“Scratch,” my German shorthaired pointer, and I just got back from the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’s Invitational Test. The Invitational is a multi-day event designed to evaluate hunting dogs for “superior ability, versatility and obedience in all phases of work and a variety of hunting situations.” It is a pass/fail test. Dogs that pass are awarded the title “Versatile Champion” with a “VC” placed before their name in all pedigree records and registries.
At the Invitational, the dogs must run a one-hour field hunt in a brace, being scored by three judges on search, backing, pointing, steadiness and retrieve. They must complete an off-lead heeling course, a 100-yard blind water retrieve, honor another dog’s duck retrieve at the water, and do double mark water retrieves. Throughout, the dogs are also being scored on nose, desire, cooperation and obedience.
trained for the event since Scratch qualified last September. To prepare, we’ve put on about four million road miles, since it’s important for the dogs to train on strange fields and water. Between Scratch and my husband’s dog, “Rudder,” who was also testing, we planted about four million pen-raised chukar this summer. The search for just the right water to practice the blind crossing seemed endless. And I’d wake up at 3 a.m. analyzing why Scratch would veer wide before coming to me on his retrieves or how I could get him to stop surging forward in his heeling.
Despite getting so amped up before his turn in the field that upon release he exploded like a ballistic missile, Scratch had a terrific field run. During training he’d occasionally creep while honoring the other dog’s point, but on test day he was solid. His retrieves were straight and clean. On the blind retrieve he went straight across like a pro. He even settled down enough for a passing score on the dreaded heeling course. Then it was time for the double mark which I never worried about because he’d been doing it perfectly for months. Until test day.
In short, everything I worried about, he did well. The one thing I didn’t worry about, he blew big time. We did not pass. (Fortunately, Rudder saved the family honor with her new Versatile Champion title.)
The road to the Invitational is nerve-wracking and somewhat obsessive. It’s also a journey of discovery about facing a challenge and working towards a goal in partnership with your hunting dog. But the VC title isn’t the highest prize. Getting to know other handlers and their dogs– sharing the disasters, surprises and success – is the reward.
NAVHDA couldn’t run this major event without the support of its conservation partners and corporate sponsors. Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever is one of NAVHDA’s Conservation Partners. For that, Scratch and I say a heartfelt “thank you.”
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.