Stella & Dale’s Prize One

For avid lovers of hunting dogs, the Natural Ability Test (NA) Test is always an exciting time for the remarkable dogs and their handlers who assist them in taking the test. Conducted by local chapters of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (RMC-NAVHDA), this test evaluates dogs in three events – Field, Tracking, Water,  – all to determine a score highlighting their versatility as a hunting dog.

It was late August in Colorado, a few days away from our local Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Natural Ability Testing weekend. The weather was hot and dry, already making the brittle grass fields scentless and more challenging for all participants.

The Wednesday before event weekend, our Director of Testing sent out an email asking for a last-minute volunteer. A man named Brian wanted to run his dog Stella for the test on Friday, but he was physically unable to participate and lead Stella through her NA Test. Even though I was already preparing for my own dog’s testing on Sunday, I decided to volunteer. It seemed like the right thing to do. 

I met Brian and Stella in the parking lot on Friday exactly fifteen minutes before Stella’s first event was scheduled to begin. My first thought was, “This dog has to at least recognize my voice!” So to familiarize Stella with me, I ran up and down the parking lot with her yelling, “Good girl, Stella! Stella, good girl!”

At that point, I noticed Stella was wearing a harness which was illegal for the test. As I removed the harness and attempted to put a testing-acceptable collar on her, Stella suddenly freaked out! We were literally having a tug-o-war minutes before we had to team up together! Needless to say, things at that point were not looking good. Just as I finished putting the unfamiliar collar on Stella, I looked up just in time to hear the field marshal say, “Dale, you’re up.”

With no time to spare, I enthusiastically said, “Stella, let’s go get ‘em!”

Our first event was the pheasant track and somehow, Stella intuitively put it together and absolutely nailed it! Not only was this a good sign, but it confirmed her natural abilities and our partnership as a team, no matter how impromptu it was!

Throughout the rest of the day, Stella continued to do well in her events. As anyone taking the test knows, we all secretly hope the dog has a strong finish. I sensed that Stella might win a prize for her efforts, but couldn’t be certain.

Later, at the reading of the scores, I watched as Brian stood ready to write down Stella’s scores. The crowd listened and cheered as each category for Stella revealed a PERFECT score. Stella had scored a 112… Prize 1… the best of the best! Everyone was touched by Stella’s amazing victory, including myself and Brian. I might have had a tear in my eye. Stella ran her Natural Ability Test that day with a perfect stranger!

Weeks later, Brian sent me the following letter:


Thank you so much for handling Stella for the NA. I’m sure that you are a major reason that she was awarded a Prize One, 112 points.

I hope your dog did good in the NA as well. I am sending you a plaque that you and Stella deserve!


Brian’s letter and Stella’s well-deserved plaque have touched me in ways you can’t imagine, and truly showcases why I do what I do. Brian had a lot of courage that day to let a volunteer take Stella through her NA Test, and Stella had a lot of trust to put into a stranger she had met only minutes before her events began. No matter the handler or their approach, you still have to have a dog that will do the work. I believe the calm and confident approach will always make a difference as it did that day. 

I would like to thank the Rocky Mountain Chapter of NAVHDA for giving me the opportunity to handle Stella for her Natural Ability Test. It made me think outside my little box. This remarkable experience would not have been possible if I hadn’t volunteered and demonstrates the unforgettable gifts that can come from putting extra time in for someone who needs it.

Volunteering is a prize worth claiming where no matter the outcome, you’ll always come out a winner.

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