Serious NA Tracking Discussion

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Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby orhunter » Tue May 17, 2022 10:40 am

It's always been said, the dogs are given the best opportunity to perform by the judges which I totally agree with. They are saints in this department. When the conditions contradict giving the dogs the best opportunity to perform, we have a problem. Having just come home from three days at a test and seeing some of the worst conditions one can imagine, it makes a person wonder. It's not the first time, we've all seen it. A fellow contacted me last evening and presented his (and other's) thoughts on how the NA track could/should be run. It isn't a level playing field for each dog as it should be but this isn't about one dog doing better or worse than the others. It's simply about opportunity being equal under the best conditions possible. Not possible under current testing methods. The suggestion I got was to lay the track with a drag of the bird, not left to the whim of a released bird and the cover, or lack of, to provide a decent opportunity for the pup. Not making a track so difficult a UT dog would have trouble, it's about a pup following decent a scent trail. Heck, they could use a ham sandwich and pups would still fail if the conditions don't provide opportunity. If they drag the duck for UT dogs, they can drag a phez for NA dogs. Your thoughts.....
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby Willie T » Tue May 17, 2022 3:06 pm

You will learn more about the noses than most tests. The dogs with truly superb noses will track the pheasant in poor scenting conditions. You will also see more separation. Dogs with noses that are adequate to hunt in fair to good conditions will fail. Early season hunting in the desert when it is hot and dry is telling. The coyotes still make out. The dogs with noses that match the coyotes in poor conditions still produce birds because of a superb nose. Separation is evident. The question is how much do you want to learn about noses in the NA? Said another way, “how hard do you want to cull”?
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby orhunter » Tue May 17, 2022 4:41 pm

Yes but we're not comparing a dog's nose to a wild creature that depends on its nose to stay alive. The learning curve is different. The test isn't a test of nose, it's a test of a dog's desire and knowledge to track. I don't think there are many (pointing) dogs with noses so poor they can't track.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby AverageGuy » Tue May 17, 2022 5:50 pm

The duck drag in the UT is a test of cooperation not tracking. Mainly to see what the dog does at the end of the drag when it finds the duck and the dog thinks no one is watching it. Does the dog maul it, bury it, or pick it up and return directly to its handler as it should?

The scent highway from a duck drag is WAY more scent than a running released pheasant leaves. Near polar opposites. The fact there is so much scent involved in a drag is why so many dogs get easily bored with running them.

Regarding the NA track, I like the way the test is run now because I highly value strong tracking skills in my dogs and I believe the test does a fair job of evaluating a pup's inherited abilities in that area.

It was hot, dry and windy when Tess ran her NA. The track portion of the test was run in close to knee high green alfalfa which is notorious for being difficult to scent in. To say the scenting conditions were tough was an understatement. Only two dogs out of 10 got a 4 in tracking and Prize 1 that day. Most of the pups did little to no tracking and did not seem to be able to get any scent at all.

Tess worked her track like she was a train on a track. Tracked the rooster a 150 yards into the adjoining standing soybeans. The judges told me to call her out. Everyone who saw it said she nailed it and she did. She was the youngest dog in the test with numerous other dogs being close to twice her age.

The conditions for Tess were no different than the dogs who did poorly.

Tess has a good nose and superior genetic tracking skills. I saw it at an early age when she tracked wild cottontails on snow packed ice over 120 yards in the timber north of the house when she was just 3 months old. I did only two practice drags before her NA to teach her what my hand signal towards the ground and verbal track command meant, because it was obvious she had strong genetic tracking skills.

Assuming we want our Versatile dogs to have strong tracking skills, my vote is leave the NA as it is because I believe it does a good job of evaluating that skill.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby Meridiandave » Wed May 18, 2022 10:33 am

People do not train for a track, which is why they fail. If you want to do good on a track and on NA in general, follow Bob Farris' method.

Think about how the average dog is exposed to birds. In the most common scenario. People show up to NAVHDA training days. Rent a couple of homers. Then they run the dogs to launchers. There is no track to speak of going to the launchers. The dog has learned that everytime they get to the field, they get to point birds and don't even have a track. Then on test day the dog shows up to the track is released and has no clue to what it is supposed to be doing.

My last NA test was done at the same grounds Harvey was at. I was the last track of the day. Pilot tracked that bird 250 yards and the bird had done 3 turns that was essentially a 180.

Once again, you wanna due well on the NA test follow Bob's book.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby GONEHUNTIN' » Wed May 18, 2022 11:25 am

I would prefer to see a drag used. I've seen two NA tests where pheasant were turned loose across bare, plowed, fields. On both occasions, nearly every pup virtually failed the test. It's an NA test. Drag a bird across an alfalfa field and give the pups a chance. NA is a test of ability, not training.
I just hate seeing birds die of natural causes unless I'm that natural cause.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby AverageGuy » Wed May 18, 2022 2:38 pm

If you want to get zero read on a pup's genetic capabilities to track then use a scent highway drag. In which case we will likely breed out tracking ability as we will have no meaningful evaluation of tracking skills if we go the route of a drag vs a true evaluation of a pup tracking live game.

