Are you interested in finding out what tests are available for your versatile/HPR dog? Here's a summary of the tests that are fully recognized in SA!
WHAT ARE THE RECOGNIZED TESTS?
If you are the owner of a Versatile/HPR breed, you’ll be pleased to know that there are a variety of recognized hunting tests available to you. Up until fairly recently there were only field trials and one basic beginner test…now there are several testing systems/tests to choose from!
Some of you will no doubt be asking, what exactly is a “hunting test” and how does it differ from a “field trial”? A test is just what it implies – various attributes or tasks are judged and the dog’s performance in these is graded against a standard. The dog is tested and judged individually and not in competition with other dogs. Therefore, the dog “competes” only against himself and the required standard. It is entirely possible, therefore, for all dogs to pass or all to fail (hopefully not!). In field trials the dogs are competing against one another and there is but one winner and a few placements – the rest, well, they go to the changing room.
Tests have various systems of judging and scoring, but they all have one thing in common: they are not competitions, it is just you and your dog as a team on the day being assessed. In short, they are simply an evaluation of the dog’s natural and trained abilities, usually in the field.
With that behind us, let’s delve into the actual tests available to you and your versatile/HPR dog…
The Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA) now offers four (4) recognized tests/testing systems to choose from. Each of these have their own set of rules and regulations, their own highly qualified judges, and their own unique attributes. The regulations guiding the tests are official documents called “Schedules”. Thus, each test system has their own Schedule as follows:
Each of the above tests tend to follow previously developed testing systems in place in other countries, so there is an established set of guides to follow and as needed, adapt to our unique circumstances here in SA. Each have their own method of assessment, but generally they fall into one of two categories: 1) Pass or Fail – a threshold is set and the dog either measures up to it or it doesn’t - there is no scoring; 2) A Scoring system that either yields a final, total passing score or one that gives a pass level divided into Prizes I, II or III depending on the scores. In order to pass any of these tests, all elements of that test must be passed at least at the minimum set levels.
Once passed, the results of the test will be recorded at the KUSA and enable your dog to carry the respective suffix on their pedigree. These vary according to the test.
Do not be fooled…every single one of these KUSA tests enables your dog to carry the result as part of the registered name. But…only if it is offered by an affiliated KUSA club under KUSA licence!
For instance, hypothetical dog Fido vom Jaegermeister would carry the following on his pedigree as follows:
> Fido vom Jagermeister NA, SA-N1, SA-HZP185, RD
What does this mean? It means Fido passed the Natural Ability Test (NA), passed the Versatile Novice Test with a Prize 1 (SA-N1), passed the Gundog Hunting Advanced Hunting Test with 185 points (SA-HZP(185)), and finally, passed the Shooting Ratings Retrieving Dog test (RD).
WHAT DOES PASSING A HUNTING DOG TEST ACCOMPLISH?
Regardless of what Test is passed, it is an accomplishment to be proud of. For these recognized Tests, as indicated the results will be recorded as a suffix to your dog’s name and be carried on future generations. You will receive a Certificate from the club and in some instances a trophy or plaque.
Further to the immediate gratification of passing a test, you will be confident in the knowledge that your training at that level has been successful. Depending on the test, you can also be confident that your dog is becoming a bona fide hunting dog and is well on the way to success in the actual hunting field! Tests help set various goals to guide you and your dog on the right track.
Training for some of the more advanced tests (such as the Versatile Tests, Gundog Hunting Tests and Shooting Ratings) ensure that you are developing a truly reliable hunting gundog for enjoyable, productive and ethical wingshooting. Passing any of the higher tests can truly be an achievement and it is hard to convey the joy and pride that handlers experience when their scores are announced, and the Judge extends a hand to congratulate you and present your certificate!
Finally, training for tests is usually carried out in a group, by one of the clubs or privately. Either way you will end up meeting like-minded people, getting help and advice, and usually making some new friends – some of whom may become lifelong friends and hunting buddies.
SHOULD YOU TRY ONE OF THE TESTS?
Well, it depends…
Some people are simply looking to do more with their dog and want to give them ways to satisfy their hunting and energy requirements. Hunters will be looking for guidance and training for their versatile hunting dog for the field. Others enjoy the challenge of training their dogs to higher levels in what the dogs were bred to do. Finally, others have agreed to “test” their dog because the breeder requires it.
