We will soon have a “Community” page linked to our “Higgins Gundogs” website. It will be similar to a “Groups” page on Facebook. Members can get together, discuss any topics and even search for specific topics of interest. There will be member profile pages too where you can look for other members with similar interests in your area. It will be the best of a blog and a forum. In the meantime, if you would, please use this forum page to keep in touch. I’ll be announcing some upcoming events here soon.
The Higgins Method is unique among dog training methods. Our foundation is based on trust, not obedience. Trust is innate in all social (pack) animals. It is a survival mechanism that has served the species well. It is what makes all cooperative endeavors possible.
In a mutually beneficial dog/owner relationship, trust is the glue that holds everything together. This means you as the owner and handler, have a responsibility. The only way you can make a gundog trustworthy is to first, show him that his odds of success increase if he includes you in his hunt. Then step out of the way, allow him free will and trust him. The surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him.
When it comes to teaching a dog to be steady, obedience training is limited in it’s potential. It can create no more than a temporary, physical steadiness. It never taps into the dogs true nature and potential. Think of it this way, obedience training nurtures an untrusting, adversarial relationship. You say “whoa” and threaten to punish him because you don’t trust him to be steady. He, in turn, is unsteady because he does not trust you to help him be successful. True steadiness is a matter of persuasion, not obedience. By nurturing trust you create much more than physical steadiness, you create a mental steadiness. With mental steadiness comes natural focus, drive and intensity; the evolution of the cunning nature of the predator.
For those academics out there, and you know who you are, here is the Higgins Method as seen in its mathematical equation.
Steadiness must be seen from the dog’s perspective. After all, only he is in control of the outcome. You can control his cooperation, you can make him respect you but you cannot make him trust you. Trust happens when he voluntarily chooses to give you these things. He will show you mental and physical steadiness when he finds you trustworthy.
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 is an article I wrote a while back. I thought I would repost it for those that may not have seen it. I believe it does a good job of explaining how the dogs see thing and the fundamental differences in training methods.
Synergy, The Theory Behind The Higgins Method
By Brad Higgins
Training is defined as the conscious and planned process of transferring knowledge, skills and attitudes to others. Learning, on the other hand is defined as the processing and assimilation of what we hear, see or experience that alters or improves our knowledge, skills and attitudes.
Conventional training is an attempt to transfer human knowledge to a dog. The problem is that the dog comes to the table with his own instinct and acquired knowledge. He is not willing to give up what he knows unless we can show him something better. This article is about how dogs learn, their nature and how they can be encouraged to hunt cooperatively with their human counterpart.
Hunting birds with us (humans) puts a pointing dog at a distinct disadvantage. We require him to hunt in an unfair situation where he can’t be successful. He can’t catch the bird. To make it even more unfair, the shooter going out front, from the dogs point of view, is stealing his point. If we’re going to do these things to him, we need to help the dog see the hunt in a different way.
It begins with Synergy. Defined as two or more things (in this case dog/shooter) functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable. In the Higgins method, signs of synergy or cooperative hunting the dogs naturally display are, the glance (passing the baton), honoring the shooter and handling.
Studies of the evolution of cooperative hunting (Packer & Ruttan 1987) have shown that the propensity of predators to hunt cooperatively varies enormously across species. At one extreme, most mammalian carnivores are solitary, always hunting alone (Ewer 1973). At the other extreme, a number of species hunt in groups and are assumed always to hunt cooperatively, at least to the extent that all group members hunt simultaneously (e.g., canids (dogs), herons, some hawks, and some falcons).
In the analysis, four strategies are considered that span the spectrum of possibilities during the hunt.
A cooperator: Always hunts in the presence of a companion. Thus, if the partner is also a cooperator, they hunt as a pair. Otherwise, the cooperator hunts by itself.
A deferrer: Will hunt if he is the first to recognize the presence of prey but stop if his partner joins in the hunt. A deferrer does not hunt if he is the second to recognize the presence of prey. A deferrer hunts at every opportunity when alone since he is always the “first” to locate the prey while alone.
A solitary: Avoids others of his species and thus, always hunts alone.