Training for tracking, other than a couple of sessions to teach the track command and hand signal, is best done via exposure to wild game in wild settings.

Any dog with good genetics to track will do so when it encounters the scent of moving game given a few exposure opportunities to do so. All of my GWP pups have had no struggle to track when given opportunities to do so. Which is because their breeding ensured it was in their genetic tool kit.

No one trains a dog to track. Rather we give dogs opportunities to track. Rabbits, quail, pheasants, squirrels, turkeys they all provide opportunities for a pup to put its tracking genetics to work and some or all of those game species are available all over the US. The beauty of using exposure to wild game is the pup is not going to catch them as they very well may with wing clipped released birds.

We can force a dog to Fetch, Sit, Stay, Whoa, even Point (although it will look like heck), but we cannot force a dog to track.

Which is a great reason to ensure our test for natural ability is good true test of that genetic skill.

Why does the JGHV use tracking of wild rabbits or hares in their VJP? For all the same reasons I stated above.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby GONEHUNTIN' » Wed May 18, 2022 3:41 pm

orhunter wrote:Yes but we're not comparing a dog's nose to a wild creature that depends on its nose to stay alive. The learning curve is different. The test isn't a test of nose, it's a test of a dog's desire and knowledge to track. I don't think there are many (pointing) dogs with noses so poor they can't track.


I agree. A house pet will track, you see them do it all the time. One of the problems with testing is where and when the test is. In the North here, we may get a fall pup. The pup is in snow from November thru April with not a lot of opportunity to train water or bare ground tracking. These are tests, not trials. All you want to see is if a pup is willing to do it, not how well they do it. Same in the water. If they splash out kicking water and turn back without the bumper, they've shown they're willingness to do it and the ability to do it. The rest is exposure and training. I had a judge tell me once in NA that if the pup flash pointed, it was out. It had to stick the bird until we got to it.

One of the problems in NA is that it seems to me, each judge lives by his own standard, rather than actually evaluating a pup and understanding what they are seeing.

People worry about the NA too much.
I just hate seeing birds die of natural causes unless I'm that natural cause.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby AverageGuy » Thu May 19, 2022 7:11 am

Reality is we have no problem with the NA test.

I just checked the annual report for 2021.

85% of 2502 NA pups tested earned a Prize and 45% earned a Prize 1.

Unless we are looking to hand out participation trophies vs breed better Versatile dogs through testing/evaluating genetic natural abilities we are just fine.

I also checked out the Bonus Training issue of Versatile Hunting Dog magazine. Tim Otto wrote a short article on Retrieve by Drag where in he wrote, " Basically, from a Nose perspective, the drag is among the easiest things any of our dogs will ever have to do." He goes on to say the Drag does not test nose but rather tests Desire, Cooperation and Obedience.

Which is what I said. A drag provides no useful information of a pup's ability and willingness to track a live bird which leaves much less scent.

I circle back to what I saw in Tess's NA. Conditions were tough. 8 of 10 pups struggled with their tracks, but 2 did not. Which frankly tells us exactly what we should be looking to learn about how good our pup's genetics for tracking are or are not.

I trained with a Retriever group last night. Numerous Labs, one Flatcoat and my GWP. It was obvious my GWP does not mark as well as those Labs. Also obvious my GWP is more nose driven. Years of purposeful breeding for Marking in the Labs and dominant use of nose in GWPS is why.

You get what you breed for and evaluating that is the purpose of these Hunt Tests, not to feed our egos with easy Prize 1 awards.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby orhunter » Thu May 19, 2022 9:11 am

Gonehuntin' understands my point. "Willing to do it." "Ability to do it." My issue if having a scent trail adequate for those two to occur. As a dog ages and gains experience, the most difficult track may not be much of a challenge but we're not talking about those dogs with a trained nose.

As I watched the test for two days, a person could see which dogs would fail before they were released and which would have a decent chance. When a person can see the phez half flying half sprinting across bare ground from 200 yards, it's not going to go well for the dog. In the two days of the test, only four dogs got 4's in tracking and the judges were being very (very) generous.

Kent: There's a ton of holes in your comments when you compare UT to NA. That's not the point. Your final statement, "evaluating that skill." "Skill" is obtained through training/experience. NA isn't about training, it's about desire. Which brings us to Bob's book. It is very thorough, very detailed. A person who follows it will do very well in NA. A person who puts their dog through half of it will do very well. The big stumbling block is having the resources available to "train" for NA. It's an excellent book for those who do. For those who don't take NA seriously (and we shouldn't) Bob's book will produce a very fine hunting dog right from the start. I envy those with the resources.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby GONEHUNTIN' » Thu May 19, 2022 10:25 am

I agree with you totally. Some of us, for varying reasons, can't train much or get birds for the NA. It may be we're on snow, may be there are NO pheasant available in spring. Many reasons. The same as running out to a bumper on a lawn but not picking it up, shows willingness to retrieve, or splashing into the water, going straight up and down then returning to shore shows willingness to retrieve, so does following a drag show willingness to track and it shows the dog has that natural ability. We all know that dog's mature differently and trying to judge a puppy and hold it to a standard is indeed a very difficult thing to do. Terrain, age, birds used, climatic conditions, exposure, all influence how a pup does a test. Too many people compare a "test" to a "trial" and there should be no comparison.
I just hate seeing birds die of natural causes unless I'm that natural cause.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby AverageGuy » Thu May 19, 2022 2:54 pm

Gotta say, Sounds like whining to me.

