Learning the Higgins Method. First, Forget Everything You Know

Been working on the upcoming book, The Higgins Method. Here are some thoughts taken from various chapters on the differences between my method and conventional, obedience based training methods. You’ll  find that many things are opposite of conventional obedience training.

 

(1)  I never tell the dogs when to stop (“WHOA”). I never need to. They know how to manage their birds. Instead of demanding they STOP, I do the opposite. I give them permission to go (my “Flush/Stop” cue).

(2)  You’re not the dog trainer. That’s the birds job.  Your job is to simply set up realistic hunting scenarios with good, wild acting birds. Let the birds take it from there. He will learn from the birds that his odds of success (a bird in his mouth) increase when he is steady and waits for the shooter to kill the bird.

(3)  I show the dogs that I can increase his odds of success if he will include me in his hunt. From his point of view, I’m a liability. I can’t keep up or smell a thing. But I do have an ability that he does not. I can increase his odds of success by shooting the birds for him. It doesn’t take long for him to cooperate, include me in his hunt, and choose to be steady.

(4)  The foundation of other training methods is unnatural and foreign to the dogs. These methods are based on obedience and pressure. My method is the opposite. It’s based on the natural way predators interact, forming groups to live and hunt together. It’s based on trust and cooperation.

(5)  If you think you’re teaching your dog to fetch and retrieve you’re wrong. From his perspective, you’re teaching and rewarding him for chasing. I don’t teach dogs to chase. I don’t command a retrieve. I build trust first, then I simply nurture his natural instinct to share the kill. The secret is to remember that it’s his bird, not yours. Build trust and he will want to share his bird with you.

(6)  I don’t do obedience training with drills or repetition. Dogs are not programmed to think that way. I train the way they think using associations, timing, consistency and success. Because the birds we use have been released, I don’t know what they may do. They might be in a covey, they might run, flush wild before being pointed, etc. If you find yourself being repetitive and doing “drills” stop, and reevaluate your training method. Manage the hunt but keep it natural and as realistic as possible. The dogs should see time in the field as hunting, not training.

(7)  Pointing is simply part of stalking. It’s the predators way of closing the gap, getting closer to the prey before the pounce. I want to encourage this. The way I see it, all the work he did, the stealthy movement and intensity, culminate in the pounce (aggressive flush). I will never go in and steal a dogs point by walking up and  commanding him to “WHOA” while I flush his bird. He found it and managed it well. He is allowed to present his bird to the gun (pounce) on my “Flush/Stop” cue.

 

More to come.

 

Brad Higgins

Higgins Gundogs

 


Here is Our Newest Certified Higgins Gundog, HGD Sage

Here is our newest, certified Higgins Gundog Sage, and her owner Ron. We took her from bumping and chasing birds, to steady to wing, shot & fall in three days. In addition, she does a nice aggressive flush/stop on cue, honors another dog’s point and has a nice, gentle retrieve. (The birds used in my training hunts are not wild birds. They are pen raised birds that I have released for training.)


This is a short clip of some work Reagan and I did this morning with a client and his pup. Here, I’m starting the steadiness process, showing the dog a new, successful hunting strategy that includes the shooter. Before coming here, the owner had done some retrieve work (force fetch) and taken the dog on a few hunts. The dog had become hard mouthed (mauling and chewing the birds on retrieve). My goal this week is to get the dog steady to wing, shot & fall, in addition to a flush/stop on cue and a natural, gentle retrieve. Piece of cake. I’ll post the complete video soon.


Olive, Flush/Stop, Retrieve

Here is one of our black pointer pups, Olive, in the field today during one of our training hunts. Here, she finds a bird and waits for us to catch up. Once we arrive, I get the shooter (Reagan) in place and give Olive her Flush/Stop cue. She does a beautiful aggressive flush to present the bird to the guns, but the bird refused to fly. So what does she do? She stops, resets and waits to be cued again. She does a second flush on cue and stops as soon as the bird flies. She is then sent for the retrieve. Dogs are pretty smart if you trust them and give them the freedom to make decisions.


Learning to Manage Birds

VIDEO: Griff Stalk

Here is a young Griffon learning that bird management (stalking) is a necessary and successful strategy. The video starts after the dog scented the bird and pointed. Now the bird has moved off. The dog is learning that to get the bird to stop, it must keep in touch with the bird but not flush it. If the dog does not stalk (too little pressure), the bird will run off and be lost. If the dog moves too fast or tries to get too close (too much pressure), the bird will flush and is lost. It’s a beautiful balancing act to watch. Once the bird set, I sent the shooter out front to shoot the bird and reward the dog for choosing a successful strategy.


VIDEO: Nigel in the Field

Had Nigel (Des x Fizza) out this morning showing off for some prospective owners. Here he is demonstrating steady to wing, shot and fall, waiting for my verbal release to retrieve. In this video, I am filming and the bird flushes behind me.

This is a short clip from a longer video that will be going up on the website this week.

Hope you enjoy it.


Stella Ready for Her New Home

Stella (Basso x Amber) went to her new home today. This video is of her new owners, Therese and Eric, learning to handle her in the field. Stella is steady on her birds until released, does a nice flush/stop on cue and has a natural retrieve. In this video, I’m having Eric and Therese take turns learning to handling Stella and shooting over her.

At this stage, I connect (mentally and physically) the new handler and the dog together with the checkcord for a few sessions. There are a number of new associations that need to be made both for the dog and the handler. The dog needs to associate what he already knows to a new handler including the new voice, new timing, different body movements and cues, etc. The handler needs to learn how to read the dog and learn when to move, when to be still, when to cue the dog, etc.

We had a lot of fun. I’m sure Stella will be happy in her new home. Thank you Therese and Eric.

 

 

 


Here are a couple of our young dogs, Stella and Ekahi, hunting in a cast for the first time. They did well, hunted independently and handled nicely.


Beginning Bracework

Here are William and Nigel in the field this morning. This is their first time together working birds. Before beginning their brace work, both were shown individually, that stalking and steadiness lead to success. Now it’s time to turn them loose and see what choices they make. No voice commands (whoa, etc.), no hand signals, whistles or electric collars are used. I like what I see.


Learning Steadiness From the Birds

Here is a link to a video of a young dog we worked this morning. This is Griffonpoint Z Shaka with her owner Warren. Shaka is now steady until released on birds she has pointed. This scenario was a little different. There was no wind on a warm morning making scent scarce and difficult to work. On these kind of days, dogs often end up much closer to the birds before they can pick up any scent. This makes the birds nervous causing some to flush before the dog has an opportunity to point them. In these conditions, with just a bit of experience, the dogs learn to be very stealthy and careful. In this video, she scents a bird and it begins to run. You can see when she located the scent, she started to decelerate to stop and point but it was too late, the bird flushed (a great bird). She knows that a flushing bird is a cue to stop but she decides to pursue this one. If a dog chases a bird, we don’t reward them by shooting it. We stop the chase and set up a situation where we can reward them for being steady on the next bird. Unlike obedience based training methods, we don’t punish mistakes. We show them how to be successful and allow them the free will to choose the strategy that works best. This is exactly how young pack predators learn to hunt in the wild.

In the video, I don’t use a stop, “down” or “whoa” command. That would be pressure or punishment directly associated to the bird and the flush. I don’t want her building any negative associations to the bird because that can cause a decrease in drive, style or intensity. I simply give her a different command (here) that she clearly understands and is comfortable with in the field, at home and in any situation. In other words, I give her a command that she won’t associated directly to the bird or the hunting scenario. She learns that she is in control. The way she sees it, If she chases, she gives herself a “here” command. No pressure. On the next bird, she was a rock.