Just finished up three days of training with Gracie, a three year old Spinoni. She did very well and learned that being steady, instead of flushing and chasing birds, is the way to go. While she was here, she also learned “stop to flush” and to “honor” a dog on point. She will be back next month for a few day to practice her new strategy for success.
Here in part, is a recent question from the forum:
“I have been reading and educating myself on your method and read your comments on an older post about biddability and I thought I would ask you to comment here on a separate chain.
I wanted though to ask you to elaborate more on how your method can manage energy levels (drive) in favor of biddability. Also, whether through your method you can “permanently” or rather “consistently” shift the equation in favor of biddability while managing (but not diminishing) the drive.”
As you know, my method is unique. Unlike other methods that replace biddability with obedience (basically taking away free will), my method takes advantage of natural pack dynamics. It all boils down to trust. This bond that holds packs together, creates synergy. Synergy is defined as: “the combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately”.
All predator groups rely on trust to function effectively. This is why we are always building and maintaining trust in our relationship with our dogs. Biddability comes from trust. Therefore, the more we focus on the trust factor, the more biddable or trusting the dogs become.
I often talk about balance. The balance between biddability and drive. This starts with breeding. We want a dog with lots of drive, but controlled drive. A dog that chooses to stay connected to the handler. As an example, most field trial dogs are bred for drive. As a result, some can be out of balance, bred for high drive at the expense of biddability. There is also the other end of the spectrum, dogs bred for the show ring. Some have been bred for cooperation at the expense of bird drive. A truly biddable dog with good bird drive resides somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Regardless of a dogs natural balance, we can have a significant effect on his overall level of cooperation. We do this by helping him learn that a successful strategy for success (getting the bird in his mouth), requires that he manage and control his energy. If you think about it, he already shows us he possesses this ability. What is a point other than a control of energy?
The bottom line is, we can achieve a good balance when we handle well and help control the level of excitement. I want all the style and intensity he naturally possesses without encouraging unnecessary excitement that might cause him to flush or chase the bird. Think of it like this. A scale of one to ten. One is his level of excitement when asleep. Ten is his level of excitement when he blows out and chases a bird. At this level (10), the excitement has become unmanageable and he chases to burn the energy. How about before he reaches this level, we handle him in the field in such a way that his level does not rise above say, an eight. We help him learn to manage his level when on point so that when the bird flushes, his level goes up but stays within a manageable level. All his natural style and intensity but without the chase.
Enforced obedience or pressure in the field (hand signals, whistles, “whoa” commands, quartering commands, etc.), can often increase a dog’s energy level, making him less manageable. When I want a dog to become more manageable (biddable) in the field, I do it by removing pressure, not increasing it. For instance, if a dog on point gets pushy on his birds as I approach, I don’t add pressure with a “whoa” command or e-collar, I remove pressure by stopping, turning around and walking away. He learns that if he gets pushy, the hunt stops. When he manages himself and steadies up, I’ll return and the hunt will continue.
When we ask our dogs to include us in their hunt, we must remember that this is their dance. As group predators, they were born with all the necessary information to learn to be successful. We need to have respect and remember, our goal is not to make them a tool in our hunt. Our goal is being invited to join them in theirs.
The video below shows a young dog asking for help (deferring). Using her own free will, she is learning that she needs my help to be successful. Please read the text that accompanies the video.
Here is a link to a recent handling video.
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.
Here is a dog that recently finished the “Magic Brushpile” phase of my training. Here she is at the next phase of the Higgins Method Flowchart, “Back to the Field”. This is where we put the scent association back into the newly developed strategy. We begin this phase of training by checkcording the dog into the scent cone and controlling her movement through the scent, flush, shot, fall scenario. Soon, when she is trustworthy to be steady on scent, we turn her loose and hunt her while she drags the cord. As you can see in this video, that’s where we’re at with this dog. I pick the checkcord up just before the flush so I can show her again that steadiness after the flush, leads to success (the bird in her mouth). A few more birds and we’ll have steady to flush, shot and fall.
It’s all about building trust through free will. I don’t use obedience to train dogs and make them steady. My goal is to help them learn what it takes to be successful. They will then choose to be steady with all their style, intensity and drive intact because they know steadiness works
A good portion of my business involves helping dogs that are unhappy, nervous or afraid due primarily to mistakes made in obedience based training. My job is to create or rebuild the trusting relationship between all parties involved, the owner, the dog and the bird. This new category will chronicle how I get these dogs happy again and loving what they do.
