Dog on Point by Ray Cooper
As the National Vizsla Association continues to grow a few questions arise now and then concerning the purpose of the NVA and the judging standards for its various Classics and Championships. The NVA operates under the banner of the American Field and therefore is subject to its guidelines and judging standards. Hopefully this article will help to explain some of the differences one might find between American Field and other field trail rules as well as answer a few questions that come up from time to time.
The stated purpose of the NVA from its inception and still today is “To promote the Vizsla as a High Class Bird Dog.” Some people not familiar with American Field and its history have asked just what does that mean? The term “High Class Bird Dog” was not coined by the NVA. It has been around for over a century and used to describe the ideal field trail bird dog or hunting dog. In the book Field Trials, History, Management and Judging Standards, by the late William F. Brown who was the owner and editor of The American Field Publishing Company the term is described on pages 104 and 105. Here’s what it has to say about a “High Class Bird Dog”:
“This may be a good place to give a definition of “class.” Those of limited experience with pointing dogs are oftentimes puzzled when the word “class,” frequently appears in public prints and technical reports. Many people use the term incorrectly to denote merely speed and range, but those who are precise in the use of words employ the term to designate exceptional ability in performing the duties of the high-class Setter or Pointer (the Vizsla being recognized as a Hungarian Pointer), as extraordinary aptitude for quality performance. The term, “class” connotes the ability to do, at great speed and with unusual accuracy, what the average can only do slowly and under particularly favorable circumstances.
The bird dog, to deserve the title of a class performer, must be able to go wide and fast, to cover the course properly and to work kindly in cover as well as on bevies in the open. The mere fast, wideranging dog lacks class if he has no other bird dog virtues except the ability to point the bevy. The dog that works well in cover, say on single birds, is not a class dog unless he has the other desirable qualities. The dog that has field trial class is a dog that has more than one brain cell working when he is hunting; a dog with the majority of the essential qualities of a Pointer or Setter. The more of these qualities he has, the higher the class.
While on the subject of class, we are reminded of when I.J. Hix of Selma, Alabama, an official of the Central Alabama Field Trial Club said:
Everyone loves class in everything – in women, horses, dogs, etc. – but what is class? I have seen a great many definitions of the word and I have about come to the conclusion that class is what you like best to see in a dog. Some think speed and range the highest accomplishment, and to them that is class. Some think style in action and on point is the most essential, and to them that is class. I think a good nose, a burning desire to hunt, combining speed and bird sense, the highest class of all. In judging dogs, all good qualities should, of course, be taken into consideration.
It should be of interest to include here the definition of a class dog given by the late David E. Rose, among the most distinguished handlers in bird dog history, a description of class that was shortened to the familiar “a dog that runs away, but not quite.” In answer to a question as to his full idea of class, David Rose said:
“What do I call class? My idea of class is a dog that does it all, not the kind that some judges have been placing; the kind that run and do nothing else. You remembah, suh, that back in the good old days a class athlete was one who was equally good in any sphere that came under the name of sports. If he was proficient in all of them, he was a class athlete, and not before. And that’s my idea of a dog. Just because he can run fast and go wide, he means very little to me if he won’t handle his ground properly, if he can’t find bevies as well as singles, if he won’t back when called upon to do so. But you can find dogs that will do it all and when you do, you have a class dog.”
As you can see the definition of “class” or “high class” bird dog is one that’s been around for a long time and is used in a pure bird dog sense to describe the ideal dog as a performer in the field. It’s a dog that does it all, with desire, brains, style and determination. The intent of the NVA from the very beginning was to provide a showcase for those dogs within the breed that excel in performance to be recognized as “high class bird dogs” in this pure bird dog arena. It would appear that over the past eighteen years of the NVA’s history that goal is being achieved. Since the formation of the NVA we have had dogs win American Field All Breed Championships as well as the majority of the breed trials and national events of other organizations.
The next question that comes up fairly often is, what are the Judging Standards for NVA Classics and Championships?’ You may occasionally hear someone say “There are no rules in American Field” as if it was just some haphazard event that was totally subjective with no benchmark for performance. The truth is all field trials in America spawned from the American Field events that began back in 1874 near Memphis, Tennessee. Shortly after that first field trial in the US the American Field Publishing Company which was named the Chicago Field at that time began recording field trial results and started registering dogs in 1876 under what was then called the National American Kennel Club Register. Over the subsequent years field trials flourished in America and judging standards were developed and honed to match the ideal performance of a field trial bird dog. All subsequent field trial organizations got their start from the early foundation laid by The American Field events.
Today there are accepted standards for field trail performances for puppies, derby dogs and dogs of any age. The term All Age Dog was originally used to identify a dog of any age that delivered a finished, completely trained performance. Over time this designation began to include dogs with much wider range than the average hunting dog and the term Shooting Dog was added as a judging standard for field trials to accommodate the two types. Today there are accepted guidelines for judging all four categories; puppy, derby, shooting dog and all age dogs. For specific details on these standards I would encourage everyone who has a passion for helping the Vizsla continue to progress toward the goal of being a “High Class Bird Dog” to obtain the booklet Guidelines to Field Trial Procedure and Judicial Practice from the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America (AFTCA) by going to their website (www.aftca.org) and ordering it online or by mail. The two other books I would strongly recommend are Field Trials, History, Management and Judging Standards by William F. Brown that was mentioned above and the book Fields of Glory by Everett M. Skehan, both of which are available from The American Field Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois. The website for the American Field is (www.americanfield.com) and you can order both books online.
For our NVA trials it was decided at the outset to strive for the best dogs we could find in the breed and we’ve ask our judges to view our trials in that light. As a result they are judged as a “Best Dog” trial meaning that if an All Age dog emerges and does all the necessary things such as handling when called upon, showing to the front, handles his birds with excellent manners, hunts the likely cover and does it with style and class the judges will recognize him as being the best dog in that trail. If the “Best Dog” runs more of a wide shooting dog race but does everything else required of a Championship Performance then he would be the “Best Dog” at that time. In 1999 all those in attendance said that Rebel Rouser Jac ran a true all age race and did so as described above, therefore being named the National Champion for 1999. Other years we’ve had some outstanding wide shooting dogs that did it right and were named the winners.
The American Field and AFTCA have been allowing Breed Championships for many years and most started this way until they had enough dogs that could be separated by category of All Age and Shooting Dog to conduct separate Championships for each category. The Vizsla breed is improving at an impressive pace but we do not yet have a large enough All Age population in the breed to host a strictly All Age event with enough dogs to justify the stake. If the improvement continues someday we may have, but for now our “Best Dogs” offer the potential to improve the breed should they pass their best traits on to their offspring. For these reasons it’s imperative that we continue to seek out excellent judges with enough experience to recognize dogs of this caliber and be confident enough in their assignments to place them accordingly. We have been very fortunate over the years to have some of the most respected people in the American Field arena to judge our trials and we are truly grateful for their contributions.
In our Championships and Classics the judges are looking for the finished dog that makes maximum use of the available ground, handles when called upon but does most of his work independently and shows style, class and manners on his game. It’s the dog the judges would want to take home with them if they wanted to breed a champion litter should the winner pass his or her traits on to their offspring. In our National Derby Classic, since it’s a spring event, the “best dogs” should show maturity on their game and a finished performance should be given more credit than what would be seen in an immature dog, while still displaying the most future potential as a finished dog or producer.
Sometimes the journey is as thrilling as the destination and with the progress the NVA has made that seems to be the case. I hope this helps clear up any questions some may have about the Purpose and Judging Standards of the NVA but perhaps the best evidence is in the events themselves. Hope to see you there.