For many that do hunt, I can’t say it any better than this, from Jennifer Wapenki in the US, “First and foremost, preparing for and running hunt tests can be really fun. Sure, test day can be stressful and things will never go exactly as you’d planned. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t repeatedly lie awake at three a.m., worrying about blind retrieves. But if you take a step back from self-induced pressure, the bottom line is that you’re out there working with your dog, meeting other people, and staying active in the off-season. Hunt tests are a great way to extend your hunting season and solidify the bond you have with your bird dog. Since hunt tests aren’t competitive, you can expect to find an environment where handlers are cheering each other on and hoping for success across the board.”
So where do you fit in? I can’t say what might motivate you to test, but what I can say is that training and testing can be very rewarding to both you and the dog. For hunters, training is essential to having a reliable dog that adds value to the wingshooting experience. Any hunter should be using a trained dog that hunts in control, points and retrieves reliably – less than that is simply not ethical hunting. For non-hunters, you may be very surprised at the satisfaction you get from bringing out the best in your dog and getting out in the field for exercise and fun! Breeders may seek to prove that their breeding stock possesses the necessary attributes as hunting dogs by testing parents and offpring, particularly in some of the higher-level tests.
If you are new to all of this, it’s probably best to get your feet wet with the simplest and least demanding of the tests. Where you go from there, who knows, there is a lot to choose from!
HOW TO GET STARTED
Don’t know where to go for more information or training?
If you are new to the tests or are a new owner of a versatile/HPR dog, the best course of action is to go and observe some of the tests to see what actually happens on the day and what is required. There are a number of KUSA clubs that can be contacted that will help you with information, training, test dates etc. Bear in mind that tests are usually only offered at certain times, so that may drive which one and when you attend or enter.
Links to these clubs and contact details are given at the end of this summary.
If your dog is registered with the KUSA, you are eligible to enter any of these tests.
I’ll try to summarize each of the testing systems, below, so you have a better idea of what each has to offer. Also refer to the helpful tables for a snapshot of each of the tests.
The VERSATILE TESTS are relatively new and are based on the German GSP tests (the DKV Kurzhaar tests) which range from testing natural abilities to much more advanced testing of natural and trained hunting abilities. They are conducted entirely in the field and employ a scoring system that requires each test subject to be passed at a specific level in order to obtain a Prize I, II or III. A Prize I indicates that the dog scored the highest “Very Good (4)” in all natural ability subjects and at least “Good (3)” in the trained subjects. A Prize III indicates that the dog has passed but not necessarily with high scores throughout. The scoring system ranges from 4 – Very Good, at the top to 0 at the bottom (insufficient or failing). Excellent performances may be designated with a 4h (h for excellent).
In each of the individual Versatile Tests, of which there are three, dogs are evaluated in the field on natural (wild) game and must show a desire to hunt (search), must find game (nose), must point it (point) and be cooperative and obedient. Dogs are also evaluated in their retrieving ability and reliability on land and water. Only game is used for the retrieving. “After the shot” work is a vital part of these tests, so reliable retrieving is a must. Dogs must not be gun shy and should show no temperamental faults that would impact on the ability of the dog to be trained or interact in the field with other dogs and hunters.
The ”youth”, or puppy test, is the SA-Derby Test (SA-D) for puppies up to 18 months of age. Test subjects of nose, search, pointing and cooperation are evaluated. Desire and obedience are observed but not used in the Prize classification. Gun sensitivity is tested. No retrieving is required in this test, but the dog must show genuine hunting abilities in the field.
The SA-Novice Test (SA-N) is a practical, intermediate level test that tests for a functional level of skill in the field. It is suitable for dogs that have had some hunting experience or for those that are in training for the next level of testing. The same subjects are tested as in the SA-D, but more is required of the dog in all aspects. A more mature search, better use of nose, more well-developed and staunch pointing, and better obedience is required. Retrieving is evaluated in this test, from land and water, and requires that the dog bring game to hand or close without significant handler influence (commands). The dog should know its job in this test and show it under evaluation. As with the SA-Derby Test, the dog must not be gunshy and be of stable temperament.
The SA-Older Dog Elite Test (SA-AZP) is a rigorous test of natural and trained hunting abilities. Like the previous tests, Nose, Search, Pointing, Cooperation and Obedience are assessed. The retrieving subjects are more difficult and retrieving to hand is required. Game drags of 150m and 350m are required. Water subjects incorporate a gunshot stability test in water, a blind retrieve in water and a water search. Pointing must be staunch and the dog should be steady to flush. On paper, the test does not appear to be as difficult as it actually is on the day! This test should not attempted without significant training and preparation.
It is worth noting that the German Kurzhaar club uses the “AZP” or “Solms” (for dogs under 2) as their minimum criteria to certify GSPs for breeding.