Here is the first post. It has to do with a young dog that is afraid of flushing birds.
Here is a short video recorded during one of our recent training sessions.
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.
Here is a new “Magic Brushpile” video. Please feel free to comment. I also added new video links within the flowchart.
Here is the text that accompanies the video.
In order to help understand this “Magic Brushpile” video, please follow the link below. It will take you to the flowchart of the Higgins Method. http://higginsgundogs.com/about-us/our-method/method-flowchart/
The Higgins Method of gun dog training is unique. Unlike obedience based training methods, my method is based on building trust and cooperation. In this video, you’ll watch a young dog learn and begin to understand in one session, a new hunting strategy. Steady to flush, shot and fall.
Keep in mind, what I did with the dog in the “Magic Brushpile” video can take a few sessions. In the video I ran through it quickly so people could see the power of the Brushpile. Don’t be concerned if, with some dogs, it takes 10 or more sessions. There is no hurry.
I have been getting a lot of feedback about the MBP video. I’ve included here, answers to some of the questions people have as they put the “Magic Brushpile” training into practice.
Use the right length check cord, 15 feet. Watch my MBP video again. There I demonstrate the correct use of the check cord. Practice manipulating the check cord. Hook it to your training buddy (a human), and work him or her on the MBP. It’s fun and you both might learn something. This is important. Your job as handler is to control the slack or lack of slack in the check cord with good timing. The check cord is our tool of communication.
When I’m working a dog on the MBP, to help clients understand, I break it up into four goals. First I want to see the dog, while on the check cord, stop himself instead of me using the check cord to stop him. Once he demonstrates that to me three or four times, with many dogs, we’re done for the day. The second goal is for the dog to stop himself after I drop the check cord. I bring him up to about where he has been stopping himself, and gently drop the cord, within a couple of steps, he should stop himself. I will then step on the check cord just before I launch the bird (I don’t want him breaking or moving toward the bird). I now want him to demonstrate this to me three or four times. The third goal is for the dog to stop and defer while the shooter walks out front. This is done with the handler back to managing the check cord again. You need to be there if he needs help (I don’t want him breaking or moving toward the bird). Once he demonstrates that he will stop himself and defer while the shooter walks to front, (remember, at this point, the handler is holding the check cord), I want him to show me a couple more times. Now we’re ready for the final goal. I start him with the check cord and when I get near to the area where he has been stopping, I drop the check cord. If he understands, he will stop on his own and defer while the shooter walks to front, the bird is launched, the gun goes off, the bird hits the ground and the shooter brings the bird and gives it to the dog. Shooters remember, you need to be walking two or three paces behind and to the side 30 to 50 feet of the handler. On the walkup, I don’t want you in the dogs peripheral vision. I want his focus on the MBP.
(1) shooter out front while handler check cords the dog toward the MBP.
(2) Shooter out front, handler drops check cord just before dog stops (then steps on the cord just before bird is launched).
(3) Shooter now behind and to the side while handler check cords the dog toward the MBP. If the dog understands, it should “defer” to the shooter (trusting, asking for help).
(4) Handler starts the dog toward the MPB and drops the cord. Dog should stop, defer to the shooter and remain steady through SWSF and the return of the bird.
Watch my “Magic Brushpile” video 10 more times. There is a ton of information there. Something really important is how I manipulate the check cord. Handlers need to be in touch with the dog. The check cord is our connection. Talk to them with it.
Keep the questions coming.
Here is Glencuan Will and Saddel Glenn working a covey of partridge today. In the first clip, Will manages the birds and points the covey. He moves a foot and, if you look closely, you can see the birds run off in front of him. The birds are teaching him to be steady. The second and third clips are of Glenn pointing singles.
Here is a short video of Will working on the whistle cued, “Stop Moving”. This will be necessary information when we begin asking him to flush the birds then immediately stop moving (no chasing). Remember, whenever possible, we don’t tell the dog’s what to do (that’s obedience, the removal of free will), we want to tell them what to stop doing. In other words, we want them to use their free will and try a different strategy for success. They already know how to do this. It’s inherent in all predators.