In the Higgins Method, I don’t use verbal commands (“whoa”) or hand signals to manage or direct the dogs. Instead, management is primarily by body movement and timing, the same way dogs communicate with each other naturally.
My method is based on cooperation and trust. Instead of using conventional obedience drills, I allow the dogs the free will to make choices that lead to success (a bird in their mouth). Soon, they choose steadiness as the most successful strategy.
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.
Recently I was asked if I force fetch dogs. Here is my response.
No, I don’t need force fetch. That would work against the foundation of my method. My training is based on what naturally motives the dogs, trust and success. It’s why dogs, wolves, lions, social predators in general, form hunting groups or packs. I didn’t make this stuff up, it’s just the nature of the beasts. I don’t fight the truth, I accept it and work within their rules.
There are two very important things to remember here. One is that for dogs, all learning is based on association. It’s how the predator mind is wired. The other thing to remember is that dog’s see the retrieve as chasing birds. That’s why I only teach if after a dog is steady. Even then, in the beginning, he is not allowed every retrieve. Some, I go out and get while he remains steady. I then bring it back to him and share it. I don’t want him associating the retrieve (chase) with the drop of the bird. When the bird hits the ground, I want him to wonder if it might be his turn. Basically, the only consistent association to retrieving (chasing the bird) he has left, is the word “fetch”. When I say that, he knows he always gets to go.
Here is a link to an article I wrote a while ago. It describes how I help dogs learn to choose to retrieve.
Hope this helps.
Higgins Gundogs hunting etiquette
Dogs: Stay in touch and handle well. Always honor another dog’s point, be steady when necessary and manage the birds for the gun. Handlers: Be silent in the hunt. Allow the dog the freedom to do his work. Nurture the natural retrieve.
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.
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. There are a number of things I do to encourage a natural retrieve. For instance, for those that don’t naturally bring it back, I need to show them how the game works. As soon as he leaves for the bird, I turn around and begin slowly walking away. Now I have created a problem for him to solve. He wants the bird but he also wants to come with me. Only one way to fix the problem and have both. He picks up the bird and runs to me.
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.
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Higgins Gundogs provides gundog and owner training, using quiet, low pressure techniques based on dog psychology. We offer guide service in Lincoln, CA, as well as seminars, online video training, and of course our renown Higgins Remote Releaser. Our goal is to give you the tools, knowledge and confidence to train and handle your hunting dog yourself. Thanks for visiting us.