By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle
CINEBAR — The Pacific Northwest Chapter NAVHDA met last weekend for one of their two annual hunting dog tests held on a farm in Cinebar.
What is NAVHDA?
The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association was formed in 1969, in answer to the call of “versatile” hunting dog owners.
“The versatile hunting dog,” explained Steve Graham of North Plains, Ore., vice-president of the Pacific NW Chapter of NAVHDA, “is a European concept. Instead of having one dog that specializes in pointing and another dog for retrieving, the versatile dog does everything.”
NAVHDA was founded to promote the breeding, training and testing of versatile hunting dogs — primarily European breeds — that are expected to hunt fur and feather and to point, track and retrieve game from field, forest and water. In order to meet the NAVHDA’s high standards of excellence, this multi-talented dog is expected to be not just a game-gathering beast in the field, but also a family friend and companion, and of sound mind and body.
The testing programs in NAVHDA provide a means for breeders to evaluate their dog against a standard.
“The dogs aren’t competing against each other,” said chapter president John Kohnke, Centralia, “but against a standard. The tests help people make better breeding decisions and the hunters get better dogs.”
Kohnke, who owns six Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, a pair of spaniels and a German Shorthaired Pointer, said his own favorite breed, the Griffon, has improved markedly over the years through the NAVHDA program.
“We went from being number eight on the list of popular, proven dogs, to number two,” Kohnke said. “The breed has really improved over the years.”
The Pacific Northwest Chapter of NAVHDA got its start 13 years ago when the members of a pair of defunct clubs in Washington and Oregon got together. They have been conducting their tests and training days at the Cinebar property of Larry and Nancy Mason, German Wirehaired Pointer owners who had founded the Cascade Chapter nearly 30 years ago.
A NAVHDA testing site requires enough acreage to run the field and tracking tests, and water to test the young dog’s willingness to swim and the older dog’s steadiness at the blind, water tracking abilities and retrieval skills. The Mason’s property provides both.
Natural Ability and Utility Tests
Young dogs, under 16 month of age, take the Natural Ability test. The older, finished hunters are judged at the Utility Test.
“The Natural Ability test gives you an idea as to the dog’s natural tendencies in pointing, swimming and tracking,” said Graham. “They’re encouraged to do what they do naturally.”
These are qualities that are bred into the dog and are available simply from good genetics.
The Utility Test adds to the natural ability test and is also a test of how well the dog has been trained not to do some of the things it wants to do naturally. Steadiness by blind and steadiness on game, obedience and cooperation with the hunter are just a few of the factors that are evaluated by the panel of three judges.
The NAVHDA tests differ from the AKC field trail tests in many ways. In a field trial, dogs compete against one another; there is a winner and a pack of losers at the end of the day.
“That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy NAVHDA,” said Kohnke, “since we’re not competing against each other, it encourages everyone to help each other.”
The lack of direct competition adds to the camaraderie and inclusiveness Kohnke so admires in the NAVHDA clubs.
“I’ve made a lot of really valuable friendships here,” Kohnke said.
The NAVHDA tests are conducted under realistic hunting situations, with the hunter walking behind the dog. AKC field trials use horses to follow big running dogs.
The Judging Panel
A panel of three judges work together to score the dogs. Two out of the three judges must hail from outside of the sponsoring club’s area. The judges travel expenses are paid, but they serve without pay and simply for the love of the hunt and the dog.
The judges at this last weekend’s fall test of the Pacific Northwest Chapter NAVHDA came from as far away as Massachusetts and Wisconsin.
“They believe in what they do,” said Kohnke. “They fly out on a Thursday, spend three full days out in the field and then fly back on a Monday. That’s a lot of dedication.”
Kohnke, a local club judge, spends up to 50 days a year judging for other clubs. But, he said, it isn’t pure dedication that drives the judges, “it’s also a lot of fun.”
The Pacific Northwest Chapter
The local NAVHDA chapter holds two tests each year, one is held in the spring and another in the fall. They also hold several training days each year where the established members of the club can help the newer members train their dogs and learn training techniques.
If you are interested in joining the local chapter and would like more information, call John Kohnke, president, at 736-9512 or Cathryn McMurry, chapter secretary, (503) 668-0302.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NAVHDA on the Web
Pacific Northwest Chapter NAVHDA
Wild Game Cook, Paul Jensen
Carol Ptak, Gryphon Ranch
Lincoln Creek Road, Rochester