The pups are 3 1/2 months old now. All looking good and enjoying their bird work.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Yes, they are six months old now! Your puppy might be feeling its oats and even be starting to feel the naughtiness of adolescence encouraging them to act in ways their former baby sweetness did not.
If this is the case we will give you some tips for handling these behaviors which can include: counter surfing, nipping, biting while playing rough, playing rough, rushing through doors, molesting windows and doors , knocking people down when going up or down stairs, making inappropriate noise while crated, etc.
If your puppy is exhibiting any of these behaviors you are not alone, most puppies go through this stage and it is a matter of management (not necessarily getting them tired) to get them through it.
The first thing we recommend is that you look at this video and do it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3FEQcCY1E0 The Higgins training method is not only for gundogs, it is a dog behavior philosophy based on how dogs think, not how humans wish they would think.
If you have any questions about the leash, we can send you one. Other leashes will not work. It needs to be a simple, plastic lead with a noose. Fancier collars will not be the right weight or stiffness.
This Walk is the place where you earn your puppy’s trust and show them that you can claim space from them. They are hardwired as pack predators to understand this and after the ‘hissy fit’ on this leash, they will be calm and happy. In fact, they will be more calm and will have learned to manage their own energy through this exercise which is half of the battle with puppy energy.
Once they understand the Walk, you will also be able to claim space in the home. When we have a puppy who is noisy in the crate, we simply put them into the crate, open door to the crate and claim the room. Their job is now to stay in the crate. Suddenly their energy is focused on staying in the crate so they stop letting their energy exit as noise and fretting. They become calm and take a nap.
Whenever you have to break your puppy’s focus to change their behavior, use a noise that sounds like a growl—‘Ach!’. This noise is more effective than english as it is a noise that they understand from infancy from their mother. Whenever your puppy is thinking bad thoughts (like counter surfing) use this noise while reinforcing it by inserting your body between them and the counter, backing them up to their dog bed or crate or out of the room they are in. After they have made the association between your ‘Ach’ and you claiming space, you will be able to claim space from a distance. (example: you are at your computer when you hear the wastepaper basket rustle, you give a loud ‘Ach’ and the puppy walks away from the rubbish.) Basically, ‘Ach’ means ‘stop whatever it is you’re doing!’. It replaces all of the obedience words that you have been trying to teach but give up on because it is too much work and the dog doesn’t listen anyhow. ‘Ach’ means: stop jumping on my mother-in-law, stop running through the door when I open it, stop begging, stop chewing on the coffee table, stop eating the Christmas roast, stop chewing on me, stop nipping a the children, stop playing rough, stop running away from me, etc.
Of course, ‘Ach’ won’t mean anything until you have shown them that you can claim space. This is where the Walk is essential, it is the foundation for your elevation in the household. If you don’t do this, you are another pack member who can be molested and ignored until you show them that you can accelerate and claim space. This is not about obedience, this is simply about earning trust. None of the dogs in my house know a single obedience command yet they leave the staircase when I or my children place a foot on it, they stay in contact while I’m in the field with them, they don’t jump on guests or counter surf.
Also, it is important to manage their space by not allowing them to have the run of the house until they have earned their freedom. This means that if we are actively playing with, giving attention to or am generally aware of a young pup, s/he is loose in the room we are in. As soon as we need to focus on my kids or do some chores where we will lose track of them, we put them someplace where they are managed so they cannot go chew on the curtains or execute some clever scheme to trip us in the middle of the night somewhere out of sight. we use an ex-pen in our living room for our young Griffons.
Once they have consistently shown that they know the boundaries, they have more and more time loose in the house. At the moment, only our seven and four year old girls have the run of the house when we are not home. Ithaca and Tidbit are only a year old and just beginning to get more freedom in the house. There is nothing wrong with crating them for an hour if you need some space. Especially if you have given them plenty of exercise.
This is a recent video of our new pup from Scotland. It begins when he was 12 weeks old and covers a four week time frame. He is now 16 weeks old and has had a lot of fun learning to hunt and manage his birds. No obedience, commands or pressure. We have the gun introduced and are now shooting birds over him. He loves quail and partridge and has become a bold, confident hunter. He even retrieved his first pheasant this week. I shot it over him but didn’t kill it cleanly. He found it far out in heavy cover and brought it back alive.
He is now ready to begin learning about steadiness. We’ll start with the Magic Brushpile.
Wow, what a training day! Pete’s puppies keep surprising us.
