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.
This video shows how we encourage a natural retrieve. It’s natural because I leave the pups free will intact and allow her to choose her options. This is how we build trust and really see a dogs natural talent and abilities.
Higgins Gundogs are trained and managed to a high level. They must be able to adapt to new and unusual situations and control their excitement level. We want to see all their style and intensity, but they must choose to remain steady. Here, we’re proofing a seasoned dog. This is Greg Belanger and his dog HGD Harry. This was filmed a while ago during one of our training hunts. While Harry is managing a moving pheasant, we release a young, untrained pup. The pup goes out and bumps and chases Harry’s bird. What is Harry’s response? He doesn’t break, he manages his energy. He is steady to flush, shot and kill. He is able to do this because he has learned to trust us. He knows, with our help, he will get his bird.
Here is a photo of Jeremy Kessler’s prairie falcon on a pheasant with his dog Grizz
As many of you know, I train dogs for use in wingshooting and falconry. What makes the Higgins Method unique is that, instead of conventional obedience based methods, I train the dogs using the same method I use to successfully train hawks and falcons.
Along with the dog training, I’ve been a master falconer for more years than I care to share. That’s where I learned about the predator mind. Hawks, falcons and dogs, when it comes to hunting, they all think the same. As with most experienced falconers, I can trap a wild hawk or falcon and have it cooperating and successfully hunting game with me in 2 to 3 weeks. With the dogs, because I train them like the falcons, they’re even easier. I don’t have to tame them first! Falcon style training for the dogs obviously works.
My method of training (falconry for dogs) is readily understood and accepted by the dogs. The reason is, my method and falconry are both based on the building of trust, not obedience. There can be no denying it. To help understand, I’ve included some truths about falconry and working with the birds. Here, you will see the similarities between my method and the training of hawks and falcons.
First and foremost, when training and hunting with a hawk or falcon, they must have free will. Free will is the opportunity to make natural choices with no negative associations tied to the handler (falconer). You can’t use obedience or coerce them into doing anything. You cannot use any pressure or punishment. If you do, they will simply leave. You can’t get frustrated, or lose your temper. There are no vocal commands or hand signals. Done correctly, there is no training through repetition.
To show the similarities between my method and the training and flying of hawks and falcons (falconry), let me show you the definitions of some old school falconry terms. The similarities will become obvious.
Bagged Quarry: “Captive prey which is released under a hawk during training or when game is scarce to insure a flight for the hawk.” This is what I do during training and on early hunts with the dogs.
Creance: “A line or cord attached to the hawk during early training”. This is my personal favorite. This is how I use a “checkcord”. It’s not about obedience. Once I show them how to be successful using the creance (checkcord), it is removed and they are “flown free”. There is no pressure or obedience here. In early training, I’m simply managing success.
Entering: “To fly a hawk at quarry for the first time or to arrange a situation such that a hawk has an easy opportunity to be successful.” Sounds like when I first begin dropping the creance.
Hack: “A process of allowing a newly fledged eyess (young, inexperienced bird) to fly at liberty with purpose of reaching it’s full power of flight under a simulated natural wild situation.” This is how I introduce the pups to the field and birds. “At liberty” is the key word here.
Lure: “An object which is made of feathers, leather plastic, etc., used as a means of recall.” I always have a live quail on a string in my vest. It’s a great tool to use with the dogs on occasion when teaching a recall. They come running to see if there might be a bird. The secret is in using it sparingly. Dogs, and predators in general, are gamblers. Success in this case is not guaranteed. They come in to the handler happy every time, just in case.
Make Hawk: “An older, more experienced hawk which is flown with an eyess (young, inexperienced hawk or falcon) to serve as an example or for encouragement.” In early training, I often run the pups with an older, experienced dog.
Man (manning): ” To accustom a hawk to men, to handling, and to strange sights and sounds.” Similar to socializing a young pup when he first comes home.
Serve: “To flush or put up quarry under a hawk”. I encourage the dogs to flush/stop on my cue. I guess it could be seen as “self serve”.
Wait on: “To circle overhead of the falconer waiting for quarry to be flushed.” The way I see it with the dogs, this is similar to their “point”.
Predators have the talent and the tools to be successful hunters. It’s their dance. For the best results, we have to play by their rules. The bottom line is, you are asking them to include you in their hunt. They will accept you as a viable partner in the hunt when they trust that you are there to help them be successful.
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!
Here is Moose. He is a Chocolate Lab/German Shorthair mix. This is a clip from a video I’m working on. It shows Moose when he was learning my flush/stop cue.
I enjoy watching flusher/pointer mixes develop their particular hunting strategy. Will he stalk and point (like a pointer) or will he smell a bird, accelerate and flush (like a flushing breed)? Before I agree to work with these clients, I require that they accept whichever hunting strategy their dog chooses. If he decides, with some experience, that he wants to flush his birds, we will help him develop that strategy. If, on the other hand, he decides stalking and pointing is his preferred strategy, then so be it. I have one goal for all the dogs. Give me all you have, whatever that may be, every time. I want to see all the style, intensity and drive he possesses. Moose is a good example.
I posted this video on a forum and got an interesting response. I was asked how I can establish what the true nature (his chosen hunting strategy) of a dog might be without influencing the outcome. Here is my answer:
“Good, thoughtful question. Before any steadiness training, I introduce these type of dogs to the field. Let them learn about the birds, play bump and chase. This gives me a good idea what strategies they prefer. You are right that I can have a lot of influence at this time regarding their hunting styles. I always try and keep it simple. In this case, I leave it between the dog and the birds. I’m just an observer. After a few flash points and chases with no reward, some will begin trying a stalking, pointing strategy. Sometimes, the flushing drive is so strong, some individuals will build more and more excitement with every flush (flushing strategy). As a handler, I watch carefully, from a distance. I look for the change in their energy when they get in a bird place. When their energy spikes (upon making scent), they will do one of two things. They will accelerate (flushing strategy) or decelerate (pointing strategy). When I see this, I know we’re ready to begin the steadiness process.
I start by using a checkcord while working loose birds in the field. I begin to manage their success. The flushers will smell the bird, accelerate and give me that beautiful, aggressive flush. As soon as the bird flushes, I manage them with the checkcord to prevent any chasing. The shooter kills the bird, brings it back and gives it to the dog. Now we take a walk. With the pointing dogs, it starts out the same, with the checkcord. I always use good flying, wild acting birds. The dog smells the bird but instead of accelerating, he decelerates into a stalk or point. If he gets at all pushy, the bird flushed and he loses. At this point, I do something a bit different. I want all the pointing dogs to flush the birds, but only on my “alright” cue. When he is steady and on point, I say “alright”. I go in with him and we flush the bird as you saw Moose and I do in the video. We both stop as soon as the bird is in the air. The shooter kills the bird and brings it back to the dog. We go for a walk. Doesn’t take but a few birds and I can say “alright” from a distance and he will aggressively flush/stop all on his own.
The foundation of my method is based on building trust and cooperation through managing success (a bird in their mouth). It’s exciting when they show me all their natural style and intensity. I get to see who they are when they have experienced no handler induces pressure. It’s truly training with no handprint.