Every year many new DD owners show up to test their DD without having put any time into reading or even obtaining a set of regulations and therefore stumble blindly through the test. Their first experience with the JGHV testing system is often disappointing, as they had high hopes for their new hunting companion. Those that took the time to attend training days and actually obtained, read and applied the regulations to their training most often have a very enjoyable experience.
If you have the VZPO and VGPO you have a reference by which to ask questions. If you go by what someone has told you the test will be like you will find that when things go wrong this person or persons won’t be there in any capacity to right the wrong. Every year we hear the expression “I didn’t know we would have to do that”. Bottom line get the regulations go to training days and ask questions.
The VJP is a very simple and straightforward test. The dogs are judged on five natural ability subjects:
Use of Nose
Track of the live hare/rabbit. In Europe this is conducted on the Hase which can way up to 12lbs when fully grown. The Hase is an open field dweller and runs pretty much in a straight line when compared to the American Cottontail. Here in the US, East of the Mississippi river, testing of the hare track is done on cottontails. Cottontails make a living in thick cover being evasive with short dashes in the open, that are seldom in a straight line, before returning to thick cover. Cottontails weigh less than 5lbs.
At a VJP, handlers, judges, and dogs will gather to beat/push for rabbits to bring them into the open in hopes that the judges will see the rabbit and be able to place a dog at the start of the track and evaluate the dogs tracking ability on the rabbit unseen by the dog.
Here is where most new handlers are unprepared. Tracking is very different form searching/finding game. Most people assume that due to the fact that their DD finds plenty of game in the field that finding this rabbit will be no problem. Fatal mistake! When we are in the field with our DD's we are asking them to get us on the freshest hottest scent as soon as possible, no problem they do this well. When we are tracking, we are asking the dog to ignore everything else and stick with this singular scent that we have located for it. Whether it is tracking a wounded duck, pheasant, deer, wild hog etc., tracking ability insures the completion of the given task. Searching is evaluated by the will to find and Tracking is evaluated by the dogs will to track a given subject. Tracking is more about the dogs will and ability to "concentrate" on the specific task. When it comes to the VJP I would much rather go to a VJP with a dog that had been worked on tracking and had never been introduced to pointing work than the opposite. I am not saying that you would score well but I strongly believe that you could obtain a passing score. Every year I see dogs that learn to track at the test and the handlers leave dejected with their dog given an evaluation of sufficient in tracking.
In my opinion the tracking evaluation sets the DD apart from other breeds. I believe that it shows us two things, the ability to focus/concentrate and it also reveals the mental stability required to function as a truly versatile hunting dog. Many argue that we should evaluate tracking on released pheasants as is done in other organizations for ease of testing. I would argue that it is just too simple and reveals less of the dog’s ability to focus. A pheasant when released has been in a crate with others pheasants and all that goes with that, Odiferous Maximus! They are released and run with some part of the body in contact with the ground the entire distance. While the cottontail is a relatively clean, wild subject that runs erratic and may only touch the ground every six feet or so when gettin the heck outta Dodge. The concentration required to work out the rabbit track is much more difficult and therefore reveals much more of the dog’s abilities which is what we as a Breed organization are charged with observing and maintaining.
In handling at the test even those that exposed their dog to tracking rabbits fail to have a method/ritual for starting the track. We see this every year. Many come up to the starting spot that the judge has shown them and simply tell their dog to "hunt em up" (the same term they use for a free search) which normally results in the dog never acknowledging the starting spot and immediately breaking into a free search for something, thus ignoring the tracking opportunity before it. This in turn leads to a standing at home plate realization that they are not prepared which precipitates into frustration and the handler trying to jam the dogs head into the ground on future opportunities. The poor dog has no idea what the handler wants and the end result is a deterioration of the remainder of the test. This is simple to prevent with just a little preparation.
Trust, consistency and mysticism are the foundations for a trained hunting dog, but how does that apply to tracking? Ask yourself why would a dog want to take up a track from a handler based on his action? Answer...because he/she trust that individual. Ok, why does the dog trust this individual? Answer… because the handler never lied to them. Trust is developed through consistency in behavior of the handler toward the dog in given situations. Early on a dog must learn through controlled situations that the handler never lies. When a pup is 6-8weeks old a handler can use treats and the motion of pointing to the ground to gain the dog’s attention to a specific area which will later be a track by having a small treat in his hand which is given to the dog when it shows interest in the spot indicated. Once this has been repeated to the point of Pavlovian interest we can begin to use this to indicate starting points for tracking opportunities. It should be noted that you should never abuse this trust not even for a parlor trick.
Now that we have a behavior we can put it to use. When transitioning to tracking whether it be for the rabbit or for the blood track I use key words that are only used for these evolutions. For the rabbit track I use the word “rabbit” in an elongated calm but serious tone to denote to the dog that there is a tracking opportunity and or game immediately present. Now to the mysticism… Being able to just produce rabbits whenever you'd like is the coveted opportunity that very, very few DD owners have when training a puppy. So, how do we overcome this? There are a few ways: Listed in order of preference.
1) Copious amounts of wild rabbits.
