Choosing a Hunting Strategy

Here is Moose. He is a Chocolate Lab/German Shorthair mix. This is a clip from a video I’m working on. It shows Moose when he was learning my flush/stop cue.

I enjoy watching flusher/pointer mixes develop their particular hunting strategy. Will he stalk and point (like a pointer) or will he smell a bird, accelerate and flush (like a flushing breed)? Before I agree to work with these clients, I require that they accept whichever hunting strategy their dog chooses. If he decides, with some experience, that he wants to flush his birds, we will help him develop that strategy. If, on the other hand, he decides stalking and pointing is his preferred strategy, then so be it. I have one goal for all the dogs. Give me all you have, whatever that may be, every time. I want to see all the style, intensity and drive he possesses. Moose is a good example.

I posted this video on a forum and got an interesting response. I was asked how I can establish what the true nature (his chosen hunting strategy) of a dog might be without influencing the outcome. Here is my answer:

“Good, thoughtful question. Before any steadiness training, I introduce these type of dogs to the field. Let them learn about the birds, play bump and chase. This gives me a good idea what strategies they prefer. You are right that I can have a lot of influence at this time regarding their hunting styles. I always try and keep it simple. In this case, I leave it between the dog and the birds. I’m just an observer. After a few flash points and chases with no reward, some will begin trying a stalking, pointing strategy. Sometimes, the flushing drive is so strong, some individuals will build more and more excitement with every flush (flushing strategy). As a handler, I watch carefully, from a distance. I look for the change in their energy when they get in a bird place. When their energy spikes (upon making scent), they will do one of two things. They will accelerate (flushing strategy) or decelerate (pointing strategy). When I see this, I know we’re ready to begin the steadiness process.

I start by using a checkcord while working loose birds in the field. I begin to manage their success. The flushers will smell the bird, accelerate and give me that beautiful, aggressive flush. As soon as the bird flushes, I manage them with the checkcord to prevent any chasing. The shooter kills the bird, brings it back and gives it to the dog. Now we take a walk. With the pointing dogs, it starts out the same, with the checkcord. I always use good flying, wild acting birds. The dog smells the bird but instead of accelerating, he decelerates into a stalk or point. If he gets at all pushy, the bird flushed and he loses. At this point, I do something a bit different. I want all the pointing dogs to flush the birds, but only on my “alright” cue. When he is steady and on point, I say “alright”. I go in with him and we flush the bird as you saw Moose and I do in the video. We both stop as soon as the bird is in the air. The shooter kills the bird and brings it back to the dog. We go for a walk. Doesn’t take but a few birds and I can say “alright” from a distance and he will aggressively flush/stop all on his own.

The foundation of my method is based on building trust and cooperation through managing success (a bird in their mouth). It’s exciting when they show me all their natural style and intensity. I get to see who they are when they have experienced no handler induces pressure. It’s truly training with no handprint.

Black Brace

Had a couple of the black pointers in the field today. They’re putting it together. Handling well, good pace and drive. The collars you see them wearing are for tracking. No e-collars are used.

Here is a great quote from a book about the origins and history of the Pointer.

“The chief glory of the sport is to shoot over a brace of raking pointers, matched for speed and style, sweeping over the rough places like swallows, and passing each other as if they were fine ladies not introduced. Let one of them get a point and the other will, as if connected by an invisible wire, instantly point at him (i.e. back him); and as the pointing dog advances to make sure of the birds, the backer will do the same- often with an absolute mimicry of his leader’s movements.” (Quotation from William Arkwright, The Pointer and His Predecessors, 1906)

Creeping vs Stalking

I had a recent question on our community page about the difference between creeping and stalking.

I talk about how our Higgins Gundogs, once in a bird area, are allowed to manage or stalk their birds (a good thing). Other trainers and owners see any movement toward the bird after first scent, as creeping (being unsteady, a bad thing).

Creeping, as other trainers would explain, is moving toward the bird with the intent to catch, or flush it and chase. With our Higgins Gundogs, stalking (managing) is moving toward the bird with the intent to get in a position to flush it (pounce) when asked. To get as close as the bird will allow before being pressured into flight. A predator can’t be successful when he pounces, unless he knows where the target is. It’s a beautiful balancing act. Too little pressure on the bird and it will keep running. Too much pressure, the bird flushes and all is lost.

Being steady or unsteadiness is not about movement. It’s about intent.

