Diva In the Field

Had our beautiful and talented import (Denmark), Matresse’s Diva out in the field today. Special thanks to her breeder Jan Espersen.

Here are a couple of photos. I’ll have some video posted soon of her during a recent partridge hunt.

Black Pointer Pups

Here is one of our black pointer pups working some chukar. This has been an outstanding litter. At this time I have one male available to the right home.

Higgins Gundogs “B” Litter

Our new black European Pointer pups are 12 weeks old now. All are hunting aggressively, managing their birds, pointing and retrieving birds on land & water. These pups are beautifully balanced and socialized and are as good in the house as they are in the field. In a few more weeks, all will be Higgins Gundog certified and ready for deserving homes.

Here is a link to the latest video.

Urinary Incontinence in Puppies and Dogs

Urinary Incontinence in Puppies and Dogs, My Experiences and Solutions.

With contributions by Dr. Tracy Acosta, Acosta Veterinary Hospital In 2006,

I raised a large litter of Wirehaired Pointing Griffon puppies. One of the pups I kept was a wonderfully comical, joyful female that I named Bellibone. She was a healthy, precocious pup until she was around 8 weeks old. At that young age, she became depressed, lethargic, and began drinking more water than she should have been. Upon examining her, I discovered that she had some white discharge from her vulva and she did not smell right. My reproductive specialist veterinarian at the time prescribed ten days of amoxicillin. The puppy felt better and we just assumed that she had a low grade UTI. However, a few weeks after the last dose of antibiotics, Bellibone began to show signs of discomfort again, began peeing in her crate after only an hour or two, and was ‘spot peeing’ small amounts frequently in and out of the house. After another round of amoxicillin, the same thing happened. She felt better during the course (this time her vet ran a urine sample to confirm the infection), but a few weeks after the course, the symptoms returned, but worse. This cycle continued and she ended up with a canine urologist at UC Davis for diagnosis. After Nuclear Scintigraphy, a Contract Study, and thousands of dollars, the specialist ruled out Ectopic Ureters, anatomical contributors, and everything else he could think of. But the infection still raged on, migrating to her kidneys and making her extremely ill. She was five months old, in stage one kidney disease, and was taking 675mg of Clavamox twice a day. But the cycle continued to repeat itself for three months…14 days of Clavamox and better health, two weeks later, symptoms that the infection was still present. Then she had her first heat cycle at 8 months old, the infection did not return, and Bellibone became the outgoing, nutty puppy she had been.

Bellibone’s persistent infection remained a mystery until I sent a puppy up to a family in Washington State. They took her to their country vet for her puppy wellness exam. The vet was so impressed by her that he phoned me to enquire about getting a pup from me in the future. He commented that the pup brought to him was wonderful and healthy, that the only thing he would advise was that the owners should keep her vulva clean with zinc free baby wipes once a week until she had her first and ideally second heat cycle before she was spayed. When I asked why, he told me that she had a ‘cloaked vulva’ which simply meant that she had excessive skin around her vulva that could retain debris, causing chronic UTIs until she had a heat cycle whereby her vulva would become stretched out permanently, eliminating the creases that retained and brewed infections.

That call was an “EUREKA!” moment. I took the information back to Bellibone’s urology specialist and he confirmed that she had a cloaked vulva. Since that experience, I have seen this condition in many, many other dogs and breeds. Over the years, owners frequently contact me for help with their incontinent puppies. If female, I ask them to examine their pup to discover if she has a cloaked vulva right away. Dr. Tracy Acosta, who has her own successful practice in Biloxi, MS, agrees. She says, “…it [the female puppy’s vulva] should be checked on any routine exam, especially those with urinary issues of any kind.” But a cloaked vulva in a female pup is only one of many causes of UI. This UC Davis article about Urinary Incontinence suggests a few causes including Ectopic Ureters, but does not cover Cloaked Vulvas or other juvenile causes such as simple immaturity.

