For me, getting to North Dakota means heading south. The border is only an hour away and in another two, I can get to Fargo, where the folks of the Red River Valley NAVHDA chapter are always happy to welcome their northern neighbors.
Last weekend, I travelled to Fargo to run Léo in his NAVHDA Natural Ability test. My good friend Cortney Schaefer met me there and brought Léo’s half sister Bella for a visit. Cortney followed along with the judges as Leo ran his test. So in order to avoid boring you with my own highly biased recollection of the play-by-play, I asked Cortney to send me a write-up of what she observed as she watched Leo do the field, water and tracking portions of the test.
Field: When sent for his field search, Leo took off in excitement. Gone was the silly puppy I’d met in the parking lot and in his place, a serious and focused gundog. His search was very purposeful as he worked quickly and stretched out his range. He was a very cooperative dog who always kept an eye on his owner and was truly working for him. He made big casts forward and to the side only to work back into the wind (that was blowing to our backs) before casting the other direction and working back into the wind again. It was pretty impressive to see a young dog with so little experience figuring out how to use the wind to his advantage so quickly. It was obvious when Leo hit a scent cone. His head would whip around and he would immediately show caution as he slowly worked out exactly where the chukar was sitting. And then he would lock up on point. His point might not have been the most stylish (low tail and overall low body position*), but it was certainly intense and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we would find a bird in front of his nose.
Conditions were not ideal as a hard rain earlier in the day had rendered the chukars flightless. So when Craig walked in to flush the first chukar, his kick produced not a flying bird, but instead a desperate leap from a soaked bird that would bump squarely into Leo’s chest before ricocheting off and darting off into the grass. Leo, being the young game-driven pup he was, promptly chased and dove until he caught the bird. Despite catching multiple birds that day, Leo still locked up and pointed all 9 birds that he found in the field. It is always nice to see a dog with such strong pointing instinct that he will still default to pointing even after catching several birds.
Water: From what I have read of the Picardy Spaniel, their water work is supposed to be one thing that sets them apart from many other breeds. Leo is therefore a fine example of the breed. His big powerful chest parted the water into waves as he exploded into the lake to retrieve his dummies. His eyes were begging for another throw even after his two retrieves were complete. Clearly, he is a very enthusiastic retriever who loves to swim.
Tracking: This is usually the most challenging portion of the NAVHDA Natural Ability test. Many pups struggle to calm down and focus on a single track. At Leo’s test, a morning downpour had left good scenting conditions, but the cover was not ideal and the other puppies really struggled to track their pheasants across the short grass (resembling that of a freshly-mowed lawn). The first 30m of Leo’s track were also through this very short grass. During the track, Leo was a very different dog than the one he’d been in the field. Rather than making a big cast, he put his head down and methodically worked up the track. He lost it a few times, but always looped around and picked up it up again. He tracked through the short grass and handled the cover change (to shrubs) seamlessly. He showed a strong willingness to track with good persistence.
Overall, Leo delivered an impressive performance. He charmed everyone with his sweet and mellow demeanor in the parking lot and galleries. And then he flipped a switch to demonstrate his high drive and strong work ethic in the field and water. His maximum score of 112 points and a Prize I was well deserved. If all Picardies exhibit Leo’s ability and temperament, I suspect they will soon gain a solid foothold in the North American hunting dog landscape.
*In North America, a high tail and ‘lofty’ upright posture is considered stylish in many circles. So in that regard, Cortney is correct. Leo’s pointing style is not the most stylish – for North American tastes. For European tastes, it is what they want to see and is very much in keeping with the working standard for the breed which states that the Picardies point “standing up, or slightly crouched”.
Leo’s half sister Bella (Bella vom Wietesch) was there to cheer him on. And her super cute puppy charm won the breed even more interest among the folks in attendance.
Over the years I’ve earned good scores and bad scores in NAVHDA tests. But when it was all said and done, I always headed home with a smile on my face knowing that I’d just spent a whole bunch of quality time with good dogs and good people.