Ithaca (Pete x Holly) and her littermates have been impressive from the moment their eyes opened, but this girl is mind blowing. She isn’t ten months old yet and yesterday she was steady to wing, shot and kill without any hesitation or question. She has never worn an e-collar and has never experienced pressure or obedience training, she is the most cooperative and intuitive dog. Brad and I had her in the field with good flying chukar. She was handling beautifully to front, quartering naturally, ranging out but never disconnecting. When she found and pointed her first bird her point was intense and solid. We gave her a moment to see if she was going to work her way up the scent cone as she was about 20 feet from likely cover and the day was super hot and dry, but she was a rock. So I went to front to kick around the cover. As I passed her, she gave me that flash of the eye saying, “you’re on, go get it!”. When the bird ran out of the cover I looked back to see if she was loading up or had changed her intent from holding to helping me flush, but she was still solid! I flushed the bird, checked once more to see that she was still steady and then shot the bird. She was a statue except for her tail 🙂 All of Holly’s and Pete’s puppies are super easy to read, their tails give them away. Brad and I were quiet for a while while continuing the hunt. We had to digest what we had just observed. This nine month old Griffon had just hunted with style and intensity and then been completely steady. He commented that in the many, many dogs that he has trained he can’t remember one so green that so clearly understood its role in the hunt. He said that she had just acted like an eight year old guide dog. It wash’t the fact that she was steady, many of our dogs are steady at this age, it was how clearly she understood her role and how she had no desire to challenge my role or require any extra help in staying steady.
We also worked with Monkey, Honey and Valentine. They are Pete’s and Periwinkle’s puppies and are five months old now. They are also exceptional puppies. Monkey (who now belongs to Scott and Mei) was in the field loose with quail for the first time. He handled super well so we let him work into a bird. When he found and pointed his first bird, Dustin shot it, Monkey hopped once at fall to mark where it landed and I gave him a little growl to remind him to stay still. He was solid on his second bird. Nice shooting Dustin!!
Honey was solid on the Brush Pile and will be practicing what she has learned in the field this week. She was steady to flush, shot and kill and didn’t move a bit while birds were flushing directly over her head. Valentine has another trip to the Brush Pile and will be in the field with her siblings. She ended this session with birds flying overhead and remaining steady to flush, shot and fall.
It is quite amazing to see young Griffons show such keen understanding of their roles in the hunt. It would be impossible without this method of training and this quality of pedigree. The Higgins Method works on the foundation of gregarious predator behavior. It can be used with young, sensitive dogs because it does not use pressure to make a dog comply, rather it gives dogs the incentive to cooperate because they will be successful if they do. We are also using this method to help shape our breeding program. By showing young dogs success with the Brush Pile, we can record their natural tendency to defer to the shooter. A pup who naturally recognizes that their success increases when they defer is one who will try fewer unsuccessful options while learning. A naturally deferring dog tends to be well balanced socially. Selecting natural deferrers in our program is producing puppies like Ithaca, Sophie, Monkey, etc. etc.
The Sofie’s Story
Written by owner and handler, Terry Mundorf, 9/1/12
Katy asked me to recount my experiences as a new owner of a Griff, bred by Griffonpoint Kennels and trained by Brad Higgins of Higgins Gundogs. I was delighted to be asked to do so, but had the expected problem of figuring out where to begin. So I will start with me.
I am a long-time bird hunter (pheasant, quail, chukar) who has never owned a finished gun dog. I have, however, hunted birds with many friends, all of whom have Labs of various hues that were trained with electronic collars. As a consequence, I have spent many an hour in the field watching dogs hunt by themselves, hearing owners yell at them as they ran to catch up before the flush occurred, and seeing dogs ignore all oral commands and most electronic ones.
I wanted a gun dog, but one that was different from those of my friends. I wanted a dog that would hunt with me, would be naturally responsive and would be a part of my household. My research led me to the Griffon. Finding a breeder that bred dogs for hunting took some time, but with luck and effort I found Katy and Griffonpoint Kennels. Katy in turn led me to Brad Higgins, and that is where the story of Sofie begins.
I travelled to Griffonpoint Kennels to meet Katy’s recent litter of Griffons and to attempt to pick out my future hunting companion. The first two things I noticed were that there were a lot of Griffons of all ages at Griffonpoint Kennels, and that all of the dogs were allowed to range over the property, have fun and figure things out for themselves. There seemed to be a lot of well-adjusted pups (and adults). Finally, I was chosen by the Griffon that would become Sofie. She would play with the other dogs and then return to me for a belly rub. You can do a lot worse than choosing the dog that chooses you.
I elected to leave Sofie with Katy in order to put her in the training of Brad Higgins. I had never trained a pointer, and did not want to wreck a good dog out of my ignorance. I really had no knowledge of Brad and his natural (non-electronic) training methods, but I knew two things: he was bound to know more about starting a dog than I did; and he was recommended by Katy. I was soon to learn much more.
