To read about my experience at my first Natural Ability test, click here.
Over the weekend Blitz and I ran in our second NAHVDA Natural Ability test. Our first test went well, with some room for improvement, so we went ahead and tested again considering I had already signed up. This test was with a different chapter, at a new location, with different judges. If anything, I figured it would be a great experience for me as a handler to get some exposure.
Like I mentioned in my first post, the Natural Ability test consists of three main segments: field work, tracking, and swimming. Although Blitz was no longer in heat, we ended up second-to-last in the running order again. The field work phase was first, so we had another long wait before getting starting. Unlike our previous test, there wasn't an opportunity to run her that morning so I had no idea what to expect when it was finally our turn.
When I let her lose to hunt she took off like a rocket (as she always does) and went out of sight. By the time we caught up, she was already on point. She held the point for us to get close, but ended up flushing the bird when we finally got there. These quail didn't fly as well as at the last test and a low flying quail is such a tease. She chased it to the tree line and I had my first panic attack of the test. The field where the birds were planted was lovely, but it was completely surrounded by tree lines. I had been told to keep her away from tree lines at tests because you don't want them getting hung up on birds in trees, so I knew that would pose a challenge and it immediately did. Unlike our first test, it took me a few recalls to get her back. I gave her some water and off we were again. After the excitement of the first quail, she was so amped and was absolutely flying around. The judge helping me had to remind me a few times to slow down because I was hustling to keep an eye on her. She got quite a ways away and bumped a quail at the far end of the field. She again chased that quail into the woods and bumped another quail in the woods. It took me a few recalls to get her back again, and at this point I was a little concerned. I calmed her down the best I could and hoped she would now be more careful after that.
Blitz immediately went on point on a quail that was out in the open walking around. I cannot believe she didn't launch at it, but held her point as it wandered around until we made it up there. She flushed it and chased it into the woods, but recalled back. After that lovely point, she had 2 more beautiful points on a quail and a chukar. These last two she held her point for me to grab her collar as the judge flushed the birds. After officially finding 5 birds and having lovely points on 3, the judges had me "give her water" to pass some time to meet our 20 minute mark. They complimented Blitz, her drive, and my ability to handle her speed and energy. That was a huge relief and absolutely thrilled me! This test was a little different because they had UT dogs running with NA dogs. So after our field work, UT did two portions of their test and we had lunch. It was a long while before we got back to NA work and they decided to do swimming before tracking. When it was our turn to swim, the judge helping me remarked on how the water was a better entry off to the side and suggested I toss the bumper that way. I did and to my surprise, Blitz ran up the shore line rather than in the water. As soon as she did I realized how silly it was for me to throw it there... of course she would go the shortest route. Then she didn't want to jump off the bank into the water. So I got another bumper and threw it straight and she swam just fine. This was a huge learning experience for me. It seems so obvious looking back on it now that I totally blotched that, but I guess until you are in the situation you don't really think about things like that. It's a good reminder for me to stop and think during tests too and not just act impulsively. Definitely a handler error, but she recovered well!
Our final phase was tracking, which was such a struggle at the last test. I was feeling better about tracking at this test because it was in a really grassy field, just like we had practiced. The set up was a little different though. Rather than having us drive up and unload our dog right in front of the track (to help keep them calm which is imperative for tracking), we had to walk them quite a distance and keep them behind a blind while the pheasant was let loose. But as it was nearing my turn, they ran out of room in the grass field and had the last few of us walk all the way across the tracking field to get to an old corn field to do the rest of the track. The whole thing wasn't organized very well and you can imagine how a group of excited dogs and handlers walking across two fields (that had pheasant scent all over them) would not be good for keeping a dog calm. Then as we neared the blind, the person carrying Blitz's pheasant dropped him and he went running right by Blitz! For tracks, you typically don't want your dog to see the bird because then they will hunt it instead of track it, so I immediately panicked. The judge helped us both calm down the best we could, but by the time we finally got over to our track, we were both hot, exhausted and anything but calm.
We had a much better start to the track and overall she did a really nice job. She followed the track much further, kept her nose to the ground and worked, worked, worked. She couldn't find the pheasant (not required), but made a really great effort. Such an improvement from the last test! Given the crazy circumstances leading up to the track, I was absolutely thrilled with how well she did.
When it came time to read the results, I had no idea what to expect. I knew we passed, but I wasn't sure if it was enough to be better than our last test or not. Our tacking was butter but the swimming wasn't as great as the first time. Everything is scored out of 4, so I was relieved to hear the judge read so many 4s, but there were a few 3s in the mix as well. She finally announced a score of 105 Prize 1 and I couldn't believe it! Certainly it wasn't the best day, but to hear all your hard work has paid off is absolutely incredible. I never had a doubt that Blitz was Prize 1 quality, but being a first-time handler I wasn't sure if I could pull it off. But we did it and I couldn't be more proud!
Sundance Blazing Blitz NA1