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Comparing NAVHDA, JGHV, and AKC Hunting Dog Tests

Comparing NAVHDA, JGHV, and AKC Hunting Dog Tests

A dog heeling during a hunting dog test

Learn about the various hunting dog testing systems from the puppy level to the finished level.

“Would you be willing to run her in the spring puppy test?”

The emailed question from the breeder seemed harmless enough. I didn’t really know what a spring puppy test was, but it didn’t sound unreasonable. She explained that hunt test data is useful for ensuring that natural hunting abilities are preserved within the breed. We were new hunters and soon-to-be first-time bird dog owners, wide-eyed and naïve, but I typed back, “Sure!”

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

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The puppy test itself was not a big ask at all, at least not beyond the 12-hour drive that it took to reach our closest test. But that simple agreement unleashed a way of life that nearly consumed our next four years—and we (and our dogs) are all the better for it.

What is a hunt test for dogs, and what organizations are involved?

It’s easy to get lost in the acronym alphabet soup, but there is a method to the madness.

At their core, hunt tests are simply a standardized evaluation of a hunting dog which can assess their natural hunting abilities along with their ability to be trained in particular subjects. Note the difference between hunt tests and trials: tests are a pass/fail evaluation while trials are a competitive event. At a field trial, you can expect to see a winner crowned and places awarded based on each dog’s performance relative to the others. At a hunt test, one dog’s results have no bearing on the others—in theory, every entered dog could receive a passing score and a top prize at the end of the day.

The three largest organizations that administer hunt tests for pointing and versatile hunting dogs are the American Kennel Club (AKC), the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), and the Jagdgebrauchshundverband (JGHV, German for “Hunting Dog Association”). These organizations have slightly different test subjects and eligibility rules, but they are generally aimed in the same direction. There is also some overlap in eligibility for these tests. For example, our dogs are registered in all three systems and have participated in all three brands of hunt tests, giving us the unique opportunity to compare the different approaches.

Should you try hunt tests with your dog?

We found our way into hunt tests like many other puppy buyers—because we made a commitment to a breeder—but there are many other good reasons beyond simple obligation.

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.

For us, hunt tests are mostly about the means to an end: developing a great hunting dog that is well prepared for any hunting situation. All hunt tests are designed around typical hunting scenarios, which means that training for a test will ultimately pay off when you hit the field next season. A dog who understands how to search a pond for a duck will be able to relentlessly pursue a wounded bird and reliably recover it for you. A dog who learns to be steady to wing and shot will be a much safer dog to hunt with when a covey of birds gets up in the field. By working toward success in hunt tests, you’ll be able to have a much better dog when it counts on wild birds.

And finally, yes, hunt tests provide valuable information for breeders and breed clubs, so they are useful in making breeding decisions and selecting future breeding stock.

Who is eligible for these hunting dog tests?

In order to participate in a hunt test, a dog must be registered in that organization’s recognized registry. There may also be membership requirements for the owner and/or handler. If a dog isn’t registered but is otherwise eligible, applying for a registration number with that particular association is usually straightforward.

The exception to this is JGHV testing, which is restricted to dogs that are registered with the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI, French for “International Canine Federation”)—a worldwide kennel club that serves most countries except for the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Some dogs in North America are registered with the FCI from birth if they are from a breeder that is affiliated with an international club such as Deutsch Drahthaars, Deutsch Langhaars, or Deutsch Kurzhaars. In North America, most JGHV tests are run by Drahthaars just based on population numbers, but you’ll also see breeds such as Langhaars, Kleine Munsterlanders, and others.

What subjects do hunting dog tests cover?

All three organizations offer a series of tests with increasing difficulty for both the dog and the handler. Each of these tests cover subjects relevant to pointing and/or versatile hunting dogs.

While the individual test subjects and scoring criteria vary among the systems, the structure is very similar with a sequence of puppy, intermediate, and finished level tests. Puppy tests focus on a dog’s natural hunting abilities, and do not evaluate trained subjects. Handlers prepare for these by exposing a young dog to typical hunting scenarios, but generally not with formal dog training. Intermediate and finished level tests require extensive training and practice in order to successfully pass them.

