Critique of the Natural Ability Test to Actually Test Natural Ability

Scott Winslow Hunt tests Leave a Comment


The Natural Ability Test is a hunt type test offered by the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association also known as NAVHDA.  The Natural Ability Test will   be referred  to as the NA .

The NA is Quote “designed to evaluate young dogs on their inherent natural abilities”

Seven hereditary characteristics are evaluated during the NA test.

  1. Use of the nose.
  2. Desire to work
  3. Cooperation
  4. Willingness to enter water
  5. Pointing
  6. Searching ability
  7. Tracking ability

Additionally gun shyness is evaluated.

The NA test is divided into 4 parts.

  1. Field phase: the dog is hunted in cover where game has been released.
  2. Tracking phase: the dog is given an opportunity to track a flightless running bird.
  3. Water phase:  the dog is tested for its willingness to swim.
  4. Judgment of physical characteristics.

The maximum attainable points is 112 with a set  minimum score required in each category to qualify for either a Prize 1, Prize 2, or a Prize 3.

The NA  test is open to dogs of the pointing variety under the age of 16 mo’s.  Older dogs can be entered for evaluation purposes if there is room for them in the running order.  There is no prize awarded for the older than 16 mo dog.

This is just a brief synopsis and more detail can be found in the NAVHDA  Aims- Programs- Test Rules Booklet .

Here’s where I will get someone riled up and that’s OK.   The test format is probably as good as it gets. However,

   There is no way a single one day test can properly evaluate a young dog.   There are too many variables that can come into play on a single day.   My male  Rango is a prime example.   We tested  NA  in Searsboro, Ia.  last summer when he was about 13 mo’s old.

Rango is a super high drive dog who has to  be exercised before hand to settle down.  There were a full ten dogs  and we were 6th in line.  Also there were three apprentice judges training that day.  The time it takes for each dogs turn increased about 15 minutes due to the apprentice judges.  He had preformed with excellence two weeks before during a practice “mock test”.  The actual test day was a different story.

I had no idea how long it would take for our turn to come up.  He did not get the exercise he needed before his turn.    When he has to wait a long time the more pent-up his energy becomes. We had a three-hour wait. When he hit the field that day he was uncontrollable for the first 16 minutes of the 20 minute run.  Once he had run off that pent-up energy he settled down and did well the rest of the test.

The damage was done.  Because he scored low in cooperation and desire to work ( he chased tweety birds), the best he could do that day was a prize 3.  Dogs with  lower drive  did much better as their  cooperation tended to be good.

The NA test  combined with careful observation and analysis of the young dog during training is worthwhile. The NA  is valuable for a breeder who wants to see how his pups are coming along.  I would not put all my stock into the results of a single test.

Male dogs  near or in  puberty tend to have  a less cooperative nature.  The wind conditions may have been poor.  A long wait may affect the young dog.   You just might have a late bloomer.  You may not have had your young dog exposed to game birds enough before hand.   These days getting birds to train with can be a challenge.

My Weimaraner  Rose was pretty much useless until she turned two.  Which was in the middle of the hunting season.  All of a sudden she started hunting like she knew what she was doing.  She was a very good hunter from two on.  She would hold point till the sun set.  Retrieved everything  that hit the ground.  Loved the water.   Many  would have given up on her.

Some good advice from the owner of Dogs Unlimited kept  me patient.   The point is Rose would have never passed the NA test.  Some breeds just mature and develop  slower.     The dog owner is the one who really knows their dogs abilities.

If there is a question as to how well the animal is developing , reach out to your breeder.   Call someone from a breed club such as Eastern Iowa German Shorthaired Pointer Club.   Get several opinions before you give up on you young dog.

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