Handling in NSTRA: Handling Tips

Members handling in NSTRA
Dogs and handlers from the 2018 Regional Elimination Trial

The semi-monthly magazine arrived yesterday and I had a chance to sit and read it cover to cover. I enjoyed the article written by John Apostolis about his story on his introduction to NSTRA and the creation of the Southern Ontario region. Part of his writing highlighted the importance of handling in NSTRA. One thing that stuck out especially to me was this statement:

“The second issue, was learning the system and strategy and we quickly learned there was a lot of strategy involved.”

Handling in NSTRA is arguably as important as the abilities of the dog. This was something that I had realized fairly early on when I started in NSTRA as well. Sure, your dog must be able to perform well to win, but there is plenty you can do as a handler to either make or break a run. Consider this scenario: your dog has pointed a bird moments after the brace starts, and woah boy it’s on now! You hustle up towards your dog, while cramming shells into your gun. All you can think about is how this is going to be the start of a 5 bird run that will put you on the podium at the end of the day.

You are now in front of your dog and are searching for the bird when the flutter of wings sound out from over your shoulder, you turn and fire a shot but it’s behind the bird. The bird is now flying directly at the gallery and you must call a safety. Your dog, ever faithful to retrieve your game, chases. The bird has disappeared into the collection of trucks and you spend 3 minutes getting him back in the field. In the meanwhile, your brace mate has found and scored one bird and is well on his way across the field to the next. You are now at a disadvantage that will most likely end up costing you that placement you were dreaming about.

Tips for handling in NSTRA

The scenario I described above is just one of hundreds of things that can happen in a trial that can hurt your chances of placing. Could you have for sure prevented that from happening? Of course not, but there are practices you can follow which will allow you to make your own luck. To earn placements you need all the luck you can get! Here are a few tips for handling in NSTRA that I can offer from my personal experience.

  • Have a basic strategy, a backup plan, and objectives
    • Which way should you go from the break away based on wind direction, terrain, etc? Will your plan change if the other handler goes that way? The other dog is on point, do you try for the back or leave the area to find another bird?
  • Don’t let things get too fast
    • Take a moment to collect your thoughts, be intentional about your next action. Take in your surroundings and factor them into your decision. Where are the judges, other handler, boundaries, obstacles to avoid, etc?
  • Trust your dog
    • There is such a thing as over handling. Your dog has the nose that can smell birds, not you. Unless you have an exact mark on a bird, put your dog in the general area and let him work.
  • Pay attention to the entire field
    • If the other dog has scored two finds on the back end of the field, you should know this and get to the uncovered area of the field quickly.

Competition in NSTRA is tough, so when the breaks go your way you have to be able to take advantage of them to win. Being a head’s up handler will greatly improve your ability to capitalize when your dog is on his game so that your team work can result in a placement.

Would you like to learn more about NSTRA in Missouri and Kansas? Fill out this form to be contacted by a region representative. We are always eager to introduce new members to the sport.

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