NAHRA field tests, which pre-date both the AKC spaniel and retriever hunt test systems, are more closely akin to AKC retriever hunt tests than spaniel hunt tests. NAHRA confers four titles: Started Hunting Retriever (SR), Working Retriever (WR), Master Hunting Retriever (MHR) and Grand Master Hunting Retriever (GMHR). Titles, which once earned, appear as prefixes to the dog’s registered name.
For those addicted to the spaniel hunt test scene, NAHRA field tests, as well as those of the UKC, offer a significant challenge to spaniel owners beyond the AKC’s Master Hunter title - the MHDX certificate program is, of course, excepted. The NAHRA test involves a wholly unique style of training. And these are really tough challenges. It would be a significant accomplishment for a spaniel to attain the level of a Grand Master Hunting Retriever.
The Started Hunting Retriever standard is not unlike that of the AKC Junior Hunter - for retrievers. NAHRA requires four successful completions of the SR field test or the accumulation of 2.5 points per leg for a total of 10 points. The test consists of five single marked retrieve tests involving at least two marked water of no more than 50 yards and two marked land retrieves of 75 yards or less. The fifth may be either a marked land or marked water retrieve at the judges’ discretion.
Similar to the Junior Hunter water retrieve, a Started Hunting Retriever must be steady at the point of origin, essentially where the dog marks the retrieve, but may be held steady using a leash or slip-lead. The dog must exhibit solid marking and retrieving potential. Again, similar to the AKC spaniel Junior Hunter standards, retrieves at this level do not have to be to hand. Dixie, my English springer spaniel with an AKC Master Hunter title, achieved her Started Hunting Retriever title in December 2003, and Arwen, my English cocker and an AKC Senior Hunter title holder, has one leg toward her Started Hunting Retriever title. I believe the Started Hunting Retriever title is definitely within the grasp of any spaniel that has completed the AKC’s Junior Hunter or Senior Hunter titles.
The NAHRA intermediate test, however, is a significant step up from the Started Hunting Retriever level. The test consists of the following: an upland hunting test, a blind water retrieve, a double marked land retrieve, a double marked water retrieve, a quartering test and a trailing test. Similar to the AKC Senior Hunter and Master Hunter water retrieves, dogs must steady at the point of origin and all retrieves must be to hand. Dogs may be handled using voice and whistle commands on both land and water. Land distances may not exceed 100 yards for the double marked retrieves, and distances are to be no more than 75 yards for the double marked water retrieves. The water blind is 50 yards or less, roughly equivalent to - but slightly longer than - the water blind test at the AKC Master Hunter level for spaniels. In addition, the intermediate level includes a trailing test that requires a dog to trail and find a bird without being handled to the retrieve. This test is roughly equivalent to the AKC Master Hunter level's hunt dead, but without the ability of the handler to provide direction to the dog. Finally, there is a quartering test without a bird flush that tests a dog’s ability to find upland game birds. The point requirements for the intermediate level are a little different than that of the Started Hunting Retriever. Each successful leg earns the dog five points toward a 20-point requirement – again, with passing scores on four legs. Upon successful completion of the intermediate level testing requirements, the dog earns the Working Retriever title. For spaniels, it is a big step from Started Hunting Retriever to Working Retriever. The NAHRA intermediate test, especially the double marked land and water retrieves, the water blind and the trailing test requires that a dog performs to levels roughly equal to that of the high end of the AKC Senior Hunter or at the Master Hunter. Dixie is at present working on her NAHRA Working Retriever title.
The senior testing level is the most demanding NAHRA level. Again, the test scenario is completely different from that of the AKC spaniel test. The NAHRA senior field test consists of six tests that include a triple marked land retrieve, a triple marked water retrieve, an upland hunting test - with flush, a water blind retrieve, a land blind retrieve, and a trailing test. Either the water blind or the land blind retrieves will be included in the triple water marked retrieve or the triple land marked retrieve. There is also an upland-style quartering test with a flush of the bird. The NAHRA senior quartering test, like that of the AKC Master Hunter land series, requires a dog to be absolutely steady to wing and shot, and all retrieves must be to hand. The maximum test distances may not be greater than 100 yards for all marked and blind retrieves. Each qualifying leg nets 20 points against a 100 point Master Hunting Retriever requirement. With a Working Retriever title, a dog need pass only four legs to gain the MHR title.
"For hunters seeking to improve their dog’s overall field performance, the NAHRA program offers a set of standards that will help a hunter focus on the retrieving aspects of field work that can prepare a dog for the dove and waterfowl seasons."
Beyond the Master Hunting Retriever level, is the Grand Master Hunting Retriever. There is no separate test for Grand Master Hunting Retriever. For a dog to attain the GMHR prefix, it must amass 300 points in senior field tests – a rough enough standard. At 20 points awarded per leg, a dog must pass the senior field test many times in order to receive the title – a level that may be an extreme challenge for your typical field bred English springer spaniel. NAHRA field test series offer difficult testing scenarios sufficient to raise goose bumps on the flesh of true “hunt test junkies”. For those spaniel owners and handlers truly dedicated to hunting and field tests, NAHRA might be a sound supplement to the AKC variety.
