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.
Here is a short video I did recently of Olive hunting and managing quail. Our hunting style is quiet and unhurried with no commands. I keep the hunts between the dog and the birds. Olive knows that her odds of success (getting the bird in her mouth) increase if she includes me in her hunting strategy. It’s all based on trust and cooperation.
Here is the first video in a new series I’ll be producing. This series will concentrate on the handlers responsibilities when wingshooting over dogs using the Higgins Training Method. Most of my videos show the unique talents displayed by the dogs. This new series will show the hunt but include more from the handlers perspective. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment.
Congratulation to our recently certified Higgins Gundog, HGD Griffonpoint X’Bomber and his owner Chad Woods. Chad drove here from Kansas and stayed for four days. It worked out great with Bomber even earning his Higgins Gundog Certification. We worked a total of 65 great flying (and running) Higgins quail. Below is a link to a video I did on our last day of training. In it, Chad is handling and shooting over Bomber.
In order to earn his HGD title, Bomber demonstrated his understanding of our flush/stop cue, stop to flush, steadiness through flush, shot and fall, team stalking (honoring), and a nice natural retrieve on our “hunt dead” cue. As is the mark of a Higgins trained Gundog, he showed more than physical steadiness, he showed a mental steadiness based on free will and trust in the handler.
Here is our newest, certified Higgins Gundog Sage, and her owner Ron. We took her from bumping and chasing birds, to steady to wing, shot & fall in three days. In addition, she does a nice aggressive flush/stop on cue, honors another dog’s point and has a nice, gentle retrieve. (The birds used in my training hunts are not wild birds. They are pen raised birds that I have released for training.)
Here is one of our black pointer pups, Olive, in the field today during one of our training hunts. Here, she finds a bird and waits for us to catch up. Once we arrive, I get the shooter (Reagan) in place and give Olive her Flush/Stop cue. She does a beautiful aggressive flush to present the bird to the guns, but the bird refused to fly. So what does she do? She stops, resets and waits to be cued again. She does a second flush on cue and stops as soon as the bird flies. She is then sent for the retrieve. Dogs are pretty smart if you trust them and give them the freedom to make decisions.
Here is a young Griffon learning that bird management (stalking) is a necessary and successful strategy. The video starts after the dog scented the bird and pointed. Now the bird has moved off. The dog is learning that to get the bird to stop, it must keep in touch with the bird but not flush it. If the dog does not stalk (too little pressure), the bird will run off and be lost. If the dog moves too fast or tries to get too close (too much pressure), the bird will flush and is lost. It’s a beautiful balancing act to watch. Once the bird set, I sent the shooter out front to shoot the bird and reward the dog for choosing a successful strategy.
Stella (Basso x Amber) went to her new home today. This video is of her new owners, Therese and Eric, learning to handle her in the field. Stella is steady on her birds until released, does a nice flush/stop on cue and has a natural retrieve. In this video, I’m having Eric and Therese take turns learning to handling Stella and shooting over her.
At this stage, I connect (mentally and physically) the new handler and the dog together with the checkcord for a few sessions. There are a number of new associations that need to be made both for the dog and the handler. The dog needs to associate what he already knows to a new handler including the new voice, new timing, different body movements and cues, etc. The handler needs to learn how to read the dog and learn when to move, when to be still, when to cue the dog, etc.
We had a lot of fun. I’m sure Stella will be happy in her new home. Thank you Therese and Eric.
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.
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Higgins Gundogs provides gundog and owner training, using quiet, low pressure techniques based on dog psychology. We offer guide service in Lincoln, CA, as well as seminars, online video training, and of course our renown Higgins Remote Releaser. Our goal is to give you the tools, knowledge and confidence to train and handle your hunting dog yourself. Thanks for visiting us.