The GUNDOG HUNTING TESTS were developed in Germany for all versatile pointing breeds and are very similar to the Versatile Tests. In general, the test subjects for two the tests are almost identical, but the scoring system is different and the results are presented as a total score. Dogs may only pass if every subject is given at least a score of “Sufficient (3 points out of 10). The scoring system ranges from 10 at the top to 0 at the bottom (failing) with an option to award higher points of 11 or 12 for top performances.
There are three individual tests. At the top end of testing, the SA-VGP is introduced and is considered “the” hunting utility test for all versatile breeds in Germany.
The ”youth” test, is the SA-VJP Test for puppies up to 18 months of age. Test subjects of nose, search, pointing and cooperation are evaluated, with an option for tracking of a live guinea fowl or rabbit. The live track is given a very high importance, and its “multiplier” reflects this. A multiplier is used to weight the importance of a test subject and factors into the scoring system. All other elements are similar to the Versatile Tests.
The SA-HZP/OZP is and Advanced test and is very similar to the SA-AZP, apart from the different scoring system. The main difference is an option for a live track, in addition to the scoring system. This test is virtually identical to the German test from which it is derived (HZP) and for many breeds in Germany it forms the minimum standard for breeding.
The SA-VGP is the total Utility Test used in Germany and brings in blood tracking, forest work, retrieve of predator, greater obedience and steadiness work, drags, heeling off lead and finally, a down stay while the hunter goes out of sight and fires 2 shots. It requires all of the field and water work of the SA-HZP but demands more of the performance. It is a two-day test that evaluates the ability of the fully trained dog in the field, water as well as forest.
A dog that has been trained for the VGP will be a joy to hunt over. It is thorough in its search, staunch in pointing, and reliable as a retriever. It is fully obedient and can be trusted to work in the presence of other hunters and dogs. The handler can be confident of how this dog will behave in all hunting situations. The SA-VGP employs the Prize Classification system and scoring, so it differs in this respect to the SA-VJP and SA-HZP/OZP. This test has yet to be offered in SA but will likely be offered in 2024.
The SA-VpS is very similar to the VGP, without the requirements for the field work search and pointing, or the requirement to retrieve a "predator". All gundog breeds may enter this test, not just pointing breeds.
The SHOOTING RATINGS – These tests consist of a dual system of field tests (Shooting Dog) and retrieving tests (Retrieving Dog). Before moving up in the hierarchy of tests, one must first pass the base tests and move up from there. They are administered on a pass/fail basis and there is no age restriction on any of the tests. All tests are conducted in the field and may be run on planted pigeons or natural game or a combination of the two. Game is used for the retrieving tests.
The puppy/beginner tests are the Novice Shooting Dog (NSD) and the Novice Retrieving Dog (NRD). The NRD is particularly suitable for newbies. In the NSD, pups are expected to show aptitudes for searching, finding scent and showing a positive action on the finding and flush of birds. A shot is fired from a distance to test gun sensitivity. In the NRD, a marked single retrieve of a bird on land and from water is required.
The intermediate tests are the Shooting Dog (SD) and the Retrieving Dog (RD). Shooting dogs (SD) must show desire to hunt independently and must find and point game for the handler. Pointing must be staunch without handler influence, but steadiness after flush/shot is not required and a bird will be shot for the dog. The dog must retrieve the bird. In the RD, the dog should be steady in line for a double marked retrieve from land, and a double marked retrieve in water with decoys.
The finished tests are the Shooting Dog Excellent (SDX) and the Retrieving Dog Excellent (RDX). The SDX must show a class, finished performance in the field and must be run in braces. Dogs must be steady to wing and shot and honour their bracemates finds and retrieves. Retrieves must be to hand. The RDX must heel off lead to line and thereafter be steady without command. Retrieves from land are a triple marked retrieve. The water retrieve consists of a triple retrieve and a blind retrieve through decoys.
The HPR NATURAL ABILITY TEST – this test has been around for some time and is the least demanding and effort-intensive test for puppies or the beginner owner/handler. It is a pass/fail test of “natural abilities” - the instinctive traits necessary for a versatile/HPR dog that will be used in the field. Some conditioning in retrieving and pointing is usually necessary for this test. This may require very little effort, or more, depending on the dog.
Your puppy or dog should have some very basic obedience, should show some hunting desire, should show a pointing instinct (however brief) on planted pigeon or quail, should retrieve a dummy from land and water, and not be gunshy. Additionally, you should be able to walk away from your dog (placed in a still position) and then recall it to you. Pup should be able to be examined and not show any sort of fear or aggression to other dogs or people.
I hope that this summary has been useful for you!