It needs to be mentioned that Urinary Incontinence and ‘tinkling’ when excited, are two, completely different things. When a puppy loses urine in excitement or submission, I simply ignore it and the behavior eventually goes away on its own. Sometimes it will resolve by the time they are a few months old, and sometimes it can persist until they are adults. Focusing on it, scolding the behavior, always makes it worse; a dog has no idea why a person is angry when they are piddling from excitement or submission and only become confused and nervous, often leading to more piddling. Dr. Acosta agrees, “Do NOT scold [for excited or submissive dribbling], ignoring this behavior works best.”

Puppies, like humans, do not have completely mature urinary tracts for some time. Each breed and each puppy will have their own maturation rate and owners must do what is necessary to accommodate their pups during house training and crate training. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I frequently get calls from puppy owners (of both male and female pups) who report that their pups were doing very well with house training but they have suddenly regressed. These pups might be ‘spot peeing’ in frequent, small amounts, ‘leaking’ (pooling) while asleep, piddling in their crates after a short time, drinking excessively, acting otherwise normally or behaving lethargically, their urine might be poorly concentrated (looking like water), etc. The first thought is to have the puppy examined by a veterinarian to rule out infection. However, many puppies will run a low grade UTI but be negative in a urine culture. This can be extremely difficult for a vet to treat.

In these cases, I error on the side of caution—preferring to treat the situation like it is an infection rather than a behavioral issue. Either way, the solution is the same. I recommend that young puppies, between 8 and 14 weeks old perhaps (healthy or with a suspected infection), not spend more than three to four hours straight, in a crate (this might be less for some pups). I recommend plenty of outdoor breaks during the day, and a break or even two in the middle of the night to take the pressure off of the small, immature bladder. This is even more important for small breeds! From 14-24 weeks old, they may have matured enough to handle up to six hours straight in their crate. After six months old, I go on a case by case basis, allowing that some six to eight month old pups might have mature enough urinary tracts to handle a full night without a break. Female pups who have cloaked vulvas can follow the same protocol so long as their vulvas are kept clean on a weekly basis (or more frequently depending upon the amount of skin coverage, extreme cases apparently require minor surgery to remove excess skin in the area). Dr. Acosta advises, “I recommend that owners of female dogs who are having chronic urinary issues keep the area around the vulva clean. I usually recommend an eye wash (not saline) because some baby wipes can have zinc which is toxic to dogs.”

There are some owners who choose to crate their pups all day while they are at work during the week, I do not recommend this for many reasons, and urinary tract stress is one of them. During the day, all systems accelerate and the urinary tract is one of them. During the day, dogs drink more and pee more. During the night, systems slow down. Dr. Acosta provides the following solutions, “A good alternative to crating all day is for owners to seek out a reputable day care facility. That way pup is socialized and not crated all day, I have many clients who take advantage of these services.”

In older dogs, the reasons for UI can be different. In my own Griffons, I have noticed that some of my females have become incontinent after being spayed. Apparently this is due to a condition called Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence. You can read more about this condition in this article. When dogs experience UI, depending upon the cause, veterinarians might prescribe hormone treatments, medications that strengthen the urethral sphincter, collagen injections, or surgery. Some owners who have little or no luck with diagnosis or treatments will find waterproof dog bed liners like these (I have used these for my large household full of young and old dogs alike for years and really like them). Some owners will also buy waterproof throws like these (I have one of these, it is a decent throw. It is a little heavy, but definitely prevents urine, vomit, and other fluids from soaking through.) While not a fun aspect of dog ownership, UI is not uncommon and we just have to deal with it as it comes, and not blame the dog. These products make it easier for us to deal with our loved pets’ incontinence issues.

Certainly urinating in the home can be behavioral. Some dogs will begin to ‘mark’ the house for various reasons and some dogs will give up on owners who have not been sensitive to their urgencies. But these behavioral issues should not be confused with UI due to infection, immaturity, senility, hormonal imbalance, or anatomical abnormalities. Cloaked vulva is also known as, tucked vulva, hooded vulva, hypoplastic vulva, recessed vulva, and juvenile vulva, see this article for a medical description of this condition.

