Lana on point during a training session prior to testing day.

By Sara Chisnell

Most people would choose not to talk about their dog’s failure at a hunt test, much less write about it; but, sweeping things under the rug is not my style. I prefer to learn from the experience and share it with others.

Lana (ShoreShot’s Lust For Life) is my newest pack addition that I have incredibly high hopes for. She is bred “to the nines,” especially when it comes to NAVHDA — both her sire and dam are Versatile Champions and her sire was just inducted into the GSPCA Hall of Fame (his sire is an inductee as well). She has it all: stunning looks, an incredible nose, drive for days, obsession with water and a sweet, biddable temperament. The way she was working on birds this summer, the few times I had her out, she was a little rock star and should have been a shoe-in for a Prize I in Natural Ability. Everyone who saw her work was justifiably impressed. So, I entered her in an NA test in New Jersey so her breeders could see her ace the test. I made the trek from Kentucky to the Garden State and was incredibly confident in this four-month-old pup.

Friday before the test, we put five chukars out for her and she ran huge in the field, like a field trial dog, and smoked all the birds in no time. I was excited for the test. That wild, field-trial-like dog did not show up on Sunday. During the field portion, Lana would run about 20 yards out, look at me, run back and repeat. During the 20-minute run, she didn’t point a single bird but peed at least eight times (upon my return to Kentucky, Lana was diagnosed with a UTI, which could certainly affect a four-month-old puppy’s performance). The judges even set her up for a bird; but still, nothing. Let’s face it, we all bring our dogs to the line in NAVHDA with hopes of a Prize I, and to say I was disappointed is an understatement. I came off the field in tears. With no birds pointed, there can be no prize, and this sure was a long way to travel for that kind of result. I’m a cup-half-full kind of girl, so there are still lessons to be learned despite that kind of overwhelming disappointment.

Lesson 1: Don’t quit.

The field portion was the first part of three in our NA test. I seriously thought about quitting at that point and scratching her from the test. That would have been silly, and I’m glad I listened to others who encouraged me to finish it out. I chose to treat it as a training day and kept chugging.

Lana, the author’s four-month-old German shorthaired pointer, runs the field portion of the Natural Ability test.

Lesson 2: Emotion has no place in dog training.

This was a good reminder to keep emotions out of training. It’s really, really hard to do this sometimes. It can be hard not to take a dog’s performance, or lack thereof, personally. Instead, we should take these moments of time in the dog’s life as a humbling reminder that dogs are not perfect, nor are we, and we should roll with the lows as well as the highs. If it’s a trained behavior that failed, we should take the opportunity to see what’s lacking in our training program rather than blame the dog. Since this was truly a “natural ability” test with not much training involved, I had no real training failure to examine. Instead, I was reminded this was a four-month-old puppy, just a baby, really.

Lesson 3: Dogs are not machines

Dogs are living, breathing beings that are far from 100 percent predictable. Sometimes they just have off days, just like we do, where it’s not necessarily a reflection of your training or even a reflection of the dog themself. You can prepare and train but cannot control everything, and you have to be prepared for these off times happening when you least want them too.

Lesson 4: Listen to those who have been in the sport

This was a big takeaway for me that day, and one of the things I really love about the NAVHDA world — SO MUCH SUPPORT. I had so many pep talks that day from complete strangers who sought me out. Several told me some of the best UT dogs had failed NA tests. One of these strangers was the one who convinced me to continue on in the test. Even one of the judges pulled me aside after the field portion and reminded me this test is but a moment in time in the dog’s life and not to take this to heart. I have to say, all the support from all these great people who have had phenomenal dogs was touching.

Lesson 5: Don’t be a sore loser

Dwelling on what went wrong or the fact your dog didn’t get a prize doesn’t do you, your dog or anyone any good. Bad test days happen to the best handlers in the sport. Take the loss, learn from it, be humble and move on. Equally important, show good sportsmanship and congratulate others and celebrate their success. One of my biggest pet peeves across all dog sports are poor sports who can’t acknowledge others.

Chisnell and Lana pose for the camera before hitting the field during an NA test.

Lesson 6: Enjoy the test!

Take the day to watch and learn from others. Despite our terrible start to the day, I really did enjoy the rest of the day. Several of Lana’s littermates were in the test as well so it was a lot of fun to watch them all run and get to know their owners. I met all kinds of NAVHDA people from a new chapter — one of the things I love about testing at other chapters. I always feel welcomed at new chapters, and the Del-Val NAVHDA in New Jersey was no exception. Plus, you are outside with your dog and other dog-crazy people doing the things you all love. Life could be much worse.

Lesson 7: The score does not define your dog

This is the most important lesson to me. I know what an amazing little dog I have, and she is so much more than this one day of her life. I am very glad her breeders got to see her run two days before the test and see how incredible she truly is — they were just as shocked as I was by her lackluster run in the field. I am firmly convinced her UTI threw her off her game, and had she felt 100 percent, it would have been a completely different result. Will I run her in an NA test again? I’m not sure. Regardless, she still has great things in her future, including her first season on wild birds, and I can’t wait to see what kind of ride she takes me on!

Sara and Lana redeemed themselves just a few months later when they ran an AKC field trial. Despite it being a first for both handler and puppy, they placed third both days they were entered, and both might have a new field trial addiction!