Natural Learning By Association

Here are a couple of young Griffon pups, Fox and Griffonpoint Y Lucy, learning that the sound of gunfire is a good thing. I help them with this by associating the noise to the best thing in the world, a bird in their mouths. The primary way predators learn, dogs included, is by association. Associations can be based on things they smell, see, taste and feel. Associations can also be related to time, distance, location, etc. When done correctly, these associations can be built immediately. The most important association they make is with me. I am the good guy that has the ability to kill the bird for them. A relationship built on trust and cooperation (pack dynamics). No repetition, obedience or pressure required or necessary.

Now that the pups have been introduced to the gun, I will associate gunfire, with birds, in a couple of different hunting fields. I don’t want them to believe that this bird/gun association is specific to this one location. I did the same as I introduced them to different upland birds (quail, pheasant, etc.). Again, always building positive associations. This is not repetition (obedience training) because it is always changing and building on past, positive experiences.

Cooperation is built and encouraged with positive associations. Obedience on the other hand, is built and commanded with repetition. This is the fundamental difference between my method of training and others. The Higgins Method encourages the dogs to use their free will. They learn to trust that I will help them be successful. Other methods are based on replacing a dog’s cooperative nature with obedience. Basically removing free will, choice, and natural cooperation (pack dynamics). With obedience, you can make a dog obey you but you can’t make him trust you. Trust is something that must be earned. It can’t be taken, only freely given.

These pups are now ready to begin learning that steadiness, not chasing, will lead to success (a bird in her mouth). They have built the necessary associations to be successful hunters. The associations are 1: That wonderful smell is a bird. 2: That smell flows downwind. 3: Ground scent is not predicated on wind direction. 4: Gunfire and birds are related in a positive way. Now all I have to do is simply help them change their current hunting strategy from bump and chase, to stalking and steadiness. From now on, steadiness, not chasing, will be associated with success (a bird in the mouth).

Handling Katy Woof

This video shows Ben and Leslie’s dog Katie during a recent training hunt. Ben is the shooter and Leslie is handling. I’m the one barking orders as usual. Katie handles the bird well and does a beautiful “flush/stop” on Leslie’s cue. And yes, Ben killed the bird.

Steadiness Taught by the Birds, Part 1

Here is one of our black pointer pups learning my flush/stop cue. You’ll see in the video, when she gets in a birdy area and begins to stalk, I physically connect her to me via a clamp on my vest to the checkcord. I do this in part, because I am not only the handler, but also the shooter. I need to help her understand that steadiness is necessary, both before and after the flush in order to be successful. It also makes it possible to show her that success requires she wait to retrieve until my “fetch” release. You’ll see I didn’t shoot until she was finished flushing and had stopped. Steadiness based on when a bird flushes, when the gun goes off or when the bird falls will soon become irrelevant. We will have a free running dog hunting the field, beautiful stalking and pointing, a flush/stop on cue and steadiness until released.

In the first part of the video, you’ll see just before I gave her the flush/stop cue (a verbal “alright”), I realized I had forgotten to put in my earplugs. She waits for her cue maintaining all of her beautiful intensity. Later in the video, when I shoot over her, the camera angle makes it look like I took the shot right over her head. I didn’t. It’s important to always be aware of where the dog is when shooting. In addition, I’m using a 28 gauge side-by-side and subsonic shells. Don’t want a deaf dog down the road.

When watching the video, pay close attention to the checkcord. You’ll notice that it’s loose. This guarantees that any of her movement is her choice. There is no obedience involved here. By giving her this freedom, I allow the bird to teach her. I don’t teach a “whoa” command. I feel that’s the birds job. If she jumps in before my “flush/stop” cue, the bird will flush and she will lose. But if she is focused and patient, waiting for my verbal cue, she will be rewarded.

Diva In the Field

Had our beautiful and talented import (Denmark), Matresse’s Diva out in the field today. Special thanks to her breeder Jan Espersen.

Here are a couple of photos. I’ll have some video posted soon of her during a recent partridge hunt.

Black Pointer Pups

Here is one of our black pointer pups working some chukar. This has been an outstanding litter. At this time I have one male available to the right home.

Higgins Gundogs “B” Litter

Our new black European Pointer pups are 12 weeks old now. All are hunting aggressively, managing their birds, pointing and retrieving birds on land & water. These pups are beautifully balanced and socialized and are as good in the house as they are in the field. In a few more weeks, all will be Higgins Gundog certified and ready for deserving homes.

