SAVHDA offers a system of graded tests for the Versatile (HPR) breeds. Our tests are based on successful versatile test systems in use in many other countries. However, we have changed some elements to suit our local conditions and game availability. Somewhat unique to our tests is that we will run our field work on natural game. We are lucky in this country to be able to!
The tests are divided into various elements, or subjects, and are scored under a specific scoring system. Each test element is scored on a linear scale from Very Good/Excellent (4) to Insufficient (0). A score of 5 is reserved for Outstanding performances in categories of important attributes that rely mainly on inherited capabilities. Dogs must receive a passing score in all the elements to pass the entire test. Any dog passing each of the categories at a very high level is eligible for a Prize 1 classification (similar to graduating magna cum laude). There are also Prize 2 and Prize 3 classifications available for dogs passing all the categories at various threshold levels.
A dog will continue to be tested for the entire test even if a failing score is received in one or more areas. The idea is not to fail dogs and put them out of the test, but to give an accurate measure of the dog’s abilities and performance! This helps the handler to understand shortcomings in training or ability of the dog, and aids in further training and development of the dog.
SAVHDA or an affiliated Chapter, once approved, may offer these tests. The Tests are judged by SAVHDA approved Judges.
The Junior Versatile Hunting Test (JVHT) is for young dogs up to 16 months of age. It is SAVHDA's Natural Ability test, and measures seven hereditary characteristics which are fundamental to the makeup of a good, reliable versatile hunting dog: Use of Nose, Search, Pointing, Tracking, Water affinity, Desire to Work and Cooperation are tested and dogs are graded with a scoring system reflecting performance. There is also a gun sensitivity test. It is the same test as the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test with slight modifications to accommodate working on natural game.
The Novice Hunting Test (NHT) has been developed specifically for the South African handler and hunter and bridges the gap between the Junior Versatile Hunting Test and the demanding Advanced Tests. It also caters for dogs that missed the Junior Test because of the age requirements. The Novice Hunting Test is a practical test of functional hunting performance, and incorporates field work, a drag (60-80 m) and water work. Dogs passing this test not only have the natural ability required to do the job, but also have enough training and experience to be a very capable rough shooter’s dog.
The Advanced Versatile Hunting Test (AdVHT) is based on the German Solms/HZP tests and is almost identical to the Solms. It is for younger dogs that are well advanced in their training, and are functional in the field, but are not yet trained to a finished standard. It is for dogs up to approximately 2 years of age. Older dogs may undergo the same testing, but the test has a different designation, Older Dog Advanced Versatile Hunting Test (OAVHT), and slightly higher expectations as would suit a more mature and experienced dog.
The test is divided into 2 basic phases of work, the field phase and the water phase. In the field phase, dogs are tested for nose, searching and pointing, and are required to do a land retrieve by drag of a gamebird, and a longer drag (300m) of a hare or rabbit. In the water phase, dogs are tested with a blind water retrieve of duck and a search for a simulated wounded duck. A rigorous gun sensitivity test is also administered. The manner of retrieving, or how the dog holds, carries and delivers game, is scored as a separate subject. Tested throughout are use of nose, cooperation, desire to work and obedience.
This test addresses most of the versatile performance elements at a high level of training. It is the same test as the NAVHDA Utility test with slight modifications to accommodate working on natural game. The Utility Test (UT) is designed to test a hunting dog’s usefulness to the on-foot hunter in all phases of hunting, both before and after the shot, in field and marsh or water, and on different species of game.
The Utility Test assesses 15 areas of performance, in a variety of groups and exercises. The performance expected requires a dog possessing not only good abilities and innate talent, along with a high degree of training, but also the physical and mental characteristics which make it possible for the dog to do the wide variety of tasks expected on any given day – in this instance, the test day.
A high degree of manners in the presence of game and retrieving is expected. A dog that passes this test can be considered a finished, fully-trained versatile gundog!
There is a field phase similar to the AdVHT/OVHT, except the dog is expected to remain staunch and steady for the approach of the hunter and remain steady to the flush and shot of birds. Retrieving is on command and is to hand. A retrieve by drag is also required. The water phase involves heeling, steadiness by blind and to multiple shots being fired, to the fall of the bird, and retrieval of a duck to hand. A search for a duck is also required, and the dog is expected to swim and remain in the water searching for a long period of time (up to 10 minutes) without handler influence.
Throughout the test, the dog is assessed for use of nose, desire to work, cooperation, stamina and obedience.
We plan a Test for Blood Tracking next year. Although it may be a few years down the line we might even have an Invitational Test for dogs that pass the Utility Test!