I don’t train dogs. I simply manipulate their current hunting strategy by encouraging them to include me. It’s simple and it works every time. It’s how I work with all the dogs from inexperienced puppies to dogs with problems caused by excessive obedience training. Here it is in a nutshell. First, I let them establish a natural hunting strategy. To do this, I release birds in a hunting field. This “hunting field or fields” do not have to be where you go to hunt wild birds during season. Simply a place where the birds are free (released), act similar to wild birds and can be shot. Remember, the birds are the dog trainers, not us. Our job is simply to set up scenarios where the birds can do their job. There is no yard work. No pigeons, launcher, pressure or commands. Dogs (all predators) learn quickly and with ease by building associations. What they learn in the yard is not naturally applied to a new area, the hunting field.
The initial hunting strategy I want the dogs to create is “bump & chase”. It’s easy and happens quickly. Birds are released in the hunting field for the dogs to hunt. They learn about air scent and ground scent. They learn to stalk runners and coveys. Soon, they begin to stalk and point, trying to get closer to the prey before the pounce. This is also where I let them chase and catch a few birds while I introduce the gun as a positive, necessary association to getting the bird in their mouths.
At this point, I have a happy dog that looks forward to hunting with me. We’re having fun hunting birds together. So far, he hunts his birds, stalks, then bumps and chases. Now it’s time to tweak his current hunting strategy. I will show him that if he will include me (basically wait for me), his odds of successfully getting the bird in his mouth will increase.
First, I need to show him the new strategy. This is how the young predators learn to hunt. They need to see what works. I start with the checkcord for the first few birds. Now when the bird flushes, I can control his chase and show him the new steadiness associations. I’ll even have the shooter shoot, bring back and share a few birds with the dog. From now on, chasing is unsuccessful. Not chasing, controlling energy is the answer now. The same natural energy management he displayed when he stalked and pointed, I now want him to demonstrate when a bird flushes, when the gun goes off and when the bird falls. He was born knowing how to do it. This change of strategy from chasing to steadiness happens quickly. This new act of being steady on birds (not flushing or chasing) can be as natural a response as flushing and chasing used to be. It’s just a matter of strategy.
To be continued…………
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).
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.
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.
As many of you know, over the last few years I have been building a unique pointer breeding program. From falconry dogs forged on the Moors of northern Scotland to beautiful and talented individuals from the leading kennels in Italy and Denmark, I have been importing those dogs that have the right balance between natural talent, drive, biddability and cooperation. Read more…
This is Deva, our new 4 month old Pointer pup. This is her first steadiness session on the checkcord (basically the beginning of her Magic Brushpile work, https://higginsgundogs.com.com/about-us/our-method/method-flowchart/ ) and the beginning of her steadiness training. Before this, as per the flowchart, she learned how to hunt and find birds, she handles well in the field, likes the gun and has a nice “here” command on the checkcord.
The most important thing to watch here is the checkcord work. Once she finds a bird and decelerates, (gets careful and stealthy), I don’t want to have the checkcord tight. Watch the checkcords shadow. A loose checkcord means she is choosing to be careful. If I have to constantly restrain her, she isn’t learning anything.
You’ll see here, we are introducing the Flush/Stop cue. She is allowed to flush the birds but only on my verbal “alright”. If some prefer that the shooter flushes the birds, just keep her there while the shooter goes in and flushes.
At this stage, the shooter does the retrieve. Dogs see retrieving as chasing birds. I don’t want to confuse her here. Retrieving comes last in the training process, after steadiness. You’ll notice in the video, she does not realize the shooter is going to do the retrieve, bringing her bird back and giving it to her. 3 birds later, she understood the teamwork and stood, solid as a rock.
The collar she is wearing is a GPS collar. No e-collars, commands or hand signals are used.
Hope you enjoy it. I’ll put up more videos soon.
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