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.
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.
Higgins Shooting Clinic
Brad’s goal in training hunting dogs is to create a calm, effective, synergistic team that works together. He writes blogs and articles often about training and shooting over fine hunting dogs. Over the years, we have worked with all levels of wingshooters. Some grew up with grandparents or parents who hunted and learned to shoot from an early age, and others (seemingly more and more), decide to learn to shoot so they can best enjoy the sublime relationship earned by hunting with a dog. Because Brad’s main interest in training hunting dogs requires a partner who effectively hits birds (at least some of the time), he has decided to offer shooting clinics for all levels of shooters. He has been an upland bird shooter for more than 40 years and has been successfully teaching amateur hunters to shoot for more than 30 years.
Throughout the clinic, he’ll be using the latest technology including lasers and a ShotKam video recorder. This makes it easy for students to learn, understand and practice, first in the classroom and then outside on real clay targets. Brad’s next shooting clinics have been designed to meet the needs of beginning shooters who may or may not own their own gun, or have limited experience with shotguns.
Saturdays July 28, 2018 and August 4, 2018 have been reserved for our upcoming clinics for Lady Shooters. Additionally, Sundays July 29, 2018 and August 4, 2018 are available for one on one private shooting instruction for those in attendance to the previous day’s clinic.
In order to meet each shooter’s needs, Brad has limited each day of the clinic to three shooters.
The schedule follows:
-8:00 AM Coffee, fruit and pastries
-Indoor Instruction and Practice
- Understanding Gun fit (length of pull, drop at comb, cast on/cast off)
- Shotgun Disassembly and reassembly
- Shotgun Cleaning and maintenance
- Practicing the gun mount and move (using a barrel laser and projected targets)
- Creating a consistent sight picture (don’t look down the barrel!)
- Keeping your eyes on the target while mounting the gun in front
- Forward allowance (trusting the subconscious to apply lead)
- Eye dominance
-Out to the Field
- We’ll practice shooting clay targets with a ShotKam video camera (a high-tech training camera) attached to your shotgun. We record each shot so we can then examine your shots sight picture in slow motion.
-Evaluation of ShotKam videos
- We’ll head back to the classroom so we can watch actual videos (ShotKam) of your shooting and see why you hit or missed the targets.
- We’ll discuss your strengths and weaknesses and give you advise on what to work on at home.
-Back to the Field
Wingshooting demonstrations with Brad, Katy and Reagan. We’ll end the day shooting live birds over finished Higgins Gundogs.
Cost is $200 per shooter.
Please contact Katy for more information on upcoming dates.
This video shows how we encourage a natural retrieve. It’s natural because I leave the pups free will intact and allow her to choose her options. This is how we build trust and really see a dogs natural talent and abilities.
Higgins Gundogs are trained and managed to a high level. They must be able to adapt to new and unusual situations and control their excitement level. We want to see all their style and intensity, but they must choose to remain steady. Here, we’re proofing a seasoned dog. This is Greg Belanger and his dog HGD Harry. This was filmed a while ago during one of our training hunts. While Harry is managing a moving pheasant, we release a young, untrained pup. The pup goes out and bumps and chases Harry’s bird. What is Harry’s response? He doesn’t break, he manages his energy. He is steady to flush, shot and kill. He is able to do this because he has learned to trust us. He knows, with our help, he will get his bird.
I had a question in a forum about the difference in how I use the training line (a 12′ rope). Here is my response:
A major difference in my method is in the use of the training line. I always talk about giving the dogs free will to make choices and decisions. I use the training line in the beginning to slow the dogs down and show them how I can help them be successful in getting that bird in their mouth. I believe they need to see the final goal first, so they have the information necessary to begin making decisions. I want them to know what success looks like first (I guess from the point of view of the obedience based methods, I would be seen as training a dog backwards). Once they understand how to be successful, I drop the line and give them their head. I never punish them for trying things or making mistakes. There is no “whoa”. The only punishment used, if you could call it that, is in the lack of success. And that’s between the dog and the bird. I’m still the good guy!
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.
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)
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.
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).