There are, as always, certain exceptions and circumstances granted in certain cases, but this provides a general overview of the tests. In addition to the test scenarios that are administered over the course of the day (or two), dogs are also scored in general subjects such as obedience, use of nose, desire to work, and so on.

AKC Pointing Dog Test Topics

AKC Pointing DogPuppy LevelIntermediate LevelFinished Level
Junior Hunter (JH)Senior Hunter (SH)Master Hunter (MH)
FieldField search
Pointing
Field Search
Pointing
Steady to wing
Retrieve of shot bird
Field search
Pointing
Steady to wing/shot
Retrieve of shot bird
Honor bracemate
WaterN/AN/AN/A

NAVHDA Test Topics

NAVHDAPuppy LevelIntermediate LevelFinished Level
Natural Ability (NA)Utility Prep Test (UPT)Utility Test (UT)
FieldField search
Pointing
Live pheasant track
Field search
Pointing
Steady to wing
Retrieve of shot bird
Retrieve of dragged game
Field search
Pointing
Steady to wing/shot/fall
Retrieve of shot bird
Retrieve of dragged game
WaterSwimmingHeeling course
Steady by duck blind
Marked retrieve
Duck search
Healing course
Steady by duck blind
Remain by duck blind
Marked retrieve
Duck search
Invitational
FieldField search
Pointing
Steady to wing/shot/fall
Honor bracemate
Retrieve shot game
WaterDouble-mark retrieve
Blind retrieve

JGHV Test Topics

JGHVPuppy LevelIntermediate LevelFinished Level
VJPHZPVGP
FieldField search
Pointing
Live rabbit track
Field search
Pointing
Retrieve of dragged duck
Retrieve of dragged rabbit
Field search
Pointing
Steady to wing/shot
Retrieve shot bird
Retrieve of dragged duck
WaterN/AMarked retrieve
Blind retrieve
Duck search
Marked retrieve
Blind retrieve
Duck search
Independent search without duck
ForestN/AN/AHeeling course
Blood tracking
Independent search
Dense cover search
Down stay
Steadiness during driven hunt
Retrieve of dragged rabbit
Retrieve of predator over an obstacle
Retrieve of dragged rabbit

What does passing a hunting dog test accomplish?

Generally speaking, passing a test—which is an accomplishment to be celebrated at any level—results in either a title or a prize. This indicates that the dog demonstrated competence in each of the test subjects. Some breed clubs use the testing systems as a basis for their breeding rules, too. This is most common in the JGHV where breed clubs have specific requirements prior to breeding (for example, receiving passing scores in both the VJP and HZP); other clubs have similar requirements or recommendations based on NAVHDA or AKC test results. Note that any requirements related to breeding are managed by the breed clubs and not by the testing organizations.

AKC hunt tests are just like other AKC performance titles in that a certain number of passing scores must be achieved to receive a title. This means that a dog must attempt and successfully pass each test multiple times as qualifying legs in order to earn the title of Junior Hunter (JH), Senior Hunter (SH), or Master Hunter (MH). There is no limit to the number of times that a dog can attempt each test. It is also possible to receive an advanced level of each title by achieving higher scores and completing additional legs.

NAVHDA tests award a score and a prize of I, II, or III based on the total score as well as certain minimum scores for each subject. Any prize denotes a passing score. Dogs who achieve a Prize I in the Utility Test are exclusively invited to the following year’s Invitational Test. The Invitational awards the prestigious title Versatile Champion (VC) to passing dogs.

JGHV tests are scored and denoted as pass or fail based on the final score as well as minimums for each subject. Only the VGP awards prizes of I, II, and III. Unique to the JGHV is the rule that a dog may attempt each test only twice; two failing scores make the dog ineligible for any further attempts at that particular test.

How to choose a hunting dog testing organization

Once you’ve decided that you want to give hunt tests a try, how do you choose which flavor of tests to run? Unless your breed club sets requirements for testing in a certain system, the choice of which test to run is up to you.

