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.