2) Visiting a Beagle club with a rabbit enclosure
3) Trapping wild rabbits
4) Riding the roads late in the evening or early in the morning to spot rabbits
5) Releasing domestic rabbits
6) Dragging dead rabbits
At one point or another I have used all of these methods to help expose my dogs to rabbit tracking. With all of these methods we are dealing with limited opportunities. Methods #1 and #2 very often require assistance of others to push the rabbits into view. Method #3 is time consuming but offers a very controlled situation. Method # 4 works well if there is little or no traffic. Method #5 ah yes the mythical domesticated rabbit that runs, still waiting to see it. Method #6 You go through the motions but you don't challenge the dog and it leads to a false sense of security. Not much different than tracking Odiferous Maximus!
Once we have the method of opportunity and we have already established the trust we now put the two together. No matter which method we are forced to deal with they can all be put to beneficial work for the dog. When beginning always make certain that when you start the dog that you have an absolute accurate staring point. It is here that you begin to determine how to recognize when your dog has acknowledged the presence of scent. Let's say that you are using method #3. When doing this for the first time, have someone assist. Place the trap on the ground and have the dog investigate the scent emanating from the rabbit inside the trap all the while repeating your key word. Once the dog is enthralled with what is inside the trap step back and have your assistant release the rabbit in full view of the dog. I think that you can imagine how the dog will react, encourage but remain calm. Once the rabbit is out of sight bring the dog up to the release site have it lay down and point to the spot or pat the ground, as you did when using the treats and repeat the key word calmly but enticingly. When the dog begins to investigate and acknowledges the scent, slowly release the dog. You should expect that the dog will run to the last place that it saw the rabbit, in fact I'd be surprised if it did not. After a few minutes of searching you will see your dog come back to the release site and begin to work it out. From here forward you will release the rabbit out of sight of the dog but you will have an exact hot spot and release site. This is the beginning of the Mysticism, by only releasing your dog on known hot spots you build the trust and the mysticism that you are all knowing and all seeing, never let them figure out otherwise by abusing this trust. A dog that has been worked in this manner will very often go on point at the utterance of the key word, now that's trust. Build on this and eventually let the tracks age before placing the dog on them. As a reward and to keep them guessing, from time to time release a trapped rabbit, watch its path, walk in to a point from the backside and place a domestic rabbit in a paper sack on the track for a surprise. Then watch their intensity and concentration the next time. This will work with all of the methods but trapping gives you much greater control.
A word about trapping, traps are simple to build and vary in trigger mechanisms. I prefer an internal trigger, but all will work. Personally I have little success when temperatures are above 40 degrees. One tip that I think will help would be to place a domestic rabbit in each of your traps for a period of time before placing them out in order to take advantage of a rabbits sense of curiosity and its territorial nature.
Use of Nose:
This one is fairly self explanatory. The dog is evaluated on how it uses its nose to discern scents of anything it encounters be it mice, songbirds or game. Is the dog pulled around by its nose or does it out run its nose.
Evaluated by the dogs will to find game. Is to dog going for an exercise run or is persistently making an effort to produce game by its use of its nose and the wind. In this evolution the speed in which the dog works is important. A dog that searches predominately at a trot can only receive a “good” in the search. Distance has no bearing on the search unless the dog is underfoot. A dog that searches within 30 yds is the same as one that searches out a hu8ndred yards provided they are doing comparable work.
In the VJP a dog is expected to show the handler that game is present in a convincing manner. Style is not evaluated these are young dogs. Once your dog goes on point you are not allowed to talk to you dog. Once the judges are satisfied with the dog’s work you will be asked to pick up your dog. At this point the evaluation is over. By all means get to your dog and leash him. Many handlers try to ease in only to have their dog launch in just prior to getting to them. This often results in the dog lunging in and catching the bird. When they catch the bird it can encourage them to follow suit on the next opportunity. When you go to pick up the dog come in from the side or the front, coming in from the back seems to trigger the launch.
In preparing for this portion of this test many buy birds and hard plant (dizzy them) and immediately bring up the dog. On a regular basis the dog simply catches the disadvantaged bird and begins a very bad habit. Let’s step back and look at this. What we are trying to accomplish is to awaken the dog’s natural hesitation before the pounce. Pointing is the firming up this elongation. What (in my opinion) is often overlooked by those using planted birds is that the dog never learns that it can’t catch them due to the fact that the bird is put in the exact opposite situation of a wild bird by having it completely disoriented and without the strong instinct to escape that a wild bird has. One method that has worked very well for those that have used it is to simply release birds and let them free fly to different points (with good cover) thus preventing laying a track straight to the bird for the dog to follow. The bird has all of its faculties and is alert for the escape flight causing the dog to be cautious in order to work close enough for the point. Having said this, the birds must be in good shape. It is better to pay an extra dollar per bird with good flight capabilities than it is to get a deal that will cost you way more in the long run. A recall house can help but is not necessary.
When evaluating cooperation the willingness of the dog to stay in contact with the handler throughout the test. It is also evaluated if the dog returns quickly to the handler after completing the work on the rabbit track instead of taking off on independent free play. The same goes for the Search. This begins when you first get the pup. You can often tell immediately when a handler has little cooperation as the dog does not keep eye contact with the handler. I have seen three dogs in 10 years that have failed the VJP one for not attempting to track and two for running off being uncooperative and disobedient and holding up the progress of the test.