Learning the Higgins Method. First, Forget Everything You Know
Been working on the upcoming book, The Higgins Method. Here are some thoughts taken from various chapters on the differences between my method and conventional, obedience based training methods. You’ll find that many things are opposite of conventional obedience training.
(1) I never tell the dogs when to stop (“WHOA”). I never need to. They know how to manage their birds. Instead of demanding they STOP, I do the opposite. I give them permission to go (my “Flush/Stop” cue).
(2) You’re not the dog trainer. That’s the birds job. Your job is to simply set up realistic hunting scenarios with good, wild acting birds. Let the birds take it from there. He will learn from the birds that his odds of success (a bird in his mouth) increase when he is steady and waits for the shooter to kill the bird.
(3) I show the dogs that I can increase his odds of success if he will include me in his hunt. From his point of view, I’m a liability. I can’t keep up or smell a thing. But I do have an ability that he does not. I can increase his odds of success by shooting the birds for him. It doesn’t take long for him to cooperate, include me in his hunt, and choose to be steady.
(4) The foundation of other training methods is unnatural and foreign to the dogs. These methods are based on obedience and pressure. My method is the opposite. It’s based on the natural way predators interact, forming groups to live and hunt together. It’s based on trust and cooperation.
(5) If you think you’re teaching your dog to fetch and retrieve you’re wrong. From his perspective, you’re teaching and rewarding him for chasing. I don’t teach dogs to chase. I don’t command a retrieve. I build trust first, then I simply nurture his natural instinct to share the kill. The secret is to remember that it’s his bird, not yours. Build trust and he will want to share his bird with you.
(6) I don’t do obedience training with drills or repetition. Dogs are not programmed to think that way. I train the way they think using associations, timing, consistency and success. Because the birds we use have been released, I don’t know what they may do. They might be in a covey, they might run, flush wild before being pointed, etc. If you find yourself being repetitive and doing “drills” stop, and reevaluate your training method. Manage the hunt but keep it natural and as realistic as possible. The dogs should see time in the field as hunting, not training.
(7) Pointing is simply part of stalking. It’s the predators way of closing the gap, getting closer to the prey before the pounce. I want to encourage this. The way I see it, all the work he did, the stealthy movement and intensity, culminate in the pounce (aggressive flush). I will never go in and steal a dogs point by walking up and commanding him to “WHOA” while I flush his bird. He found it and managed it well. He is allowed to present his bird to the gun (pounce) on my “Flush/Stop” cue.
More to come.