April 09, 2021
If you have not heard of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), you are not alone. On the other hand, if you are familiar with NAVHDA, then you already know what an outstanding organization it is. What began in 1969 as an organization of like-minded people aiming to promote and improve the versatile hunting dog breeds, has organically grown to exceed 9,000 members through its network of 85 chapters, and shows no signs of slowing down. How does NAVHDA do it, especially in times like these? In my personal experience, the answer is threefold: the dogs, the people, and the culture.
Most people discover NAVHDA through their search for a bird dog, specifically a dog with the versatility to hunt just about anything. By definition, a versatile dog is one “that is bred and trained to dependably hunt and point game, to retrieve on both land and water, and to track wounded game on both land and water.” With 30 different versatile breeds recognized by NAVHDA, there is something for everyone in the mix depending on your own personal style of hunting.
My friend Mike, who I met through NAVHDA, began his search for a hunting dog by first becoming a member of the Mid-Ohio chapter and began attending the regularly scheduled monthly training days. Through this experience, he was able to observe a variety of dogs in the field, talk with their owners, and narrow his search down to the breed best suited for him and his style of hunting.
I discovered NAVHDA through the exploration of my next hunting dog. With my diverse hunting interests, it was a natural progression for our family to explore the versatile breeds. For the better part of a year, I hunted with as many different breeds as possible to get a sense for what I was getting myself into. Whenever I had the opportunity to ask people about their dogs, I talked their ears off, and gleaned as much information as possible. Finally, the breeder I selected through this entire process encouraged me to get involved with my local NAVHDA chapter.
Just like deciding upon a German wirehaired pointer (GWP), joining NAVHDA was a great decision. Driving to my chapter’s first monthly training session felt a bit intimidating, considering this method of group training was all new to me. What was I thinking? How could I join a group of much more experienced dog trainers and not look like a newbie? Within seconds of arriving, those feelings dissipated because of the warm welcomes received from veteran chapter members and other newbies alike. It was immediately apparent that everybody there wants each other to succeed. What I have found is the people within NAVHDA are some of the most genuinely helpful and knowledgeable people you will meet.
The sense of community extends beyond the experience with my home chapter. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on 2020 spring test events, and an uncertainty of what the future would hold, I felt a sense of urgency to run my GWP in a 2020 fall Natural Ability (NA) test. The NA test is the first in a series of four tests, but dogs may only receive a NA prize classification before the day they reach 16 months of age. If future cancellations occurred in the spring of 2021, he would miss the opportunity to earn a NA prize classification. The challenge I faced was finding an open test slot within a reasonable driving distance because spring cancellations were quickly filling up the fall test schedule.
Using the updated NAVHDA website, I was able to view the complete test schedule and email each chapter secretary to inquire about NA test openings. I received responses from everybody, lucked into an opening with Chris from the Buckeye chapter, and even received great pieces of testing advice from Amy at the Hoosier Hills chapter. Upon completing the NA test, I spoke with each of the judges to learn how to improve from the experience. Each judge took the time to provide their own personal perspective and offered valuable training advice to help me and my dog get better. That sense of community is one of the key ingredients for what makes the fabric of NAVHDA so strong.
This community has also created a culture of attracting new people to the outdoors. Creating a positive culture is critical in any organization, and with NAVHDA being a hunting-based organization, the argument could be made their culture may be doing more for the R3 movement than any other group out there. Whether it is recruiting, retaining, or reactivating hunters, when you combine great dogs, passionate people, and a welcoming culture, the results speak for themselves. NAVHDA’s membership continues to thrive because of these three factors.
If you are interested in learning more about NAVHDA, go to their website (www.navhda.org), find the chapter closest to you, and attend a training day. Like anything in life, you will get out of it what you put into it. Getting engaged at the grassroots level will be the best way for you to discover all that NAVHDA has to offer.