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Nordic Messenger-dog by
Mikko Hytti & Annika Porr with Huvimetsän Antrei, Finland

What is a Nordic Messenger-dog trial?

Throughout history, man has used dogs to assist in different tasks. Among the most well-known tasks are hunting and herding.

In recent times, during the wars, dogs have been used for guarding, auditive guarding, patrolling and other similar tasks in which the superior senses of dogs give indisputable advantages. One of the wartime tasks for dogs was to transport messages, for example in “motti”-situations (motti = being trapped-surrounded by the enemy). Today’s messenger-dog trial originates in fact from the wartime and, at the same time, is a tribute to the hero-dogs who gave their lives performing their duties.


During the relay part of the Messenger-Dog trial the dog runs between the conductor and assistant conductor. The total running distance varies from 2300 meters (Beginner’s Class) to 7200 meters (Winner’s Class). The greatest single distance between the conductor and the assistant conductor is 1800 (!) meters in the Winner’s Class. Part of the distance is done by tracking. This means that after each transmission one of the conductors changes position to the next transmission point. The dog, having arrived at the old transmission point, will have to identify the track to the new point by using a so called “smell tunnel”. Moving fast the dog mainly tracks by using air-scent but in windy areas, or if more time has elapsed, the dog may need to verify the correct track from the ground-scent. In the trial, competing dogs are transmitted every 3 minutes. This means that in the woods there can be several dogs competing simultaneously!


Every completed “leg” of the trial gives the team a number of points, but to pass the trial successfully, all legs have to be passed successfully. The total number of points is also influenced by the dog’s behaviour. If, for example, the dog takes off before permission has been given, the team will lose points. Similarly, if the dog barks during the trial, points are lost. The latter rule is most likely inherited from wartime, when the enemy was not supposed to locate the hiding place. If the dog returns to the transmission point or the maximum allowed time is exceeded, the trial is terminated, and the dog can no longer be sent for a new attempt. Like the other Nordic Utilities, the full trial includes also two other parts: obedience and object search – both of which have to be passed successfully.

Who are we?


Our Hovawart male, Finnish Champion, Huvimetsän Antrei “Antre” was born in 1997. Already as a puppy we started practising relay in parallel with tracking. During the relaxed training sessions, it became evident that he had all the qualities to become a Messenger-Dog. 

We participated in the Hovawart Utility Championships in 2001 in the Beginner’s Class, being the only team. Nevertheless, we had excellent points and got the Messenger-dog Championship Title. In 2002, again in the Hovawart Utility Championship we had already advanced to the Winner’s Class, the Hovawart Championship being our second competition in the Winner’s Class, - again we got the Messenger-dog Champion 2002 Title with excellent points.

We will continue to compete both in Messenger-Dog Trials and in Tracking-Trials, in which he has also the right to compete in the Winner’s Class. We are also active in obedience and some exhibitions as well as participating in Water Rescue training and draft-skiing for fun and physical condition.

Hovawart Nordic Messenger-dog Huvimetsän Antrei
Hovawart Nordic Messenger-dog Huvimetsän Antrei

How do Hovawarts perform in Messenger-Dog trials?


Since the Messenger-Dog trials are based on pack-instinct (the dog tries to keep the pack together by running between the different members of the pack), the conductor as well as the assistant conductor should be close to the dog. The fact that this utility requires two conductors is surely a limiting factor and eliminates lot of people from this fun sport!

The dog, in addition to having a strong physical condition, has to have good nerves and mental strength in order to manage alone during long distances in rough natural terrain.

The Hovawart is well suited as a messenger-dog thanks to his deep attachment to his owner(s). He is always ready to work hard (run the required distances) just to keep the family members together. The Hovawart is generally a healthy breed and can thus easily cope with the physical demands of the discipline as long as the basic condition has been built correctly and gradually.

Hovawarts can be surprisingly fast, but certainly some “lighter” breeds should have an advantage in achieving faster track times. However, time is rarely the decisive element in the competition, the most important being reliability and dedication to the task in hand.

Messenger-Dog amateurs are relatively small in numbers compared to the other Nordic Utilities. It seems, however, that there is an increasing interest in this sport – during recent Messenger-Dog training days, in spring 2002, we were happy to see many Hovawarts participating with their owners!