Although the NAHRA field tests offer challenges distinctly different from those of the AKC spaniel hunt test standards, NAHRA’s program could be a solid training vehicle for those dogs seeking to jump from the AKC Senior Hunter level to Master Hunter. For hunters seeking to improve their dog’s overall field performance, the NAHRA program offers a set of standards that will help a hunter focus on the retrieving aspects of field work that can prepare a dog for the dove and waterfowl seasons. Moreover, NAHRA’s field test program does not appear to embrace some of the more difficult test scenarios sometimes found in the AKC retriever hunt test program, and it appears to possess an extremely fair set of test standards for both spaniels and retrievers. The atmosphere at NAHRA field tests is decidedly relaxed, and the participants and judges are extremely friendly. Why then do not more spaniel owners participate in NAHRA field tests?
NAHRA has, in the past, suffered from a lack of publicity with spaniel clubs. Many in the spaniel ranks have discounted the NAHRA program for being dominated by the retriever folks. A lack of understanding of the NAHRA program and a general alignment of NAHRA with retriever clubs that hold AKC retriever hunt tests, NAHRA field tests and HRC hunts probably has not helped NAHRA to reach out to spaniel clubs. At present, there are no hunting spaniel clubs, to my knowledge, that sponsor both AKC spaniel hunt tests and NAHRA field tests. It requires considerable effort for a spaniel owner to venture forth from the comfortable confines of the AKC hunt test program to enter a NAHRA field test.
Perhaps the most significant obstacle has been the perception in the minds of many spaniel owners that NAHRA field tests are for the retriever crowd – not field bred spaniel owners. A quick perusal of the past NAHRA eligibility criteria tends to confirm this view. Until very recently, all of the AKC recognized retriever breeds were eligible to participate in NAHRA field tests without special approvals, while only the English springer spaniels, the American water spaniel, Irish water spaniel, and the UKC-recognized Boykin spaniel were eligible for participation, without the special approvals. To be sure, any spaniel breed could have participated in the program using the Field Test Number process, but this tended to discourage many spaniel owners.
This, however, has all changed. NAHRA is in the process of rebuilding its program and seeking to expand its current list of NAHRA affiliated clubs. NAHRA President, Jeff Smith, is extremely interested in encouraging increased spaniel participation in the NAHRA program as well as completely revitalizing the NAHRA approach. Smith, a Montana-based, well-known and highly successful retriever handler/trainer, has actively supported expanding NAHRA’s eligible spaniel breeds to make it easier for spaniels to participate in the NAHRA field test program. A relative newcomer to NAHRA, Smith lobbied heavily and successfully during the December 2003 NAHRA Board of Directors meeting, to gain support for a revision to their breed eligibility criterion. This now include all spaniel breeds currently recognized by the AKC in addition to the UKC-registered Boykin spaniels as well as the Russian spaniels. Smith believes that the broadened spaniel eligibility will make it much easier for spaniels to participate in NAHRA field tests and hopes that it will encourage greater spaniel participation in NAHRA’s program. This change in spaniel eligibility underscores greatly NAHRA’s commitment to revamp its field test program by reaching out to the spaniel community. Tony Roettger, a dear friend and my co-author of Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field in addition to being a frequent contributor to The Spaniel Journal, Bird Dog & Retriever News, and Gun Dog Magazine, is a professional spaniel trainer/handler and is well respected in both the field trials and hunt tests. Tony and I have often discussed the merits of NAHRA, and he believes that NAHRA offers significant opportunities spaniel owners.
Although NAHRA’s field test program currently has small number of spaniels actively pursuing titles, there is a strong desire on the part of NAHRA’s senior leadership to expand spaniel participation in the program. Should you try your hand at a NAHRA field test, you will find that NAHRA members are an extremely friendly and welcoming lot. They have certainly made me feel extremely at home at field tests with Dixie and Arwen, and virtually everyone that I have met at field tests has enthusiastically embraced breed diversity in the NAHRA program. For more information on the NAHRA, peruse the NAHRA web site at www.nahra.org or call NAHRA’s Fredericksburg, Virginia headquarters at (540) 899-7620 and talk to Rosemary Haynes, a truly delightful person who is possessed of a wealth of knowledge concerning the NAHRA program. In addition, look for part two of this article that will focus on the United Kennel Club’s Hunting Retriever Club hunt test program.
Chip Schleider is an avid amateur spaniel trainer and upland game hunter. He owns four dogs - one English springer spaniel and three English cocker spaniels. His English springer, Dixie, just received her Master Hunter title and is a Started Retriever in NAHRA.
He also is marketing executive for a large aerospace company, and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel with a doctorate in international studies from the University of South Carolina. He lives with his wife Door, youngest son Alexander, and two of his gun dogs, Dixie and Arwen, in Great Falls, Virginia. His oldest son, Christian, is an Army First Lieutenant stationed in Iraq.
Chip is the co-author with Tony Roettger of Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field - copies of which can be purchased through the Spaniel Journal Bookstore. He also writes frequently for journals catering to gun dog training.