Also sounds like 4 pups were able to track well enough to get a max score. Must of had something going for them the others didn't. That is why we test em, to find out which genetics are best. Which is what Willie T posted earlier.

I have read Farris' book. Noteworthy when discussing the NA track on page 110 of his book he says he has run more than 100 pups and judged a 1000 in NA and yet he makes no mention the tracking of a live released pheasant is too difficult to evaluate a pup.

He actually says the opposite when discussing the released live pheasant track in the NA on pages 109-110, " The good news is that most well bred Versatile dogs can easily handle all these varying circumstances and the variables mentioned previously and do so much easier than most can imagine. Most versatile dogs can handle and perform to a much higher degree when tracking than most would expect and it isn't like rolling the dice when taking your turn as to which pheasant you drew and which location you have been allotted to run your track on."

Drags are simple and would be a horrible way to evaluate tracking genetics. Zero chance NAVHDA is going to pursue the change we are discussing.

JGHV has been using live hare and rabbit tracks for over a century now to evaluate tracking in pups run in the VJP equivalent to NAVHDA's NA. That would be the system that produced GH's last two dogs ...

An 85% NA pass rate with 45% percent Prize 1 across 2502 pups in 2021 and you and GH are arguing the test is too difficult. I am sorry but that is embarrassing.

What you describe sounds like a potential problem with the test site being unsuitable due to lack of cover, not a flaw in the test.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby Sooty42 » Thu May 19, 2022 10:09 pm

My understanding is that NAVHDA tests are not a competition between dogs, they are formatted to grade your dog against a set of standards. To grade against a standard, a test needs to be set up in a controlled manner. Obviously there are always variables that can’t be controlled, but I assume judges are aware of a lot of these and factor them in.

So wouldn’t doing a drag make for a more controlled setting and eliminate some of the variables talked about above (I.e. bird making short flights, walking across bare ground).

At my dogs NA test some birds ran fast, some walked, some sat and hid multiple times laying down a lot more scent. Others ran straight up wind, others straight down wind. One dog got a second bird because I think the handler lobbied and said it was an unfair track (I don’t know specifics, just that the dog got a second chance. My dog could of used a second bird too).

By having the pheasant in a harness and leashed to the end of a pole you can control which direction it walks, how fast it walks, eliminate flying, and have it go through cover that gives a dog opportunity to track.

Sure it wouldn’t replicate a hunting situation. But neither does placing dizzied Chukar in a field. It’s a test meant to give a dog the opportunity to show it has natural ability.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby AverageGuy » Fri May 20, 2022 7:13 am

85% of 2502 pups that ran NA in 2021 passed. 45% earned a Prize 1.

This discussion is a classic "solution" in search of a problem.

The banner page of NAVHDA's website states "Promoting and improving the versatile hunting breeds since 1969".

Yes everyone understands that Hunt Tests are not competitions.

It is very clear however that everyone does not understand the goal of NAVHDA is to evaluate genetics so that Breeders can improve the dogs.

That is why the tests have a standard which must be met or the dog does not pass and why there are grades of performance and awards made.

The goal is not a Socialist one where all dogs evaluated as equal. It is to evaluate dogs and identify those with the strongest genetic abilities and then use that information and those dogs to improve breeds.

The 4 dogs which received max scores of 4 in tracking under difficult conditions are examples of superior genetics for tracking. The test accomplished exactly what its goal is, hurt feelings of some owners whose dogs did not do as well aside.

Dumbing down the test so we can achieve an even higher pass rate than 85% or higher Prize 1 levels than the current 45% is not at all consistent with the goal of NAVHDA, nor in the best interest of the dogs.

Fortunately this discussion is just farting in the wind and no one at NAVHDA lacks the understandings evidenced in this discussion.
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Re: Serious NA Tracking Discussion

Postby Sooty42 » Fri May 20, 2022 7:50 am

AG- I don’t think anyone here is arguing to dumb down the test. The point is if your going to grade against a standard then you need to try and make the playing field even. The test scores on the website don’t say the your dog got a 4 in tracking with the toughest conditions and a Wiley bird that doubled backed and did a lot of evasive maneuvers. Just as it doesn’t say that some other dog at a different test got a 4 with the easiest track ever laid out. They both just say 4. So if the tracks were laid down in a more controlled way at every test, like controlling where and how the pheasant walks, it would give a score at each test more merit.

You’re right it would probably take a act of congress to change the track, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be looked at.
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