Here is Jax, a nice young Lab pointing his bird this weekend. Reagan is the shooter.
When it comes to dogs (like Labs) that have been bred to flush birds, I like to give them the freedom to choose their strategy, to work with their strengths. If a flushing dog demonstrates a talent for pointing, and the type of hunting he’ll be doing is conducive to it, I say let him point.
Here is Jax, a nice young Lab pointing his bird this weekend. Reagan is the shooter.
Just finished up three days of training with Gracie, a three year old Spinoni. She did very well and learned that being steady, instead of flushing and chasing birds, is the way to go. While she was here, she also learned “stop to flush” and to “honor” a dog on point. She will be back next month for a few day to practice her new strategy for success.
As many of you know, over the last few years I have been building a unique pointer breeding program. From falconry dogs forged on the Moors of northern Scotland to beautiful and talented individuals from the leading kennels in Italy and Denmark, I have been importing those dogs that have the right balance between natural talent, drive, biddability and cooperation. Read more…
Here in part, is a recent question from the forum:
“I have been reading and educating myself on your method and read your comments on an older post about biddability and I thought I would ask you to comment here on a separate chain.
I wanted though to ask you to elaborate more on how your method can manage energy levels (drive) in favor of biddability. Also, whether through your method you can “permanently” or rather “consistently” shift the equation in favor of biddability while managing (but not diminishing) the drive.”
As you know, my method is unique. Unlike other methods that replace biddability with obedience (basically taking away free will), my method takes advantage of natural pack dynamics. It all boils down to trust. This bond that holds packs together, creates synergy. Synergy is defined as: “the combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately”.
All predator groups rely on trust to function effectively. This is why we are always building and maintaining trust in our relationship with our dogs. Biddability comes from trust. Therefore, the more we focus on the trust factor, the more biddable or trusting the dogs become.
I often talk about balance. The balance between biddability and drive. This starts with breeding. We want a dog with lots of drive, but controlled drive. A dog that chooses to stay connected to the handler. As an example, most field trial dogs are bred for drive. As a result, some can be out of balance, bred for high drive at the expense of biddability. There is also the other end of the spectrum, dogs bred for the show ring. Some have been bred for cooperation at the expense of bird drive. A truly biddable dog with good bird drive resides somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Regardless of a dogs natural balance, we can have a significant effect on his overall level of cooperation. We do this by helping him learn that a successful strategy for success (getting the bird in his mouth), requires that he manage and control his energy. If you think about it, he already shows us he possesses this ability. What is a point other than a control of energy?
The bottom line is, we can achieve a good balance when we handle well and help control the level of excitement. I want all the style and intensity he naturally possesses without encouraging unnecessary excitement that might cause him to flush or chase the bird. Think of it like this. A scale of one to ten. One is his level of excitement when asleep. Ten is his level of excitement when he blows out and chases a bird. At this level (10), the excitement has become unmanageable and he chases to burn the energy. How about before he reaches this level, we handle him in the field in such a way that his level does not rise above say, an eight. We help him learn to manage his level when on point so that when the bird flushes, his level goes up but stays within a manageable level. All his natural style and intensity but without the chase.
Enforced obedience or pressure in the field (hand signals, whistles, “whoa” commands, quartering commands, etc.), can often increase a dog’s energy level, making him less manageable. When I want a dog to become more manageable (biddable) in the field, I do it by removing pressure, not increasing it. For instance, if a dog on point gets pushy on his birds as I approach, I don’t add pressure with a “whoa” command or e-collar, I remove pressure by stopping, turning around and walking away. He learns that if he gets pushy, the hunt stops. When he manages himself and steadies up, I’ll return and the hunt will continue.
When we ask our dogs to include us in their hunt, we must remember that this is their dance. As group predators, they were born with all the necessary information to learn to be successful. We need to have respect and remember, our goal is not to make them a tool in our hunt. Our goal is being invited to join them in theirs.
The video below shows a young dog asking for help (deferring). Using her own free will, she is learning that she needs my help to be successful. Please read the text that accompanies the video.
