Hunting for the title of top dog

This September a Yukoner has a chance to make history. He’ll test his mettle alongside 100 other competitors and potentially become the first of his kind to earn a coveted title.

This September a Yukoner has a chance to make history.

He’ll test his mettle alongside 100 other competitors and potentially become the first of his kind to earn a coveted title.

Meet Szinva, a three-year-old Hungarian wirehaired Vizsla and decorated hunter extraordinaire.

Szinva, along with his trainer and owner Tanya Gates, has been invited to compete in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’s invitational testing this month in Iowa.

The exercises, which test a dog’s ability to lend a hand during a hunt, are considered the most difficult the association offers.

If he’s successful, Szinva will be given the title Versatile Champion. That would make him the first dog of his breed to earn that distinction from NAVHDA, Gates said.

The dog has already earned titles around Canada and internationally. Successfully completing the NAVHDA Invitational Test has been Gates’ goal since she got him from Hungary when he was eight weeks old, she said.

“It takes a lot of work to get to that point. It’s kind of like the cream of the crop, the best of the best get invited to that.”

Dogs have been used in hunting for millenia. Some breeds can allegedly trace their history all the way back to the sidekicks of Egyptian pharaohs. More recently, dogs were bred to be used for hunting by English noblemen.

“They evolved into something where the dogs could do everything,” Gates said.

“They could retrieve ducks out of water, they could find grouse or ptarmigan on tundra, they could blood track big game. It’s very versatile what you can do with a dog.”

Aside from feeding her passion for working with canines, Gates said having Szinva by her side when she hunts has other added benefits.

A hunter could go into the bush and try to flush out birds themselves, she said.

“But maybe you shoot a bird and it goes down a really steep embankment or something like that you would have to walk and get it yourself. But with a dog you send it for the retrieve and it does the work for you.”

Working together, Gates and Szinva hunt waterfowl, upland birds and hare.

The invitational “is designed to evaluate an exceptional hunting dog in all phases of work and a variety of hunting situations,” according to the NAVHDA website.

There are a variety of tests that dogs need to complete. That includes one, for example, where dead birds are shot out of a sling shot-like contraption to simulate a hunt.

In that scenario two birds are sent into the water at different locations.

The idea is to test the dog’s ability to remember the location of a downed duck and stay composed while a second duck is being shot.

After both ducks have been “shot” Szinva will be asked to retrieve and deliver them back to Gates, in reverse order.

In another test, that simulates a bird being shot without the dog seeing, Szinva needs to follow Gates’ directions to an area 90 metres away across open water, retrieve a bird and bring it back.

About 100 dogs over four days are slated to take part in multiple tests like those. Any dog that successfully completes everything will earn the title.

Gates started working with hunting dogs in 2010, first with a German shorthair pointer she brought from Vancouver.

“I just thought, this is what the dog is bred to do. I was intrigued. I always liked hunting anyways.”

The closest NAVHDA chapter is in Alaska. That’s where she went to her first training seminars “and just kind of went down a rabbit hole,” she said.

That rabbit hole eventually led to Hungary to get certified to train people to train their pets.

Hungarian wirehaired Vizslas are more common there than in North America, Gates said.

In Hungary she met the breeder who would be responsible for her newest hunting partner. Szinva arrived in the Yukon in 2013 at only eight weeks old.

Together with the breeder Gates coordinated the Yukon’s first-ever hunting dog training seminar that year.

About 16 people showed up, she said.

A lot of people don’t know that there are Yukoners who hunt this way, she said.

“It’s common in other parts of Canada, in the Prairies and in Alberta.”

From there, her enjoyment of the sport grew into a full-fledged business. She now runs On Point Hunting Dog Training and Nutrition, offering people a chance to learn how to hunt with their dogs in conjunction with Whitehorse’s Canines and Company obedience school.

Gates said she’d eventually like to open a NAVHDA chapter in Whitehorse.

As for Szinva, he seems to be comfortable with the work.

“He loves it. I mean, that’s what he’s bred to do.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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