The Higgins Method and the Magic Brushpile

Here is a new “Magic Brushpile” video. Please feel free to comment. I also added new video links within the flowchart.

Here is the text that accompanies the video.


In order to help understand this “Magic Brushpile” video, please follow the link below. It will take you to the flowchart of the Higgins Method.

The Higgins Method of gun dog training is unique. Unlike obedience based training methods, my method is based on building trust and cooperation. In this video, you’ll watch a young dog learn and begin to understand in one session, a new hunting strategy. Steady to flush, shot and fall. 

Keep in mind, what I did with the dog in the “Magic Brushpile” video can take a few sessions. In the video I ran through it quickly so people could see the power of the Brushpile. Don’t be concerned if, with some dogs, it takes 10 or more sessions. There is no hurry.

I have been getting a lot of feedback about the MBP video. I’ve included here, answers to some of the questions people have as they put the “Magic Brushpile” training into practice.

Use the right length check cord, 15 feet. Watch my MBP video again. There I demonstrate the correct use of the check cord. Practice manipulating the check cord. Hook it to your training buddy (a human), and work him or her on the MBP. It’s fun and you both might learn something. This is important. Your job as handler is to control the slack or lack of slack in the check cord with good timing. The check cord is our tool of communication.

When I’m working a dog on the MBP, to help clients understand, I break it up into four goals. First I want to see the dog, while on the check cord, stop himself instead of me using the check cord to stop him. Once he demonstrates that to me three or four times, with many dogs, we’re done for the day. The second goal is for the dog to stop himself after I drop the check cord. I bring him up to about where he has been stopping himself, and gently drop the cord, within a couple of steps, he should stop himself. I will then step on the check cord just before I launch the bird (I don’t want him breaking or moving toward the bird). I now want him to demonstrate this to me three or four times. The third goal is for the dog to stop and defer while the shooter walks out front. This is done with the handler back to managing the check cord again. You need to be there if he needs help (I don’t want him breaking or moving toward the bird). Once he demonstrates that he will stop himself and defer while the shooter walks to front, (remember, at this point, the handler is holding the check cord), I want him to show me a couple more times. Now we’re ready for the final goal. I start him with the check cord and when I get near to the area where he has been stopping, I drop the check cord. If he understands, he will stop on his own and defer while the shooter walks to front, the bird is launched, the gun goes off, the bird hits the ground and the shooter brings the bird and gives it to the dog. Shooters remember, you need to be walking two or three paces behind and to the side 30 to 50 feet of the handler. On the walkup, I don’t want you in the dogs peripheral vision. I want his focus on the MBP.

So it’s:

(1) shooter out front while handler check cords the dog toward the MBP.

(2) Shooter out front, handler drops check cord just before dog stops (then steps on the cord just before bird is launched).

(3) Shooter now behind and to the side while handler check cords the dog toward the MBP. If the dog understands, it should “defer” to the shooter (trusting, asking for help).

(4) Handler starts the dog toward the MPB and drops the cord. Dog should stop, defer to the shooter and remain steady through SWSF and the return of the bird.

Watch my “Magic Brushpile” video 10 more times. There is a ton of information there. Something really important is how I manipulate the check cord. Handlers need to be in touch with the dog. The check cord is our connection. Talk to them with it.

Keep the questions coming.


Brad Higgins Discusses Steadiness & Trust

Here is a short video recorded during one of our recent training sessions.

Sophia,HGD Manages a Covey

Here is Sophia, handled by Martha, managing a covey of partridge. These were challenging conditions with virtually no wind, warm temperatures and spooky birds that wanted to run, not fly. They did an outstanding job staying in touch and pressuring the covey just enough to get them to stop, but not so much as to cause them to flush. Sophia managed those birds for another 1000 yards or so before they stopped on a far ridge, and held for the gun.

Magic Brushpile Launcher Rental Program

Since I put up the most recent “Magic Brushpile” video, ( ) there has been a lot of interest in what I call the “bang machine” (Zinger launcher). I know, they’re expensive. With electronics, about $600.  That’s why I’ve started a bang machine rental program.

If this is something you might be interested in, or you’d like more information, please let me know.





Partridge Gone Wild

Here is a short video of some of our training partridge. These birds are about as close to wild as you can get.

Good dog work depends on good, wild acting birds. No dog will ever come close to catching one of these. I often invite them to try.



Nurture the Natural Rtrieve

I’m working on a new training video. It will show how I get a beautiful retrieve without pressure or obedience. Here is a short clip that will be a part of the new, upcoming video. Please excuse the wind noise. I will edit that out when the video is complete.

Here is the text that accompanies this clip.

Here is a video showing one of the phases of our natural retrieve training. Because I don’t use obedience in this, I need to work with the dog’s instinctive responses. Instead of a “fetch”, command, I need to encourage him to “share the kill”. In the beginning, I do this by bringing him in, taking the bird but then petting him up and sharing it with him. I also encourage him to walk and carry the bird. Pretty soon he no longer sees me as the one that wants to steal his kill. Instead, he offers to share it with me.

