Anyone who runs their dog in a hunt test like those offered by NAVHDA or the VHDF realizes that what the judges see is just a snapshot of the dog on the day of the test. The dog may be good or bad or somewhere in between, but how it performs on test day is what is recorded on paper.
One of my dogs ran his NAVHDA UT this weekend, and the snapshot that developed could be in the hall of fame on one of the best sites on the net: Awkward Family Photos.
The site features a collection of the kinds of family photos we all have. You know, the ones of special occasions when everyone puts on their best photo face and favorite outfit...but when we look at the image now we can’t help but cringe?
But it is not really a sense of horror or shame that makes us cringe. I think it is more of a tender sympathy for the awkwardness of the photo and knowing that we have ALL been there. We all have awkward family photos tucked away somewhere in our photo albums. And now I have a new awkward snapshot of my own to file away. It is a big, glossy snapshot of Henri, my 2 year old Weim, without a doubt the most gifted, athletic dog I have ever owned.
Here's how the image was made:
Over the course of last year's hunting season I saw so much potential in Henri, I thought he would be ready for UT level training this year. But since I am, at best, a mediocre trainer and I really needed more time to finish off my book project, I decided to send him to one of the most well respected pro trainers out there, Al Burhart. Al agreed to train him and then run him in the UT.
For the most part, the training went very well, Al really liked Henri and Henri settled in to kennel life easily. But I think I may have miscalculated, I probably sent him a year too soon.
In retrospect, I can now see that over the summer, Henri turned into a typical teen. If he were human he would probably have a mohawk hairdo and be yearning to get a dozen tattoos. But he was sneaky about it, he actually waited until test day to reveal his "new look" to Al and the judges. So the snapshot that we got was the equivalent of the captain of the high school wrestling team showing up for class pictures in a t-shirt that says F##$% You and then choking the photographer out with an arm-triangle.
You see, Henri is the kind of dog that lives to gobble up a field at 100 miles an hour and churn up the marsh searching for a duck. His test scores perfectly reflect that. In every category that evaluates natural ability and drive …stamina, field search, duck search, pointing, desire… he earned the highest scores, all 4’s. But when it came to steadiness, the snapshot clearly caught that F##$% You t-shirt he was wearing. In fact, on the Saturday, Henri did not even prize due to a low steadiness score. Al ran him again on the Sunday and managed to steer him to a prize 2.
I visited Al the next day to collect Henri and he ran him through his paces. The snapshot on that day was pretty. I saw a hard hunting, happy dog with good manners. Henri still had all the "go" and style I could ask for and handled well, was steady to wing, shot and fall and was exactly where I want him to be for the upcoming hunting season.
But as he ran, I could see a sort of teenage edge about him. He was in control, but only just. I could see he is in his “terrible-two’s” right now and Al agrees. He knows Henri has what it takes to earn a prize one and more. And like the true pro he is, Al took the awkward snapshot of the weekend in stride. He said "Years ago, I would have been looking for hole to crawl into when he came unglued. But now, I know that it's just one day, one snapshot of the dog. Henri is a nice dog, and he loves to really get out there and roll. You will just need to keep on him for a while until it all sinks in".
And that is exactly what I am going to do. Henri's upcoming hunting season will be a training season. I want him to have fun, hunt his butt off, but I will also expect good manners. And I know I will need to rely on the most powerful tool in a trainer's tool box and the greatest asset of a parent of a teenager...patience. Henri needs time to grow up, to lose the mohawk and desire for tattoos and settle back into his normal temperament.
The whole situation reminds me of a now famous photo of President and Mrs. Obama with Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his family. The Zapatero daughters were clearly “going through a phase” at the time and when they look at the snapshot a few years from now, I am sure they will cringe. But I am also sure they will laugh a bit at how awkward they were, just as we should all laugh at how awkward each of us...and our dogs...can be!
Next: Awkward Snapshots Part II: Can't Stand the Heat!