Dena Goes To School

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

June 2012

Dena is our 14-month-old German shorthair. She actually belongs to my wife, Susan. Susan has been working very hard with Dena on her training, i.e., developing natural ability, retrieving, whoa command, heel, recall, etc. To help Dena develop, Susan has decided to take Dena through the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) program.

NAVHDA is a good organization. They’re especially good at helping folks new to pointing dogs. Their mission statement reads as follows: The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association is a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to foster, promote, and improve the versatile hunting dog breeds in North America; to conserve game by using well trained reliable hunting dogs before and after the shot; and to aid in the prevention of cruelty to animals by discouraging nonselective and uncontrolled breeding, which produces unwanted and uncared for dogs.

Although Susan is not new to hunting over a pointing dog, she is new to training a pointing dog. Her first exposure to the NAVHDA training system was to attend a Training Day in late April. Training days are not a test. They’re meant to assist you in training your dog for upcoming NAVHDA tests. Here is Susan’s experience at the Merrimack Valley NAVHDA Chapter training day in Southern New Hampshire.

Arrival at the training facility was 8:45 AM. All dogs are registered and then assigned a task. By my own definition, I’m going to call the first task “general field work”. The dog is accompanied by the owner/trainer and by an experienced trainer or perhaps even a recognized judge. What the experienced trainer/judge is looking for would be the natural abilities of a versatile hunting dog. The dog is cast and then it’s observed on how it uses its nose, how it searches, the enthusiasm of the dog, cooperation with the handler and, a real bonus for a young dog…pointing a bird. This is not a test and there are no points awarded. The experienced trainer and/or judge provides comment and suggestions on how to further develop your dog’s natural and learned/trained abilities. It’s a day for training…not a day for judging.

The results for Dena? In my opinion, she did fine with her search pattern, kept her nose high (pointing scent is in the air…not on the ground), showed excellent enthusiasm but needs a little more work on standing birds. When she did locate a bird, it was usually “a point and then a pounce”, as one attendee said. Personally, I don’t see this as an issue. Dena was allowed to develop her bird desire the first 12 months by chasing every game bird, songbird and butterfly she encountered. You can’t simply turn the switch off and expect them to hold point after chasing for one year. So, Susan will work on getting Dena steady.

The next task was tracking. Pheasant scent was put down for about 50 yards. Dena was put down at the beginning of the scent trail and then her desire to track the bird was observed. As with most versatile hunting dogs, she did very well in my opinion. She tracked and located the bird in a brushy area very quickly.

This was an excellent learning experience for both Dena and Susan. The experienced trainer/judge offered positive comment and suggestions on how to improve Dena’s performance. Susan now has a roadmap for further development of Dena’s natural abilities.

Very hard working volunteers run all NAVHDA events. As mentioned above, the Chapter running this Training Day was the Merrimack Valley NAVHDA Chapter ( of New Hampshire. Carol Trahan is the very capable president and Jessica Barker is the very talented newsletter editor. They were both working very hard at and around the registration table. Check out their website for upcoming events.

Another very well managed New England chapter is the Yankee Chapter in Maine. Their website is They also have a full list of activities.

Whether you’re a seasoned pointing dog owner or a beginner, there are benefits to belonging and participating in NAVHDA events. Join today!