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).


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.


Fully Trained Higgins Gundogs Are Now Available!

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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…


Beginning the Steadiness Process

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.


Pointer Pup Learning to Flush on Cue

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

 

 


The Puppies are Growing Fast

The pups are 3 1/2 months old now. All looking good and enjoying their bird work.

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Will Honors Glen

Here is a photo taken yesterday while Katie and I were out working the dogs. I often use one of the seasoned dogs to help me train the new pups. In this photo, Glen found a small covey of partridge. Will came around the bush, saw Glen and honored. A bird was shot and the two of them got to share it.

Will is a new pup we received from Des O’neile of Northern Ireland. His Glencuan dogs are exceptionally talented. At this stage, everything Will does in natural, no training involved. All I have done is given him time in the field with birds to hone his natural hunting instincts (predator/prey), shown him how to be successful then, set up natural scenarios for him to practice. He has seen Glen on point before and has run in, flushed the birds and tried to catch them unsuccessfully. His new strategy for success is to honor the pointing dog. He’s learning that steadiness pays off.

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VIDEO: 6 Month Old Bird Dog

Here is a young dog we recently trained. He is steady to wing, shot and fall. He also stops to flush and has a natural retrieve.

People often ask how we can get such a young dog (6 months old) understanding this level of steadiness and still maintain his natural drive, intensity and focus. The reason is, I don’t use any pressure or obedience in his steadiness training and bird work. My method is success based. He knows that If he cooperates, I’ll help him get the bird in his mouth.

 

Brad Higgins


Teaching a Dog to Walk With Me

Here is a copy of a recent post I submitted in a Gundog training forum. The owner was having trouble teaching a young pup to “heel”.

Response:

I do things a little different. I approach training from the dogs point of view. What I’ve learned from the dogs over the years is that they don’t spend a lot of time telling each other what TO do. When it’s important, their natural instinct is to tell each other what NOT to do. Don’t come near my bone, Stay away from my bed, Get out of my yard, etc. They don’t tell each other to sit, stay, come, heel, roll over, play dead, shake, etc.

What the dogs know is group dynamics. The most important aspect of this, the way they decide where they fit in the flexible canine social structure, is by the claiming of space and things. I teach a dog to walk with me by simply claiming the space out front. He chooses to walk with me because it’s the only option I left for him to choose. He sees it as “free will”. In his mind, if he chooses to do it, he feels more confident and in control. This is the cornerstone of the Higgins Method, building mutual trust. He walks with me because I showed him that when I ask, the space out front belongs to me. Strange, but it is really that simple.

Here is a video of a young dog that had no leash training. I have her happily understanding and walking with me in about 10 minutes.
http://youtu.be/I3FEQcCY1E0

There are many ways to make dogs do things. I find that if I can discover the way that makes the most sense to them, using their natural instincts, we’re both happier.

Brad Higgins
Higgins Gundogs