A dog that has passed the VGP is part of an elite group. This two-day test provides a rigorous evaluation of the fully trained dog in the field, forest, and water. In contrast to the VJP and HZP, which evaluate the natural ability of the dog, this test evaluates the performance of the dog in each subject — performance that has been developed through training and actual hunting experience. Obedience plays a significant role in bringing the dog to this point and the dog's level of obedience is evaluated from the moment that the test begins to the very end of the test.
The VGP is always held in the fall. A dog cannot be entered in the VGP in the same year that it was whelped, and it cannot be handled more than two times in a VGP (with the exception of an international test). While there are no further restrictions on the age of the dog, the rigors of the test are such that it does not make sense to prepare a dog too early. Some very experienced trainers will enter a particularly promising dog in the VGP in the same year that it has completed the HZP, but that is by far the exception. Most trainers and dogs benefit from additional maturity and training and will wait another 1-2 years to attempt the test.
The VGP tests the dog again in the field and water, but to a higher standard than the HZP. E.g., the dog is expected to be steady on point until released for the retrieve, or to be able to work a running pheasant without flushing it (called manners behind game). Another area of evaluation in the VGP is the dog's work in the forest. This category of testing reflects the style of hunting in Europe and the manner in which they use their dogs to conserve game and manage their reviers (hunting preserves). The dog is evaluated on how it searches in the dense cover of a forest and on how well it covers a forested area to drive game out to the hunters stationed on the perimeter. It is expected to retrieve a dead fox of at least seven pounds and bring it over an obstacle 70-80 cm high. And it is expected to track the blood of a wounded deer 400 m to the carcass and to remain unattended by the deer for several minutes without damaging the meat. For extra points a dog can demonstrate its ability to bay or otherwise guide the hunter to the deer once it has been located. Obedience is specifically tested during a simulated drive hunt, heeling on and off leash, steadiness to wing and shot, and when shots are fired with the dog in the down/stay position. At all times the dog is expected to be under the complete control of the handler.
The forest work in particular is something new to many of us in North America and requires a significant amount of training. The dog must learn not only to carry the weight of a fox of at least seven pounds, but also be willing to carry this animal from its own species, which it would normally avoid. The expectation is that the dog should reliably retrieve any dead game that it finds in the field, forest or water. The challenge in the blood track is not so much one of scenting as it is for the dog to settle down, concentrate and systematically work the scent. Only 0.25 liters of blood is used to lay the track over 400 meters, and it is aged for 2-5 hours. The dog will work on a leash, and the handler can assist the dog through his own observation of the blood.
As in the VJP and HZP, the manner of hunting and any behavioral or conformation faults are noted by the Judges. A dog entered in the VGP should be of extremely sound temperament, and a dog showing significant deficiency in this area will not pass the test. Gun shyness/sensitivity is again evaluated during the water work.
While the VJP and HZP were scored on a 12-point scale to allow a more precise evaluation within the categories of VERY GOOD, GOOD, SUFFICIENT, DEFICIENT AND INSUFFICIENT (scored as 0), the VGP is evaluated on a 4-point scale whereby the dog either performs to the full standard within the category or it does not. A dog that passes the test may be awarded a PRIZE I, PRIZE II, OR PRIZE III, which is determined by whether it meets minimum requirements in the various subjects. A dog that has worked to PRIZE I standard in most subjects, but has only met the PRIZE III standard in one subject will be assigned a PRIZE III overall.
It is extremely beneficial for a handler planning to enter a VGP to actually observe one being conducted, as it can be difficult to actually visualize what is expected and how it will be evaluated. This may be difficult for many Group Canada members who are far from the testing sites, but it would be well worth the time and expense if at all possible. The less satisfactory alternative is to maintain ongoing telephone/e-mail contact with members who have done the test, can discuss their preparation and experience in the test, and help you troubleshoot your training methods.
In addition to the Test Regulations for the VGP, a good overall resource for VGP preparation is the booklet Preparing a Utility Dog by Larry Rogers. There are also a number of articles from the Drahthaar News on training for the blood tracking portion of the test, as well as a recent book Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer by John Jeanneney on that topic.
The testing system
The JGHV (Jagdgebrauchshundverband) testing system in Germany is a rigorous, multi-stage program designed to evaluate and ensure the versatile hunting abilities, temperament, and health of hunting dog breeds, ensuring they meet high standards for field work and conservation.
The VJP is the initial versatile hunting aptitude test in the German JGHV system, assessing young dogs on their natural abilities like nose quality, tracking, and cooperation, fundamental for their development as effective hunting companions.
The HZP in the German JGHV system is an advanced hunting test assessing a dog's developed abilities in field, forest, and water work, emphasizing retrieving, pointing, and obedience, crucial for a versatile hunting dog.
The VGP is the most comprehensive and demanding test in the German JGHV system, evaluating mature hunting dogs on a wide range of skills including tracking, pointing, retrieving, obedience, and water work, to ensure their proficiency as versatile and reliable hunting companions.