Here is a link to the latest video.

Urinary Incontinence in Puppies and Dogs

Urinary Incontinence in Puppies and Dogs, My Experiences and Solutions.

With contributions by Dr. Tracy Acosta, Acosta Veterinary Hospital In 2006,

I raised a large litter of Wirehaired Pointing Griffon puppies. One of the pups I kept was a wonderfully comical, joyful female that I named Bellibone. She was a healthy, precocious pup until she was around 8 weeks old. At that young age, she became depressed, lethargic, and began drinking more water than she should have been. Upon examining her, I discovered that she had some white discharge from her vulva and she did not smell right. My reproductive specialist veterinarian at the time prescribed ten days of amoxicillin. The puppy felt better and we just assumed that she had a low grade UTI. However, a few weeks after the last dose of antibiotics, Bellibone began to show signs of discomfort again, began peeing in her crate after only an hour or two, and was ‘spot peeing’ small amounts frequently in and out of the house. After another round of amoxicillin, the same thing happened. She felt better during the course (this time her vet ran a urine sample to confirm the infection), but a few weeks after the course, the symptoms returned, but worse. This cycle continued and she ended up with a canine urologist at UC Davis for diagnosis. After Nuclear Scintigraphy, a Contract Study, and thousands of dollars, the specialist ruled out Ectopic Ureters, anatomical contributors, and everything else he could think of. But the infection still raged on, migrating to her kidneys and making her extremely ill. She was five months old, in stage one kidney disease, and was taking 675mg of Clavamox twice a day. But the cycle continued to repeat itself for three months…14 days of Clavamox and better health, two weeks later, symptoms that the infection was still present. Then she had her first heat cycle at 8 months old, the infection did not return, and Bellibone became the outgoing, nutty puppy she had been.

Bellibone’s persistent infection remained a mystery until I sent a puppy up to a family in Washington State. They took her to their country vet for her puppy wellness exam. The vet was so impressed by her that he phoned me to enquire about getting a pup from me in the future. He commented that the pup brought to him was wonderful and healthy, that the only thing he would advise was that the owners should keep her vulva clean with zinc free baby wipes once a week until she had her first and ideally second heat cycle before she was spayed. When I asked why, he told me that she had a ‘cloaked vulva’ which simply meant that she had excessive skin around her vulva that could retain debris, causing chronic UTIs until she had a heat cycle whereby her vulva would become stretched out permanently, eliminating the creases that retained and brewed infections.

That call was an “EUREKA!” moment. I took the information back to Bellibone’s urology specialist and he confirmed that she had a cloaked vulva. Since that experience, I have seen this condition in many, many other dogs and breeds. Over the years, owners frequently contact me for help with their incontinent puppies. If female, I ask them to examine their pup to discover if she has a cloaked vulva right away. Dr. Tracy Acosta, who has her own successful practice in Biloxi, MS, agrees. She says, “…it [the female puppy’s vulva] should be checked on any routine exam, especially those with urinary issues of any kind.” But a cloaked vulva in a female pup is only one of many causes of UI. This UC Davis article about Urinary Incontinence suggests a few causes including Ectopic Ureters, but does not cover Cloaked Vulvas or other juvenile causes such as simple immaturity.

It needs to be mentioned that Urinary Incontinence and ‘tinkling’ when excited, are two, completely different things. When a puppy loses urine in excitement or submission, I simply ignore it and the behavior eventually goes away on its own. Sometimes it will resolve by the time they are a few months old, and sometimes it can persist until they are adults. Focusing on it, scolding the behavior, always makes it worse; a dog has no idea why a person is angry when they are piddling from excitement or submission and only become confused and nervous, often leading to more piddling. Dr. Acosta agrees, “Do NOT scold [for excited or submissive dribbling], ignoring this behavior works best.”

Puppies, like humans, do not have completely mature urinary tracts for some time. Each breed and each puppy will have their own maturation rate and owners must do what is necessary to accommodate their pups during house training and crate training. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I frequently get calls from puppy owners (of both male and female pups) who report that their pups were doing very well with house training but they have suddenly regressed. These pups might be ‘spot peeing’ in frequent, small amounts, ‘leaking’ (pooling) while asleep, piddling in their crates after a short time, drinking excessively, acting otherwise normally or behaving lethargically, their urine might be poorly concentrated (looking like water), etc. The first thought is to have the puppy examined by a veterinarian to rule out infection. However, many puppies will run a low grade UTI but be negative in a urine culture. This can be extremely difficult for a vet to treat.