We had a recent question in the forum about handling a dog in the field that wants to break at shot or fall. Keep in mind, breaking at shot or fall is normal and required for dogs that we train to the level of “steady to wing”. The dog in question has been trained in my method to another level, “steady to wing, shot and fall”. She is to remain steady through the shot and/or fall of the bird. Here, in part, is the question and my response.
****** has been good at staying steady to wing but if the bird isn’t shot she will sometimes break and want to chase the bird. At this point I usually have my shotgun in my hands, not my ecollar transmitter, to stop or recall her when this happens. When she was young she learned (due to my lack of handling experience) that she can sometimes chase and capture pen raised birds so she now has a propensity to want to chase them if I’m not closely watching her. What should I do to improve this situation?
This is why it’s important to have the ecollar clipped to your vest for easy, quick timing. This is not a dog problem, it’s a handler problem. After I pull the trigger, my hand is back on the transmitter quickly, just in case. So quick in fact that, after taking the shot, I’ve had to ask, did I hit it? After pulling the trigger my eyes were back on the dog before the shot reached the bird. That, is timing (faster than speeding bullet…lol).
Remember, the ecollar recall is only used with those dogs that insist on trying to chase the bird. It is the only “command” used in my method. The dogs are very familiar with, and clearly understand the recall because it has been used in many different sitations including around the house, at the park, in the yard, etc.
If they have been handled well, clearly understand the rules, have been shown with the checkcord how to be successful but still attempt a chasing strategy, the ecollar recall is required. In practice, once they are clearly committed to the chase (three or four paces in), we give them a “here” command. If they heard it and clearly chose to ignore it, we tap the ecollar. From the dog’s perspective, it has nothing to do with birds, the flush, the scent or even the chase. It is simply the well understood recall. Soon, they backchain and associate it (chasing will be unsuccessful) all the way back to entering the birdy area. Basically, they begin to understand the new strategy for success. “If I don’t chase it, I’ll get it in my mouth”.
Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
Been very busy here at the Higgins Sporting Estate. The new clubhouse and kennel building has been approved by the County and construction will begin shortly.
We will be expecting puppies this spring with the breeding of our UK imports Amber Uno of Glencuan and Oksby Basso. Many thanks go out to the late Des O’neile of Northern Ireland for entrusting me with these beautiful, talented dogs. They are a wonderful addition to my breeding program.
There has been some recent activity in the forum. Please take a look and feel free to join the conversations.
Thanks again for your interest and continued support.
All the best,
Had a great Thanksgiving here at the Higgins Sporting Estate in Yerington Nevada. Started the day off with a morning quail hunt behind some outstanding bird dogs.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Here is a link to a recent handling video.
In the Higgins Method, I don’t use verbal commands (“whoa”) or hand signals to manage or direct the dogs. Instead, management is primarily by body movement and timing, the same way dogs communicate with each other naturally.
My method is based on cooperation and trust. Instead of using conventional obedience drills, I allow the dogs the free will to make choices that lead to success (a bird in their mouth). Soon, they choose steadiness as the most successful strategy.
George and his owner Kevin have been here for six days of training and rehab work. This video was taken on day four. George’s past training had been with a conventional gun dog trainer. He is a nice 2 year old Llewellin Setter but when he got here he was gun-shy, bird-shy, didn’t hunt and had never pointed.
After working with him the first day, I figured out his issue was that when it came to birds, he was all visual. He had never used his nose. Basically, he had a tool in the toolbox that he had never used. He had never pointed because it was never necessary. When it came to birds, George thought the greatest reward was in the chase. I showed him that the real reward for a predator like him was more than just a chase, it was hunting, scenting (using his nose), flushing and catching the prey. All of a sudden, with this new strategy, there was a reason to point. It is the pause before the pounce. After a couple of additional sessions of good flying birds that could not be caught, and a session on the “Magic Brushpile”, George trusted me and asked for help. In this video, he hunted, scented birds, pointed and deferred to me, asking me to go out front to flush and kill the bird for him. Once the bird was down, I rewarded him by asking him to join me in the retrieve.
George is a talented dog. All he really needed was a new strategy for success and the freedom to learn.