Nordic Search by
Anu Hatunpää with Hovarian Grindel, Finland

What is Nordic Search?

Nordic Search is a competition discipline and thus definitely a dog sport - at its best, I should add! A good search dog is courageous, friendly, has fighting spirit and physical characteristics to tolerate the stress of the trial. Reading the description of the discipline (see links) Nordic Search does not sound too difficult. Dog searches a predefined area and identifies hidden target men… so what, easy?

The problem for the dog is not to find the target men; the area is relatively limited in comparison to for example rescue search in real life. A person, even when hidden, smells.. well.. in fact, a lot, provided that there is some light wind and the approach is taken from the “right angle”. What makes it difficult is that during the trial the search area is filled with tracks of both other dogs and humans, the time is limited (10 – 20 minutes depending on the class) and the terrain can be extremely difficult: the area may consist of woods, agricultural fields, ponds, ditches, swamps and steep cliffs – sometimes the so call “woods” is nothing but a un unpenetratable brushwood!


The area has to be searched systematically in a pre-dictated manner (sometimes just the opposite angle considering the favourable direction of the wind) and the instructor, the dog handler, is not allowed to deviate from the middle line. The dog has to search the indicated area without additional help. You are not allowed to reward the dog either during the test apart from a moderate verbal reward and giving some water..! Dog has to find 3 target men in the area showing continuous enthusiasm and willingness to work as well as obedience. One should not forget that the way in which the work is carried out is also under a scrutiny by the judge: the dog should not stay too much in the middle line but instead should systematically search at left and right… we talk about how “dog cruises” the area. Also, the identification by barking has to be correct: continuous, strong and intensive but under no circumstances can the dog touch the target man, nor show aggressivity. The dog is not allowed to leave the target man instead he has to stay at the hiding place and bark continuously until the instructor and the judge reach the dog… and sometimes it does take some time. In the worst case that means 50 – 60 times “wouf”, and when I say 50 times it means 50 times “wouf, wouf, wouf..” no breaks, no whining, no slowing down – it means 50 times “wouf” so that also from the distance you can interpret it “now-give-that-reward-to-me-right-this-MINUTE!”

Identification with a “bringsel” (more in the links) is performed so that once having found the target man, the dog takes the “bringsel” hanging from his neck to the instructor, who then attaches the dog into a long leash and then follows the dog back to the target man. This identification method needs to be taught with extreme care since there is an increased risk of fake-identification especially as the dog gets more tired: when the dog cannot find the target man he tries to please his owner by bringing the “bringsel”.

The importance of a good search team to the development of a search dog is primordial. When a dog gets good results in the field, it’s worth asking who the people in the team are. Nordic Search is team work… in its best.. and worst. If the team works, the dog works, if team has problems so will the dogs.


The trial includes also two other parts: obedience (equivalent to the IPO obedience) and object search (more in the links). Apart from the biggest trials the whole 3-test-trial is done in one day. 

Who are we?

I’ve been practising Nordic Search since 1996. My Hovawart male, Hovarian Grindel “Garp” who just retired after last season has a very good character for a search dog: courageous, has mental hardness, persistence and fighting spirit. The search part has always been the “sure” part of the trial, target men have been found with only few exceptions in every trial and the errors have been mainly due to the instructor. Obedience has been very consistent, but not necessarily the top of the top. The difficult part for Garp has been the object search. Garp thinks that we are there to look for people not for some stupid objects! Well, who else can I blame than myself, the instructor, who didn’t take the object search part too seriously in the beginning..

We have been competing all the way to the Winner’s Class in which we got the 1st prize in autumn 2001. Garp was the best utility Hovawart in Finland in 2000 and in 2001. In addition, we were on the 13th place of all breeds in Nordic Search in Finland in 2001.


Garp has taught me a lot on how to train a good trial dog, not least thanks to his excellent character. Having had to stop with Garp has also taught me a lot: the physical condition for a dog who competes has to be built slowly and with a lot of care, just like any athlete, since mistakes made in this area are impossible to correct later on. Also, the basic physical traits have to be the best possible from the start, which we unfortunately didn’t have. The back limbs (disruptions in the nerve transmissions) did not support continuous training and trials, and due to too high risk of accidents I decided to stop with him. At the moment I have a new search dog growing at home. Well, as you can see, I’m completely sold to this sport!