I visited Brad and Sofie in the training environment on three separate occasions, the last of which was for a four day stay. Over this period, I saw the whole progression of the Higgins method of dog training, in which the dog’s natural instincts are encouraged and the dog makes its own decision to hunt with a human because it is more successful to do so.
I got to see six-eight week old puppies point, chase and catch birds, then parade around with them visibly bursting with pride of accomplishment. I learned about the Magic Brush Pile, and found out that if left to its own devices, a dog with natural hunting instinct would figure out that it would get to hold a lot more birds working with the hunter than by hunting on its own. I also got to see numerous demonstrations that dogs are capable of deciding that hunting with a human is more fun than hunting on their own, and that dogs that are permitted to make this decision are more responsive to the hunter than those that are coerced or shocked into it.
One short story will suffice to make this last point. Brad knew of a few chukar in a large field and turned a Griffon loose without an electronic collar. The dog immediately high-tailed it towards the horizon, without so much as a look back. Based on my experience, it was now time to run after the dog yelling. Brad did nothing, he just stood there. When I got nervous and asked how we would retrieve the dog, the answer was we would merely turn our backs to the dog and wait. And so we did. Not too many minutes later, the dog had returned, was standing in front of us expectantly. It spent the rest of the day hunting birds close to and in front of us. When we turned, the dog turned. It was a classic example of the dog trying hunting on its own, and deciding without coercion that it did not work, and deciding that hunting with us was simply better.
Sofie went through the same process, and before I took her home I had the chance to hunt birds with her. It was an eye-opening experience to see a then six-month old puppy find birds, lock up on point, allow the shooter to flush the bird and await the command to get the bird. It was wonderful.
One more quick story then I will conclude this piece. Griffonpoint Kennel is in northern California and I live in Seattle, Washington. Rather than shipping Sofie by air, I elected to drive her to her new home. She readily got into the car with me, a relative stranger, and off we went. Since the car was too small for a crate, she sat in the back seat. For the first half hour, she whined softly and looked out of the windows at the onrushing scenery. At about the 35 minute mark, you could see that she was getting accustomed to the view, and perhaps a little bored. At the 45 minute mark, she laid down in the back seat a fell asleep. And she slept most of the way back to Seattle.
I considered this wonderful behavior, and I attribute it to a number of things. First, the Griffon as a breed is reasonably calm for a hunting dog. But more importantly, she is a well-bred and well-socialized dog that expects to be treated well, and as a consequence has little fear. Second, her hunting training instilled in her self-confidence, and what I would call confidence in her own ability to make decisions about new situations. This calm acceptance of change boded well for her when she arrived at her new home.
My wife had seen one picture of Sofie at about 8 weeks of age, and nothing more. She was expecting a dog about the size of a Pekinese. When Sofie jumped out of the car, weighing 45 pounds, the reaction was “What a HUGE dog!” However, the shock gave way to acceptance and then to love, as Sofie demonstrated her desire to please and her clear affection for everyone in the family. I had to leave home on business for a week, leaving Sofie and my wife alone together. I feared divorce, ultimatums or general mayhem. What I found on my return was a dog and a wife perfectly bonded, and no prized possessions destroyed. Life could not be better.
So what do I conclude from all this as a first time hunting dog owner? Well, a number of things:
Do not try to train a well-bred hunting dog on your own, you will only ruin a good thing.
If you are really going to hunt the dog, get it from a breeder who is focused on breeding only hunting dogs. The show ring and field trials have no place for hunters.
Get a dog that is raised in a pack. A well-adjusted dog makes for a happy owner, and more importantly a happy home.
Training by what I call the “natural method” (no electronic collar) with the Higgins Method is the only way to go. It results in a dog that has made up its own mind and wants to hunt with you, has not be tortured into submission, and is a hunting companion rather than just another piece of equipment.
All of the foregoing results in a confident dog that knows its job, enjoys its work, and enjoys hunting as much as its owner.
That’s all for now, but Sofie’s story will continue, as next Sunday will be her first Washington chukar hunt.
Q: I just acquired a new puppy. What can I be doing with it now, until it is old enough for gun dog training?
A: Socialize your puppy as much as possible. (Check with your vet to get recommendations about Parvovirus in your area.) The more your puppy gets out of the house to see strangers, kids, other animals, different kinds of outdoor environments (different kinds of cover), etc., the less overwhelming its first exposures to hunting and prey will be. This will allow pup to focus on finding and catching prey. Read more…