VIDEO: 6 Month Old Bird Dog

Here is a young dog we recently trained. He is steady to wing, shot and fall. He also stops to flush and has a natural retrieve.

People often ask how we can get such a young dog (6 months old) understanding this level of steadiness and still maintain his natural drive, intensity and focus. The reason is, I don’t use any pressure or obedience in his steadiness training and bird work. My method is success based. He knows that If he cooperates, I’ll help him get the bird in his mouth.


Brad Higgins

Retrieving From the Dogs Perspective

In conventional gundog training, force fetch or retrieve training is usually taught early, along with other obedience commands. People often ask why I instead, add a natural retrieve as the last step in training.

Retrieve, in my method, is done last, after a dog understands that steadiness leads to success and that we can help (the building of trust). In a dogs mind, retrieving, as an obedience command, is unnatural. The fact that you’re going to force the dog to bring his reward to you so you can steal it from him makes you by definition, “untrustworthy” in his eyes. That’s why it takes pressure and lots of repetition. Early retrieve work, before building trust, can lead to problems including a lack of desire due to adding unnecessary stress. In my method, because we add the retrieve AFTER building trust, the dogs see it not as an obedience command, but as naturally sharing the kill.

Brad Higgins

Proofing a Steady Dog

Higgins Gundogs are trained and managed to a high level. They must be able to adapt to new and unusual situations and control their excitement level. We want to see all their style and intensity, but they must choose to remain steady. Here, we’re proofing a seasoned dog. This is Greg Belanger, HGDH and his dog HGD Harry. This was filmed a while ago during one of our training hunts. While Harry is managing a moving pheasant, we release a young, untrained pup. The pup goes out and bumps and chases Harry’s bird. What is Harry’s response? He doesn’t break, he manages his energy. He is steady to flush, shot and kill. He is able to do this because he has learned to trust us. He knows, with our help, he will get his bird.

Steadiness = Managing Your Dog’s Energy

This is an excerpt from a recent post on my blog. He was commenting on a recent video I posted,

He wrote in part:

I noticed the woman flushing was almost creeping in on tiptoes when in front of her dog. Others take a much more positive or aggressive approach. Do you have an opinion on whether there is a best way to approach and flush a pointed bird?


My answer:

To answer your question, whenever we are working with a dog and especially when we go in front of a dog on point, our focus is in managing the dog’s energy or excitement. Flushing the bird is secondary. This gets a little deep but stick with me. Unlike obedience or “whoa” trainers, my goal is to help the dog control himself so he doesn’t break and flush or chase the bird. A “whoa” trainer’s goal is different. He has no interest in helping the dog be successful (getting the bird in his mouth), he wants the dog to be obedient to the “whoa” command. In training, he wants the dogs energy or excitement level to surpass it’s ability to be steady so he can enforce obedience with an e-collar shock.

If I am good at managing the dogs level of energy, he doesn’t break and doesn’t require the use of an e-collar. The same energy or excitement that gives you a stylish, intense point, is the same energy that, when left uncontrolled, will rise beyond the dogs ability to remain still, causing the dog to break or chase.

Ok, now back to your question. Martha and Katy (the shooter), being good Higgins Gundog Handlers, were effectively managing Sophia’s energy. They felt she was pretty excited (being new to coveys of chukar) and they were helping her control herself. Remember, it’s always a balancing act. We want the dogs to display all the style and intensity they possess. Equally important is we don’t want to push the dog over the top and cause them to break.

What we do here is dog training at another level. It all boils down to building a relationship with your dog based on mutual trust. This is the nature of the dog.

Brad Higgins
Higgins Gundogs

Building Associations

A few years ago I was contacted by Unleashed Technologies. They had developed a variable intensity, vibration-only collar and asked if I would test it for them.

Here are 4 dogs learning the “here” command with a vibrating collar all in less than 30 minutes. As I say, dogs don’t naturally learn based on obedience. They learn by association.

Brad Higgins

Understanding the Retrieve From the Dog’s Perspective

Some have asked why I teach dogs to retrieve as the last step in their training when conventional training dictates that it should be taught as one of the initial obedience commands for pointing dogs.

When the fetch “command” is taught in the beginning, before the dog learns to be cooperative and steady, it is by definition, obedience. From the dog’s perspective, he is being forced to perform these tasks to avoid trainer induced pressure. However, when the retrieve is encouraged after the dog has learned to trust the owner and understands that being steady leads to success, in his eyes, retrieving is a reward, not an e-collar enforced obedience drill. It is much easier to retain the dog’s natural enthusiasm for retrieving when he does it naturally.