Will and Glen Working Coveys

Here is Glencuan Will and Saddel Glenn working a covey of partridge today. In the first clip, Will manages the birds and points the covey. He moves a foot and, if you look closely, you can see the birds run off in front of him. The birds are teaching him to be steady. The second and third clips are of Glenn pointing singles.



Glencuan Will Learning the “Stop Moving” Cue

Here is a short video of Will working on the whistle cued, “Stop Moving”. This will be necessary information when we begin asking him to flush the birds then immediately stop moving (no chasing). Remember, whenever possible, we don’t tell the dog’s what to do (that’s obedience, the removal of free will), we want to tell them what to stop doing. In other words, we want them to use their free will and try a different strategy for success. They already know how to do this. It’s inherent in all predators.

Ruger Managing a Running Chukar

Here is Ruger’s first experience learning to manage a running chukar. His job here, as with all running birds, is to manage the bird with just enough pressure to get it to stop, but not so much as to make it flush. If you look closely, you can see the bird running in front of the dog. You can also hear me helping him control his energy. He listens and responds to my timing and the tone of my voice. I don’t use any type of “whoa” training in my program so if Ruger decided to break and try to catch or chase the bird, he is free to do so, and he knows it. He did a great job. He managed the bird carefully and chose to stop at the perfect time (he was not stopped by the dragging check cord). The bird stopped running and held for the shooter. Ruger was then steady to wing and shot. A great example of trust and free will. He knows I’m there to help him make successful decisions. Once the bird was shot, he was released to retrieve (successfully get the bird in his mouth).

Free Will & Instinct

I often have spirited conversations with trainers about the fundamental differences between my method and typical obedience based training. In general, we disagree about what naturally motivates a dog and how dogs, through free will, can learn to manage their energy (excitement) in a positive way. Here is an example. If an untrained dog can be running through a field and in a split second, slam on point and remain motionless, he is showing us that he certainly has the ability to manage himself (control his energy level). With my method, my goal is to get him to choose to use the same management skills when a bird flushes, a gun goes off or a bird falls. It has to do with instinct and learning to control emotion. I’m not against some obedience training. It’s just that I want to give a dog the opportunity to show me who he is and what his strong points and weaknesses are before I start replacing any of his natural instinct with obedience.

If we agree that “pointing” is an instinct (a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned), then we must also agree that the act of pointing elicits a change in emotion, (instincts i.e.; emotion, feeling). Our argument, obedience vs free will, hinges on how we, as trainers, choose to deal with this emotional transition.

A dog’s natural instinct is to point, then pounce in order to catch the prey. For our purposes, I believe we would all agree that instead of the pounce, we want the dog to remain steady until told to flush the bird (as in our flush/stop cue) or, as is practiced in the US, remain steady while the shooter or handler flushes and shoots the bird.

With obedience training, we sometimes see problems including blinking, flagging, lack of style, reduced desire, etc. All of these problems can be boiled down to a reaction caused by the transition from one emotion to another. As an example, when the dog smells a bird and points, his instinctual emotions are desire, anticipation, etc. Now a problem occurs. The way he sees it, here you come to pressure him to stay, while you steal his point. As soon as he is given a command to remain steady, the emotional transition occurs. Now his emotions switch to intimidation, anxiety, frustration, and sometimes fear (blinking).

Instead of punishing the dog for his natural pounce response (instinct) and then dealing with his transition to the associated negative emotions, (intimidation, fear, anxiety, frustration), what if we simply showed the dog how to be successful? If we allowed him the free will to learn that pouncing, after the point, simply doesn’t work? In doing this, we will have traded all those negative emotions for positive ones (trust, desire, anticipation, happiness). These positive emotions allow a dog to show us all his natural talent, drive and focus.

Here is an example. In the video below, a young Viszla teaches himself that being steady and asking the shooter to go out front, leads to success (a bird in his mouth). Notice when he recognizes a birdy place (the Magic Brushpile). His emotions are cautious, confident and cunning. He knows from experience, that he cannot be successful in getting the bird himself. He stops and with a glance, he asks the shooter for help. He then remains steady while the shooter walks by, flushes, shoots, and returns with the bird. Because the dog used his free will to make successful decisions, there were no negative emotional transitions necessary. He stays happy and stylish. There were a number of positive emotional transitions occurring, all of which add to his style and confidence. So, we had cautious, confident and cunning transition to cooperation and trust (when he asked the shooter for help), then anticipation after the bird was shot. All these positive emotions help to create not only a stylish, physically steady dog in a short amount of time, but one that reaches a new level, the “mentally steady” dog.

Before watching the video, please read the comments there. They will be helpful in understanding how we use the “Magic Brushpile”.

Brad Higgins