A scavenger never hunts.
We will focus on the two strategies displayed by domesticated dogs, the cooperator and the deferrer. A gundog’s natural hunting strategy is largely governed by his personality. A bold dominant dog will tend to be more of a cooperator. The sensitive, more submissive types tend to be more willing to defer. We refer to this as a specific dog’s “default strategy”. Of course environment is very important too; access to hunting opportunity, amount of obedience training, etc.
We begin by introducing the young dog to the field to allow his natural predatory instinct and prey drive to develop. He is allowed to hunt, bump, chase and catch a few birds. He is introduced to the gun and has some birds shot over him.
At this stage, I like to put the dog out with a second dog and hunt them together. I do this so he can reveal his natural default strategy as either a cooperator or a deferrer. If he naturally honors the other dog, by definition he is a deferrer.
Now the Magic Brushpile (MBP)i comes into play ( https://youtu.be/8vDfeE1405c ) to help the dog learn a new hunting strategy that will be necessary if he is to successfully hunt with us. The dog has been allowed to hunt the MBP alone in order for him to associate it with a “birdy place”. The dog also learns that whenever he runs in, birds leave. We have created a problem for him that will require a new tactic.
To help the dog learn, we start with the shooter standing near the MBP. A handler then brings the dog out. Initially, most dogs try to work the MBP themselves while ignoring the shooter. After a few unsuccessful attempts the dog will try deferring to the shooter. As soon as he does, the dog is rewarded (the shooter kills him a bird and delivers it to him). The next step in the process is to remove the shooter from his position in front of the dog. The shooter now starts from a position behind the dog as he would in a typical hunting scenerio. There is nothing between the dog and the “birdy place”. In order to be successful, the dog must stop before he flushes a bird, and ask the shooter to go out front. A glance at the shooter (passing the baton) is his way of showing that he understands and has made this transition. The dog has learned that he must immediately transition from cooperator to deferrer in order to be successful. The dog must stop when he recognizes the presence of prey then defer to the shooter.
Through the use of the Magic Brushpile, we have helped the dog created a fifth strategy. We’ll call it the Transitioner. In order to be successful, he has learned to switch immediately from his default strategy (cooperator) to that of a deferrer. This is why we see the Black Holeii more pronounced in some dogs than others. If we have a bold, dominant dog (cooperator) that has had extensive obedience training, we can expect a longer, deeper Black Hole. He has more learning, (and unlearning) to do. Conversely, if the dog’s natural personality and past experience lean more toward that of a deferrer, we don’t see much Black Hole. Deferring or honoring already makes sense to this dog.
When a dog trained with conventional methods goes on point, he sees the shooter going out front as stealing his point. That’s the only way it makes sense to him. With the Higgins Method, the dog learns that our going out front and killing the bird is helping him be successful. In other words, the dog has choosen to honor or “defer” even though he was the first to recognize the presence of a bird. When hunting with us, he has used his natural instinct to learn to be both a cooperator and a deferrer.
Dogs don’t see us, or for that matter, more successful dog as being leaders, they simply see us as more successful hunters. Deferring is their way of asking to share in our success. The Higgins Method is the natural and instinctive way for dogs to learn to hunt cooperatively with us. It is so intuitive that they accept and teach themselves a new hunting strategy, a transitioner, specifically designed to work with the human partner; pack dynamics in its purest form.
i A fenced brushpile containing bird launchers where I have remote control over when birds flush, how many, when and if they’re shot, and where they land (close or far from the dog).
ii A natural behavior including nose to the ground and erratic movement we see dogs display while transitioning from instinctual responses to learned responses.
Glencuan Alex and Glencuan Basso
“The chief glory of the sport is to shoot over a brace of raking pointers, matched for speed and style, sweeping over the rough places like swallows, and passing each other as if they were fine ladies not introduced.”
