Happy Friday friends! Hope you all are enjoying counting down the days to bird season as much as we are! My guess is some of you have already hit the woods to kick off the 2014 season. For those of us in Minnesota we’ve got one more week of waiting and then… Christmas in September!!!
For this weeks post, Garrett and I would like to welcome into the fold a special guest poster on NorthwoodsR.com, Dustin Bronson. Although this is Dustin’s first post, it most certainly won’t be his last. We think you’ll enjoy what he has to say about “your” local dog clubs. When it comes to choosing a bird dog, I think most of you will agree that Dustin went about it in exactly the right way.
If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you would prefer to spend a Friday evening breaking some clays, reading your favorite book by the fire, or sharpening your favorite knife. Most likely you have never “popped” your collar nor own a bottle of “body spray.” So the thought of going to a club might be something that makes you cringe. As you probably expect, I am not describing the type of establishment that blares bad pop music and offers bottle service. No, I am talking about the type of place that expects you to come with a four-legged companion and encourages its members to bring a firearm. Allow me to explain how I came to find such a place.
Eighteen months ago my wife and I agreed that we would add a gun dog to our family. This would be my first gun dog and I had no idea what breed of dog I wanted to get, let alone know how to train such a beast. Luckily a friend had suggested I attend the local North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) club, which met about an hour south of where I live. So I drove down to attend their next training day, and began what would develop into a new passion. The folks at NAVHDA range from seasoned breeders with multiple versatile champions behind their name all the way to new handlers training their first dog. During the training event I tagged along and watched the dogs and handlers work through a variety of different scenarios, which test a dog’s nose, its field and water search ability, and the cooperation between handler and dog. Once folks figured out why I was there, they were more than willing to discuss why they preferred their breed of dog and what breeders they would recommend working with. But, unlike typical barroom chat, this was more than a chance to hear what their thoughts were. This was a place that allowed me to see what these dogs could actually do. I enjoyed my time at the NAVHDA training day so much that I came back for every remaining session that season. During these monthly training sessions I was able to interact with a number of different breeders and watch numerous dogs work the field and water.
The search for my future pup and breeder wasn’t limited to NAVHDA. I also attended a German version of NAVHDA called Jagdgebrauchshundverein (JGHV). I started attending JGHV events with the intention of watching a specific breed of dog. However, while I was at these events, my attention turned to the Deutsch Langhaar, a breed that was new to me. It was after watching a number of these langhaars work that my mind was made up; I knew this would be my next dog. By the end of the summer I had put on a number of miles talking with breeders and watching how they interacted with their puppy buyers. I was lucky that langhaars had a number of excellent breeders and I eventually selected a breeder that was located relatively close by, spends lots of time with their buyers and participates in both NAVHDA and JGHV.
So it goes without saying that I have been incredibly thankful for clubs like JGHV and NAVHDA. These types of clubs allowed me to make a well-informed decision regarding the breed of my new dog, a breed that I didn’t even know existed until halfway through my search. These types of clubs also allowed me to meet and interact with dozens of breeders and ultimately find someone who I enjoy working with.
I picked up Franka, my new Deutsch Langhaar pup, this past April and immediately started taking her to both NAVHDA and JGHV for monthly training sessions. Even at just 8 weeks old, Franka was given the opportunity to safely interact with birds and was properly exposed to the sounds and smells that gun dogs need exposure to. The advice that Franka and I received from the experienced trainers at these clubs would typically cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, but at these places it is extremely low-cost (annual NAVHDA membership is $60 and annual chapter dues approximately $25). In addition to the formal monthly training sessions, a number of us from the club meet during the week in the evening and train together on our own.
Now I know there are people reading this who would say that they aren’t interested in testing their dog, they simply want the dog to hunt. I am empathetic to this type of rationale. I too have no ambitions of breeding my dog, nor do I care about any bragging rights that a test score could offer. However, these tests are more than just scores to hang on the wall, they are an insurance that we as a gun-dog community are doing our best to keep the quality of our beloved breeds on the rise. In order for breeders to continue producing quality dogs, they need a way to evaluate these pups. So for the sake of your breed and breeder I encourage you to at least take your dog through the natural ability test or equivalent depending upon the club. And who knows, maybe you’ll get hooked like I did.
Franka and I officially completed our formal training for the 2014 season, which culminated with Franka’s natural ability test in late August. We now get to focus on the reason we go through all of this……hunting! By the way, because of my involvement in these clubs I was invited on two different Western bird hunts this fall, which will be a first for me. So whether it’s NAVHDA, JGHV, or a specific breed club, I urge you to take your dog to a club. At the end of the day you are going to learn something new, you’re going to produce a great dog, and you might make a few new hunting partners along the way.