's natural and learned skills. Included are judged examinations for performance in the field and in water.
"Anyone who wants to understand the Utility Test and training necessary to get a passing score should attend a Utility Test as a spectator," Applegate advises.
The Utility Test is divided into:
The Field Group, which includes search, pointing, steadiness on game, retrieve of shot bird, and retrieve of shot game.
The Water Group, which includes search for a duck, walking at heel, remaining at blind, steadiness by blind, and retrieve of a duck.
Judgment of Physical Characteristics, which includes use of nose, desire to work, cooperation, stamina, obedience, and physical attributes.
"Any dog that passes a Utility Test can be considered by most hunters as a 'finished' game dog," Applegate notes.
The Invitational Test is a once-a-year test for the versatile breeds that have achieved a Prize I score in a Utility Test. This is a more sophisticated and demanding version of the Utility Test. "Dogs passing the Invitational Test receive the title Versatile Champion, the highest honor in NAVHDA," Applegate points out.
The NAVHDA Registry, one of the major components of NAVHDA, holds the records of all the versatile breeds that have been through the testing system. Each dog registered receives a certificate that includes a three-generation pedigree showing test results, available hip certification, and DNA information.
The Registry is the largest searchable database for versatile gun dogs in North America and provides pedigrees, chapter test results for individual dogs as well as sire and dam test results.
"This database is a great resource for anyone looking for a puppy or anyone interested in starting a breeding program," Applegate says. The Registry is open for use by all NAVHDA members with the following hunting dog breeds:
"The Versatile Hunting Dog Magazine is one of the other benefits that comes with membership in NAVHDA," Applegate adds. Published monthly, the magazine typically contains several feature articles, many of which are written by NAVHDA members on the subjects of dog training, hunting with dogs for a variety of gamebirds, dog maintenance and health care, and other versatile dog related topics.
In addition there are Departments that include a regular column written by a veterinarian with expertise in treating the common ailments of gun dogs, an up-to-date listing of test results on a national level, a summary of new kennel registrations, a segment on recipes for cooking wild game, a calendar of coming events, and a classified ad section that has a special discount opportunity to subscribe to GUN DOG magazine for 45 percent under the newsstand price.
"The positive cost-benefit factor in belonging to NAVHDA is one of the major elements in making and keeping the Association so popular with those who personally own, train, test, and hunt versatile gun dogs," Applegate believes.
"For $83.50, you can become a NAVHDA member and get the NAVHDA Training book (a $15.00 value), the 60-minute NAVHDA Training DVD (a $29.00 value) and the NAVHDA Aims, Programs, and Test Rules book.
"Then for the investment of some of your time and effort, you can train and test your gun dog with the help of experienced NAVHDA members," Applegate says. "And just as important, in the process you can become a better dog owner, trainer, and hunter — something that makes for a good lifetime investment."