A New Strategy For Success, The Flush/Stop Cue

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.

Higgins


Pointer Pup Learning to Flush on Cue

The pups are 4 months old now. All are doing well. Here is Biscuit practicing the “flush” cue (I use the word “alright”). We’re also working on her “stop to flush”. I always use good flying birds that the pups can’t catch. Her chases are getting shorter and shorter. Soon, she will stop chasing all together. She will learn that the best way to consistently get a bird in her mouth is to stop chasing and instead, be steady at the flush. Being steady to flush is always rewarded. Either by me offering a bird or her being allowed the retrieve on command. Chase = lose, Steady = win. Pretty simple choice

 

 


Packleader Leash, Transitioning to the Flat Collar

Here is a copy of an e-mail I sent a client recently. He had a question about my “Packleader Leash” including how to transition to a regular collar.  His e-mail began with how to get his dog to stop pulling or lunging forward on the leash.

These are typical issues when dogs are learning that the space out front has been claimed by you. The answer is to have good timing and do the jerk on the leash before the dog gets out front. Watch the Packleader Leash video a few more times. Lots of information there.

The walk transition to a flat collar is easy and you should be able to get it done in a couple of sessions. First, let’s not call it “heeling”. That is a term obedience trainers use. As you probably guessed, I’ve become a bit touchy about some of their methods and tools including the aggressive use of shock collars, ear pinching, toe hitches, whoa barrels, etc. In order to clearly separate my method from all that aggressive obedience based training, I find that a different vocabulary has been useful and necessary. I use “walking at my side”. Does not sound a lot different but it describes the foundation of my method, trust and cooperation. Remember, he’s at my side because I claimed the space out front, not because I commanded him to heel. With my method, in his mind, he is making a choice, not being commanded and made to comply. If you think like a dog, it becomes quite simple. Dogs don’t tell each other what to do. They tell each other what to stop doing. The manipulation of choice and free will are important. More on that later.

Anyway, back to your question. The secret to transitioning to a flat collar starts with the walk with the nose wrap. I’m not sure what you’re using, but I’ll describe the transition with my Packleader Leash. When he settles and is walking well, stop and remove just the nose wrap portion of the leash. the Packleader leash is now just around his neck. Keep the leash up high on his neck, right behind his ears. Now, as you begin walking, if he pulls or tries to get ahead of you, be sure to do the quick “jerk/release” before he gets out front (watch the “Walk” video again, the timing is the same). The leash must stay up behind his ears and if he gets out front, it will slide down his neck and be useless. This is important, as you transition from the nose wrap, you may have to jerk more aggressively This is normal in the beginning for some dogs. You may even need to jerk/release a few times in quick succession. Remember, it’s jerk, loose, jerk, loose, jerk loose. There should never be pressure on the leash. If he leans on the leash or you feel pressure, jerk/release. With some dogs, in the beginning, I need to use both hands on the leash to get the jerk/release done. A good way to understand it is to jerk/release just a bit harder than he pulled on you. Again, be sure it’s very quick (snappy), then loose. The final transition is from the Packleader Leash without the nose wrap to the regular flat collar. Same rules apply.

So the transition goes from the Packleader Leash with the nose wrap, to the Packleader leash without the nose wrap to the regular flat collar. It can all be done within just a couple of sessions.

 

Higgins


A Pointing Strategy

Here is Jax, a nice young Lab pointing his bird this weekend. Reagan is the shooter.
When it comes to dogs (like Labs) that have been bred to flush birds, I like to give them the freedom to choose their strategy, to work with their strengths. If a flushing dog demonstrates a talent for pointing, and the type of hunting he’ll be doing is conducive to it, I say let him point.


Choosing To Be Steady

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.


Drive vs Biddability

Here in part, is a recent question from the forum:
http://higginsgundogs.com/forum/higgins-gundogs-group1/members-only-questions-answers-forum6/drive-vs-biddability-thread137/
“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.”

My answer:

******,
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.

Higgins


The Higgins Method: Handling in Birdy Places

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.


The Higgins Method, “Back to the Field”

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


New Forum Category: Fixing Problems and Rehabilitation

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.

http://higginsgundogs.com/forum/higgins-gundogs-group1/fixing-problems-rehabilitation-forum9/afraid-of-the-flush-thread109.0/

Higgins

 


Brad Higgins Discusses Steadiness & Trust

Here is a short video recorded during one of our recent training sessions.