Hovawart Nordic Search Hovarian Grindel
Hovawart Nordic Search Hovarian Grindel
Hovawart Nordic Search Hovarian Grindel

How do Hovawarts perform in Nordic Search?


Over the years I’ve trained with a lot of different people and different breeds, German Shephard, Doberman, Giant Schnautzer, Border Collier, Rottweiler, Mudi, Beauceron, Briard, Laponian Herder to name a few and Hovawart seems to fit to this discipline just as well as any of the other utility breeds. Fair enough; there are always individuals who do not have the necessary characteristics just as there are instructors lacking the necessary skills.


Naturally a devoted search person wishes that the breeding strategies safeguard the necessary characteristics, those which I mentioned in the beginning, but one should not forget that a good physics is a prerequisite to a success in trials. You may be faced with the “laws of physics” with the heaviest types of male Hovawarts when continuing all the way to the Winner’s Class.

In Finland, Sar-Vuoren Isoiivari (a half-brother of Garp, father Lorbass von der Poststrasse) is the only Hovawart who has obtained the Nordic Search Champion title. Utility Champion title is given to a dog who, in the Winner's Class, obtaines 3 times 1st prize in at least 2 different trial seasons! One could say that Hovawarts are only starting in this field in Finland. This is not due to the quality of the dogs but rather the high demands posed by the discipline.


Water Rescue by
Minna Kataja with Kuonomäen Ilopilleri, Finland

What is Water Rescue?

Originally water rescue discipline was created in the circles of New Founlanders and Landseers to safeguard and develop their natural instincts to rescue in water. In Finland this discipline has found its way also to several other breeds such as Retrievers, German Shephards, Leonbergs, Schnautzers, Border Colliers and now Hovawarts. The dog has to be relatively big and love swimming. Naturally basic obedience has to be under control and the dog has to have a good physical condition.


In water rescue the dog rescues a “drowning” person in the water, brings rescue material to a drifting boat and brings a drifting boat to a shore among other tasks. Dog patrols on the shore from where he is sent to rescue the drowning person. In the Open and Winner's Class the dog can also be sent directly from a boat. Obviously, dog has to be trained to getting used travelling in a boat as well as jumping to deep waters from the boat.

Who are we?

The first Finnish Water Rescue Champion (FIN VPVA) Hovawart is Kuonomäen Ilopilleri alias Cessna. Cessna was born on 20.12.1995 and we started the training the discipline in summer 1996. We participated in the first aptitude test in early summer 1997 but failed. Luckily, the aptitude test can be attempted twice and so in the autumn the same year we passed it successfully.

In the beginning, the most difficult part was the rescue of a drowning person. Cessna is quite soft as a character and furthermore “a-one-person-dog”. Consequently, it was a big step for her to go and drag a strange person from the water. We worked hard on that part of the test and got results. Luckily she has a lot of fighting spirit, which made her overcome the problem quite fast.

The next challenge came in the Winner’s Class when the dog needed to bring a thick rope to the boat. With some persistent training we succeeded. I think we have obtained our Water Rescue Champion title a rather long way and with hard work but better later than never! The main thing is that we have had a lot of fun together and never really been too overly serious about it.

Cessna is the 6th ever Water Rescue Champion in Finland and the very first Hovawart to obtain this title. Hopefully after having paved the way there will be others to follow. We will continue enjoying the water rescue as long as we have the drive and the condition for it because swimming is something Cessna loves! We currently train also Agility and Obedience as well as some Nordic Search and Rescue Search.

How do Hovawarts perform in Water Rescue?

Hovawarts suit beautifully in water rescue. They are relatively big and strong and have drive for working together… at least every now and then! And the best – they love swimming!


Hovawart Water Rescue Kuonomäen Ilopilleri
Hovawart Water Rescue Kuonomäen Ilopilleri
Hovawart Water Rescue Kuonomäen Ilopilleri
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