The Unique Higgins Method, Falconry for Dogs

Here is a photo of Jeremy Kessler’s prairie falcon on a pheasant with his dog Grizz


As many of you know, I train dogs for use in wingshooting and falconry. What makes the Higgins Method unique is that, instead of conventional obedience based methods, I train the dogs using the same method I use to successfully train hawks and falcons.

Along with the dog training, I’ve been a master falconer for more years than I care to share. That’s where I learned about the predator mind. Hawks, falcons and dogs, when it comes to hunting, they all think the same. As with most experienced falconers, I can trap a wild hawk or falcon and have it cooperating and successfully hunting game with me in 2 to 3 weeks. With the dogs, because I train them like the falcons, they’re even easier. I don’t have to tame them first! Falcon style training for the dogs obviously works.

My method of training (falconry for dogs) is readily understood and accepted by the dogs. The reason is, my method and falconry are both based on the building of trust, not obedience. There can be no denying it. To help understand, I’ve included some truths about falconry and working with the birds. Here, you will see the similarities between my method and the training of hawks and falcons.

First and foremost, when training and hunting with a hawk or falcon, they must have free will. Free will is the opportunity to make natural choices with no negative associations tied to the handler (falconer). You can’t use obedience or coerce them into doing anything. You cannot use any pressure or punishment. If you do, they will simply leave. You can’t get frustrated, or lose your temper. There are no vocal commands or hand signals. Done correctly, there is no training through repetition.

To show the similarities between my method and the training and flying of hawks and falcons (falconry), let me show you the definitions of  some old school falconry terms. The similarities will become obvious.

Bagged Quarry:  “Captive prey which is released under a hawk during training or when game is scarce to insure a flight for the hawk.” This is what I do during training and on early hunts with the dogs.

Creance: “A line or cord attached to the hawk during early training”. This is my personal favorite. This is how I use a “checkcord”. It’s not about obedience. Once I show them how to be successful using the creance (checkcord), it is removed and they are “flown free”. There is no pressure or obedience here. In early training, I’m simply managing success.

Entering: “To fly a hawk at quarry for the first time or to arrange a situation such that a hawk has an easy opportunity to be successful.” Sounds like when I first begin dropping the creance.

Hack: “A process of allowing a newly fledged eyess (young, inexperienced bird) to fly at liberty with purpose of reaching it’s full power of flight under a simulated natural wild situation.” This is how I introduce the pups to the field and birds. “At liberty” is the key word here.

Lure: “An object which is made of feathers, leather plastic, etc., used as a means of recall.” I always have a live quail on a string in my vest. It’s a great tool to use with the dogs on occasion when teaching a recall. They come running to see if there might be a bird. The secret is in using it sparingly. Dogs, and predators in general, are gamblers. Success in this case is not guaranteed. They come in to the handler happy every time, just in case.

Make Hawk:  “An older, more experienced hawk which is flown with an eyess (young, inexperienced hawk or falcon) to serve as an example or for encouragement.” In early training, I often run the pups with an older, experienced dog.

Man (manning): ” To accustom a hawk to men, to handling, and to strange sights and sounds.”  Similar to socializing a young pup when he first comes home.

Serve: “To flush or put up quarry under a hawk”. I encourage the dogs to flush/stop on my cue. I guess it could be seen as “self serve”.

Wait on: “To circle overhead of the falconer waiting for quarry to be flushed.” The way I see it with the dogs, this is similar to their “point”.

Predators have the talent and the tools to be successful hunters. It’s their dance. For the best results, we have to play by their rules. The bottom line is, you are asking them to include you in their hunt. They will accept you as a viable partner in the hunt when they trust that you are there to help them be successful.





Hawking With Higgins Gundogs

Here is a short video of some of our training/hunting today. Griffonpoint Bellibone does a nice job of finding and pointing chukar and is steady under Bene, our female Harris’ Hawk.

An important part of the Higgins method of training includes the use of hawks and falcons. Especially useful in helping gun-shy dogs build hunting desire and focus before the reintroduction of the gun. The use of the hawk also reinforces steadiness, honoring and hunting cooperation. Falconry is an excellent way to enrich your hunting dog’s experiences.

This was filmed at our new hunting/training venue located in the high desert of Yerington, Nevada, in the Northeast Mason Valley.