The decision starts with the question of eligibility, so start by understanding where your dog is registered. In my opinion, any hunt test is better than no test at all—especially if your goals are simply to evaluate your dog and set some training goals for the off-season—so start with where your dog is eligible and don’t sweat the details. If you decide to register your dog with a different organization, you should check with your breed club to ensure that doing so won’t run afoul of any club regulations, especially if you have plans to breed or become active in the club.

The second factor is test availability and accessibility. AKC tests are by far the most frequently held and offer the greatest geographic reach within the United States. On any given summer weekend, there is likely to be an AKC hunt test in your general area. NAVHDA testing is the next most accessible option, with chapters located around the country and each chapter typically hosting two or three test weekends per year. Tests often fill up quickly, so you’ll want to be in contact with your local chapter’s test secretary well ahead of time to understand the registration requirements and deadlines. JGHV tests are the hardest to find, since the testing population is much smaller than NAVHDA or AKC. The VJP is also limited to areas with enough of a wild rabbit or hare population to conduct the tracking evaluation for each puppy, making suitable locations somewhat few and far between.

Finally, consider your goals for testing your dog and the style of hunting that you enjoy most. You’ll find that each of the systems represents a slightly different style of hunting with your dog.

AKC hunt tests for pointing dogs exclusively evaluate field work on birds with two dogs in the field at a time. For the majority of upland hunters, that’s an accurate representation of a typical day afield. The brace work is especially helpful in preparing your dog to hunt with—and respect—another dog that they may or may not know. It lacks the water and tracking elements of the versatile dog tests, though you can find those subjects in other AKC performance events.

NAVHDA, like the JGHV which inspired its creation, places a strong emphasis on the recovery of game after the shot. This is consistent with the expectations of the versatile dog breeds. NAVHDA also features a significant amount of water work, which is important for versatile hunters who enjoy both upland and waterfowl hunting. I especially value the focus on retrieving and tracking work that mimics typical hunting scenarios. The skills a dog learns in the NAVHDA system will prepare them for just about any bird hunting situation they can expect to encounter in North America.

The JGHV offers the most variety in testing subjects, including the use of furred game. Granted, the average North American bird hunter is never going to need their dog to conduct an independent forest search, retrieve a fox at the end of a 400-meter track, or remain quiet during a driven hunt. But I believe that the system is more about the learning opportunities that it affords the dogs. Learning how to track a blood trail taught our dog how to slow down and really focus on a detailed task. Training a fox retrieve reinforces the idea that all retrieves must be completed, even if the dog doesn’t much care for the object itself. I watched Piper and my husband develop an incredibly deep bond over the course of training for their VGP and it’s hard to substitute anything else for that experience.

If you’re still undecided, take some time to visit a hunt test and watch how the event is run. It’s much easier to picture yourself at a test with your dog if you’ve had the chance to see one in person before you’re feeling the pressure to succeed. You’ll find regional differences in club culture and personalities, too. You may find that you really connect with one group over another, in which case, the decision becomes simple.

Looking back on our hunting dog test journey

That simple agreement with our breeder to run our new pup in the VJP quickly got out of hand. In the four years since then, Piper has received a Prize I in the VGP, the title of Master Hunter in the AKC, and the title of Versatile Champion in NAVHDA. She’s likely in rare company to have reached the top of all three testing systems. Her success is a product of her genetics as well as the hard work that went into her training and development.

And yet, Piper is a pretty unassuming dog. Nobody would ever call her flashy, and she stands no chance of ever winning a field trial. Her superpower is consistency. What the German versatile system really excels in—and, by extension, the modern hunt test system that we have today across all the organizations—is producing consistently talented dogs with all the tools they need to be excellent hunters.

Above all, regardless of the flavor, each of these systems offers an opportunity to have a team of judges evaluate your dog based on a set of standards for hunting performance. As an individual, this can help you set realistic goals in your journey as a handler and a hunter. On the whole, these standardized evaluations are invaluable in making breeding decisions that determine the future of our hunting dog breeds.

And who knows, it just may open doors into a whole new chapter of your life’s journey, too.

View Comment (1)
  • The N/A for AKC Hunt Tests is not always true,
    Some clubs do offer a water test with the traditional hunt test

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