The same holds true for the flush/stop cue for the pointing dogs. In the UK and here at Higgins Gundogs, this style of hunting, where the dog on point is cued to flush the bird for the shooter, then stop on the flush, is practiced. The dogs see this cue in the same way they see a cue to retrieve. Basically, they see it as a cue to procure the prey. Keep in mind why dogs point. It is the pause before the pounce. In conventional training here in the US, the dog is  never allowed to pounce. His entire reason for pointing is taken away and replaced with pressure and obedience. It’s no wonder some of the softer dogs can loose style and intensity in these situations.

It’s interesting that this method of allowing the dogs to pounce, but only on cue, makes them much steadier overall. Enthusiasm, style and intensity increase when he knows  his reason for pointing will be realized, it’s just a matter of waiting for the cue. This is dog work on another level. I call it more than “physically steady”, this is when they become “mentally steady”.

Brad Higgins








Martha and Sophia, Higgins Gundog and Handler

Here is a recent video of HGDH Martha Zimet and her dog HGD Sophia. They both recently received their Higgins Gundog certifications. Martha stopped by for a few days earlier this month to handle Sophia in some new and challenging hunting scenarios. Birds are the real trainers and nothing better than covies of chukar to season a dog.

Here is an important comment taken from the video: Higgins Gundogs are more than physically steady, they are mentally steady. When a dog reaches this level, it’s important to understand that a different type of handling is required. Quiet, calm and unhurried. You’re not enforcing obedience, you’re simply helping the dog by managing the excitement level of the hunt.



Chukar Training Hunt 7/18/14

This is a video I shot last week during one of our chukar training hunts.

Once the dogs understand that steadiness leads to success and they begin to trust in our ability to help them, it’s time to “season” them. I set up different, realistic hunts to help them gain experience and confidence for the real world. Gundogs trained in the Higgins method are more than just physically steady. They are taken to a higher level. They are mentally steady as well.


The Flush/Stop Command

Here is a recent video of Glenn learning the Flush/Stop Command. This is something we like to use in our unique sport we call “Classic Hunting”.

Allowing the dog the freedom to flush his birds on command actually makes a dog more steady. He knows that if he waits, he is going to be allowed to flush his bird (pause before the pounce). His anticipation really shows in his increased level of staunchness and intensity. This is also a great tool I like to use to reinforce our trust relationship.

Retrieve: To Control the Predator Simply Control the Prey

I’ve had some questions lately about how I train a dog to retrieve. Here is an overview of how a dog sees it and how I get in his brain.

I don’t use obedience, don’t need it. I simply nurture their natural instinct to chase and catch prey. My method is based on the natural order of things. When it comes to predators, they are controlled by the prey. Let me say that again. The prey is controlling and managing the hunt. Not the dog and certainly not the owner.  As an example, if the birds are spooky and run or fly off when you enter the field (late season pheasants sound familiar?), they have controlled the hunt.  The prey is ultimately in control of the dogs success. It makes sense then, that when it comes to retrieving, if I can control the prey (the object being retrieved), I control the predator.

Some dogs naturally love retrieving and will bring it back as many times as you will throw it. Others do it well once they’re shown how it works. Remember, the thing you throw ( a bird, a bumper, a dummy), from your dogs point of view, is prey. You’ll find that most dogs will run out to the object you throw. That’s instinctively chasing prey. For those that don’t naturally bring it back, I need to show them how the game works. Bringing it back (sharing the prey) is not a natural response. I need to create a reward for sharing. Here’s what I do. I tie a string to the object then throw it out, hanging on to the end of the string. When they go to it, I will say fetch and pull the object back to me. Once I get it in my hand, I praise the dog and offer it back to him. As soon as he understand how this works, I will take off the string. Now I throw the object out and say fetch. When the dog leaves for the retrieve, I walk away in the opposite direction. No pressure, no competition for the object, no self centered interest. He now realizes I’m not going to take his prize and in fact, he needs to find a way to keep me engaged. He learns that if he chooses to share it with me, I will make it fly away so he can chase, and catch it again (predator/prey). It does not take long before the dog brings it to me and asks me to throw it again.

Something else I find very effective is to work on the other side of the trust equation. I have a helper hold the dog while I throw the object out. Now, with the dog restrained, I walk out to the object, pick it up, stand still and say fetch. The helper releases the dog who then comes to ME for the retrieve. When he arrives, I share it with him just as he shared it with me earlier. For those dogs with a history of obedience training, this can be a mind bending experience.

Everything I do is based on building and maintaining trust. Whenever possible, I want a dog using his free will and choosing to include me in his success.