In these cases, I error on the side of caution—preferring to treat the situation like it is an infection rather than a behavioral issue. Either way, the solution is the same. I recommend that young puppies, between 8 and 14 weeks old perhaps (healthy or with a suspected infection), not spend more than three to four hours straight, in a crate (this might be less for some pups). I recommend plenty of outdoor breaks during the day, and a break or even two in the middle of the night to take the pressure off of the small, immature bladder. This is even more important for small breeds! From 14-24 weeks old, they may have matured enough to handle up to six hours straight in their crate. After six months old, I go on a case by case basis, allowing that some six to eight month old pups might have mature enough urinary tracts to handle a full night without a break. Female pups who have cloaked vulvas can follow the same protocol so long as their vulvas are kept clean on a weekly basis (or more frequently depending upon the amount of skin coverage, extreme cases apparently require minor surgery to remove excess skin in the area). Dr. Acosta advises, “I recommend that owners of female dogs who are having chronic urinary issues keep the area around the vulva clean. I usually recommend an eye wash (not saline) because some baby wipes can have zinc which is toxic to dogs.”

There are some owners who choose to crate their pups all day while they are at work during the week, I do not recommend this for many reasons, and urinary tract stress is one of them. During the day, all systems accelerate and the urinary tract is one of them. During the day, dogs drink more and pee more. During the night, systems slow down. Dr. Acosta provides the following solutions, “A good alternative to crating all day is for owners to seek out a reputable day care facility. That way pup is socialized and not crated all day, I have many clients who take advantage of these services.”

In older dogs, the reasons for UI can be different. In my own Griffons, I have noticed that some of my females have become incontinent after being spayed. Apparently this is due to a condition called Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence. You can read more about this condition in this article. When dogs experience UI, depending upon the cause, veterinarians might prescribe hormone treatments, medications that strengthen the urethral sphincter, collagen injections, or surgery. Some owners who have little or no luck with diagnosis or treatments will find waterproof dog bed liners like these (I have used these for my large household full of young and old dogs alike for years and really like them). Some owners will also buy waterproof throws like these (I have one of these, it is a decent throw. It is a little heavy, but definitely prevents urine, vomit, and other fluids from soaking through.) While not a fun aspect of dog ownership, UI is not uncommon and we just have to deal with it as it comes, and not blame the dog. These products make it easier for us to deal with our loved pets’ incontinence issues.

Certainly urinating in the home can be behavioral. Some dogs will begin to ‘mark’ the house for various reasons and some dogs will give up on owners who have not been sensitive to their urgencies. But these behavioral issues should not be confused with UI due to infection, immaturity, senility, hormonal imbalance, or anatomical abnormalities. Cloaked vulva is also known as, tucked vulva, hooded vulva, hypoplastic vulva, recessed vulva, and juvenile vulva, see this article for a medical description of this condition.

Common causes for Urinary Incontinence:

  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Cloaked Vulva
  • Hormonal Imbalance
  • Weak Bladder Sphincter
  • Urinary Stones
  • Spinal Injury or Degeneration
  • Prostate Issues
  • Disease such as Diabetes (diabetes insipidus and mellitus), Hyperadrenocorticicm, Kidney Disease
  • Certain Medications
  • Congenital, Anatomic abnormalities such as ectopic ureters

To conclude, Dr. Acosta gives the following advice, “It is important for owners with male or female dogs with any form of urinary issue to have it medically investigated to rule out the easy rule outs. All female pups, no matter what breed, should have a good physical exam during their puppy vaccination series that determines if a cloaked/tucked vulva is obvious. I see tucked vulvas in all breeds, mixed and pure, and all sizes. Many female dogs that have this history of chronic UTI’s or urinary issues, have a tucked vulva. Tucked/cloaked vulvas are so easy to check for and can help relieve a lot of clients once they are diagnosed and other issues ruled are out. A very high percentage of the pups I see with this, resolve after first heat cycle. When I determine that a female has a tucked vulva, I let the owner know that they need to let the dog experience one heat cycle and then about 8 weeks after the cycle, let me examine her to determine if a spay can be done. Additionally, pups need potty breaks—and either owners make it happen, hire a pet sitter to do it, or utilize day care options.”

Written by Katy Stuehm with contributions by Dr. Tracy Acosta


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