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.
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!
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 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.
We had a recent question in the forum about handling a dog in the field that wants to break at shot or fall. Keep in mind, breaking at shot or fall is normal and required for dogs that we train to the level of “steady to wing”. The dog in question has been trained in my method to another level, “steady to wing, shot and fall”. She is to remain steady through the shot and/or fall of the bird. Here, in part, is the question and my response.
****** has been good at staying steady to wing but if the bird isn’t shot she will sometimes break and want to chase the bird. At this point I usually have my shotgun in my hands, not my ecollar transmitter, to stop or recall her when this happens. When she was young she learned (due to my lack of handling experience) that she can sometimes chase and capture pen raised birds so she now has a propensity to want to chase them if I’m not closely watching her. What should I do to improve this situation?
This is why it’s important to have the ecollar clipped to your vest for easy, quick timing. This is not a dog problem, it’s a handler problem. After I pull the trigger, my hand is back on the transmitter quickly, just in case. So quick in fact that, after taking the shot, I’ve had to ask, did I hit it? After pulling the trigger my eyes were back on the dog before the shot reached the bird. That, is timing (faster than speeding bullet…lol).
Remember, the ecollar recall is only used with those dogs that insist on trying to chase the bird. It is the only “command” used in my method. The dogs are very familiar with, and clearly understand the recall because it has been used in many different sitations including around the house, at the park, in the yard, etc.
If they have been handled well, clearly understand the rules, have been shown with the checkcord how to be successful but still attempt a chasing strategy, the ecollar recall is required. In practice, once they are clearly committed to the chase (three or four paces in), we give them a “here” command. If they heard it and clearly chose to ignore it, we tap the ecollar. From the dog’s perspective, it has nothing to do with birds, the flush, the scent or even the chase. It is simply the well understood recall. Soon, they backchain and associate it (chasing will be unsuccessful) all the way back to entering the birdy area. Basically, they begin to understand the new strategy for success. “If I don’t chase it, I’ll get it in my mouth”.
George and his owner Kevin have been here for six days of training and rehab work. This video was taken on day four. George’s past training had been with a conventional gun dog trainer. He is a nice 2 year old Llewellin Setter but when he got here he was gun-shy, bird-shy, didn’t hunt and had never pointed.
After working with him the first day, I figured out his issue was that when it came to birds, he was all visual. He had never used his nose. Basically, he had a tool in the toolbox that he had never used. He had never pointed because it was never necessary. When it came to birds, George thought the greatest reward was in the chase. I showed him that the real reward for a predator like him was more than just a chase, it was hunting, scenting (using his nose), flushing and catching the prey. All of a sudden, with this new strategy, there was a reason to point. It is the pause before the pounce. After a couple of additional sessions of good flying birds that could not be caught, and a session on the “Magic Brushpile”, George trusted me and asked for help. In this video, he hunted, scented birds, pointed and deferred to me, asking me to go out front to flush and kill the bird for him. Once the bird was down, I rewarded him by asking him to join me in the retrieve.
George is a talented dog. All he really needed was a new strategy for success and the freedom to learn.
Here are some updated videos showing “before” and “after” rehabilitation work.
9/9/15. Here is a 2 year old GSP a client brought in today. A breeder/trainer gave the dog to my client. This video was filmed during our first session. As you’ll see in the video, the dog was nervous and unhappy in the field, wouldn’t hunt and was blinking or avoiding birds. I was asked if I could get the dog happy, hunting and loving birds. With the Higgins Method, I had it done the next day. It took 3 sessions to isolate the problem and fix it. The results are shown in the following video “Higgins Gundogs, Fixing Problems: Blinking Birds (After)”
I will have a video up soon showing the entire process step by step. Thanks for watching.
9/10/15. Before viewing this video, please watch “Higgins Gundogs, Fixing Problems: Blinking Birds (Before).
Here is that 2 year old GSP the client brought in yesterday. This video was filmed during our third session. Now a happy, bold, confident dog that even has a natural retrieve. Can’t argue with success (although some will try) : )
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.