Common causes for Urinary Incontinence:

  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Cloaked Vulva
  • Hormonal Imbalance
  • Weak Bladder Sphincter
  • Urinary Stones
  • Spinal Injury or Degeneration
  • Prostate Issues
  • Disease such as Diabetes (diabetes insipidus and mellitus), Hyperadrenocorticicm, Kidney Disease
  • Certain Medications
  • Congenital, Anatomic abnormalities such as ectopic ureters

To conclude, Dr. Acosta gives the following advice, “It is important for owners with male or female dogs with any form of urinary issue to have it medically investigated to rule out the easy rule outs. All female pups, no matter what breed, should have a good physical exam during their puppy vaccination series that determines if a cloaked/tucked vulva is obvious. I see tucked vulvas in all breeds, mixed and pure, and all sizes. Many female dogs that have this history of chronic UTI’s or urinary issues, have a tucked vulva. Tucked/cloaked vulvas are so easy to check for and can help relieve a lot of clients once they are diagnosed and other issues ruled are out. A very high percentage of the pups I see with this, resolve after first heat cycle. When I determine that a female has a tucked vulva, I let the owner know that they need to let the dog experience one heat cycle and then about 8 weeks after the cycle, let me examine her to determine if a spay can be done. Additionally, pups need potty breaks—and either owners make it happen, hire a pet sitter to do it, or utilize day care options.”

Written by Katy Stuehm with contributions by Dr. Tracy Acosta



**Do not copy or share without written permission from the author.**

Flagging Can Be a Beautiful Thing

Flagging can be a beautiful thing, if you know what you’re looking at. This is why reading a dog is so important. He’s talking to you if you’ll just listen.

Stalking is the strategy of all “ambush” predators (as opposed to the strategy of the “pursuit” predators). The point is actually a pause before the pounce. In this instance, the dog is setting up for his “flush/stop” cue. I can’t expect him to pounce until he knows where the target is. In this case, the wind had changed after he found scent. As you can see, he managed it well and didn’t panic. Beautiful style and intensity.

This is HGD Ch.Firle Oak California Chrome “REX”. He recently earned his Higgins Gundog title. Rex is owned by Jeff & Pam Bucher.

Higgins Gundog Training, 5/8/17

Lisa Durand of Glacier Griffons stopped by for a couple of days of training. Her dog Lies, is a one year old Griffon imported from Holland. Lies had had no prior bird work. All of her prior bird experience had been just bumping and chasing.

Dog naturally learn by association. Some examples would be, scent is a bird, scent moves downwind, gunfire precedes the fall of the bird, etc. I started by introducing her to birds and the field. I let her learn about bird scent and how it moves downwind. Because she was so visually oriented, I set up situations where, if she was to find the bird, she would have to use and begin trusting her nose. We then introduced the gun and shot a couple of birds for her. Next step was to show her a new hunting strategy that includes the shooter.

In order to bring out and maintain all of her natural drive and intensity, I need to keep her focused on the prey. That’s why, on my cue, I let the dogs flush the birds. The deal is, I’ll allow you to flush your bird but in return, you must never chase. She is learning that in order to be successful, the aggressive flush must always be followed by an immediate “stop to flush”.

In this video, she is shown that, steadiness, not chasing, produces the reward (a bird in her mouth). You can see she is beginning to put it all together. In another 4 or 5 birds, she will be running free in the field and will understand and demonstrate steady to scent, flush shot and fall.

Higgins Gundogs Community Page

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.

It All Boils Down To Trust

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.

Mental Steadiness=   ___Trust____


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.

True steadiness from the dogs perspective, is not based in operant conditioning or obedience. It is simply a voluntary decision to trust. 
Brad Higgins

Fully Trained Higgins Gundogs Are Now Available!

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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…

Synergy, The Theory Behind The Higgins Method

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 ( http://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.