William Arkwright, The Pointer and His Predecessors, 1906
All of my ‘“training” is based on helping the dog understand my role. My goal is to have him understand and accept that I possess a power that he does not. I can consistently catch the prey. I want him to include me as an available tool that can help him be successful in his problem solving. This is an important concept when trying to understand how dog’s think. They don’t see ‘‘hunting” the same way you do. First, the reason they hunt, their motivation, is to catch the prey (success is a bird in their mouth). A conventional trainers goal is different. He wants to shoot birds over a stylish, good looking dog. One that is steady while maintaining all his natural drive, intensity and focus. The best way to bring these two different goals together is not through obedience, but rather, to step into the dog’s world and see things from his perspective.
Dogs learn by association. To state it clearly, learning takes place in the mind not in behavior. It involves the formation of mental representations of the elements of a task and the discovery of how these elements are related.
We’ll use hunting a pheasant as an example. This will be from the dog’s perspective. The primary part of a dogs predator/prey instinct includes problem solving. To be more specific, I like to refer to it as dynamic problem solving. He sees bird hunting the way we see a chess match. Problem solving based on ever changing events. This is what he will use to hunt and hopefully, get this bird in his mouth.
Once he has been released to hunt, the first problem has been presented. “I need to find the bird”. Past experience tells him to use his nose, read the wind, hunt objectives, etc. Now he smells a bird. Next problem, “analyze the situation”. What is it, is it still, is it running, etc. He doesn’t want to flush the bird so to deal with this potential problem, he points. Now what. He knows that if he goes in, it will flush and he will be unsuccessful. The best way to fix this problem is to choose an option, a strategy that he knows works. He will “defer to the shooter”, remaining steady while the shooter goes out front to shoot the bird.
There it is. He has used the power of associative learning to understand that instead of pursuing the bird, if he remains steady, allows the shooter to go out front and catch the bird, he will be successful and get the bird in his mouth.
More coming up in the next blog about retrieving and how the dog sees it. (Hint: Retrieving is chasing birds).
This is Deva, our new 4 month old Pointer pup. This is her first steadiness session on the checkcord (basically the beginning of her Magic Brushpile work, http://higginsgundogs.com/about-us/our-method/method-flowchart/ ) and the beginning of her steadiness training. Before this, as per the flowchart, she learned how to hunt and find birds, she handles well in the field, likes the gun and has a nice “here” command on the checkcord.
The most important thing to watch here is the checkcord work. Once she finds a bird and decelerates, (gets careful and stealthy), I don’t want to have the checkcord tight. Watch the checkcords shadow. A loose checkcord means she is choosing to be careful. If I have to constantly restrain her, she isn’t learning anything.
You’ll see here, we are introducing the Flush/Stop cue. She is allowed to flush the birds but only on my verbal “alright”. If some prefer that the shooter flushes the birds, just keep her there while the shooter goes in and flushes.
At this stage, the shooter does the retrieve. Dogs see retrieving as chasing birds. I don’t want to confuse her here. Retrieving comes last in the training process, after steadiness. You’ll notice in the video, she does not realize the shooter is going to do the retrieve, bringing her bird back and giving it to her. 3 birds later, she understood the teamwork and stood, solid as a rock.
The collar she is wearing is a GPS collar. No e-collars, commands or hand signals are used.
Hope you enjoy it. I’ll put up more videos soon.
Here is a video showing how I train handlers. Because I create human and dog hunting teams, it’s important that each member understand their role and responsibilities. Once the dog understands how to be successful with our unique hunting strategy, it’s time to train the owner/handlers.
Special thanks to Katy Stuehm of Griffonpoint kennel, the breeder of Cabi, Reagan Olivares, shooter supreme, Griffinpoint Cabi and of course Joe Drew for giving me the opportunity to do my magic.
Andie Mann came out this week for a couple of days of training. I worked with Andie in the past but had not seen her for three years. She brought her three dogs, Jameson, Julie and Rayne. All the dogs did well. They remembered their past training and made me proud.
This is Griffonpoint W’ Moose learning the Flush/Stop cue. What we want here is an aggressive flush followed by an immediate stop-to- flush. This is a great psychological exercise that leads to a whole new level of trust, cooperation and steadiness.
Basically, I make a deal with the dogs. I’ll let you do what you’ve always wanted to do, flush the birds, but in return, you can only do it if, and when I ask. They all take the deal.
They’re so much better at this stuff than we are.