The Higgins Method

Recently I became aware of “The Higgins Method” of gun training developed by Brad Higgins.

Brad has sent me two videos and invites commentary so I’ve added the NDT way of looking at things.

http://vimeo.com/59023204

http://vimeo.com/56924329

Brad’s website is below:

http://higginsgundogs.com/about-us/our-method/

It’s very gratifying to find folks from different ends of the dog training spectrum having arrived at the same conclusions I have, i.e. the prey controls the predator. (Recently Robert Vaughn has been writing very eloquently about the evolution of his thinking.) Being part of a community of like minded folks makes the road off the road less travelled, feel a lot less lonely. Here, Brad’s work reminds me of the German Sheep tending master Manfred Heine whose work has been documented and is being carried on by Ellen Nickelsberg.

I’m particularly struck by the passage below from Brad’s website:

Mentality as in “Predator/Prey Mentality”  is defined as “a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how a dog will interpret and respond to situations. Dogs don’t know dominance, submission, alpha or leadership. All they know, everything they know, relates to their natural, genetic, predator/prey mentality. This relationship is demonstrated within the pack, in their human/dog relationship and during the hunt, when hunting and managing birds.”

In these two videos one can see how the dog’s experience has been carefully crafted so that it learns to hunt through its own innate resources, and yet in alignment and synchronization with the hunters’ wishes. I have stated that the social capacity of dogs is predicated on the hunting paradigm and that anything we train a dog to do should flow from this template. This progression is clear to see in these videos. Note in the beginning of the second video featuring the young pointer, that the dog proffers a so-called “play bow” to the game bird. This is the “collected response,” wherein unlike other predators, a dog can “collect” or internalize the pressure of a situation (which instinctively it attributes to the “predatory aspect”, i.e. the negative, of the bird) and process it into a Drive manifestation rather than react reflexively or avoid altogether. In the collected response (the brain-to-gut connection) the dog’s body becomes very supple, and so we might think the dog is playing, but this emotional state will allow the dog to learn how to husband its energy into more measured outputs as well as deflect the dog toward the hunter. Cats and foxes on the other hand would not have as strong a collected response. They would be consumed with the the collapse sensations and not become collected. (This is why they do a more on/off, GO/NO GO, load/overload style of responding to resistance.) The collected response is the genetic embodiment of a law of motion, i.e. for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law of motion is the predicate of the dynamo to which I refer to as Temperament and which generates the collected response. Temperament is a faculty of processing nerve energy so as to integrate the Big-Brain-in-the-head with the little-brain-in-the-gut in order to formulate a coherent response, in real time as opposed to instinct. Because of Temperament, the dog is able to sustain a state of attraction in the face of resistance. Eventually the starts and stops, the projection and the collection, average out into a steady state Drive so as to make contact with an object of attraction (the bird) but most importantly through the group, i.e. through alignment and synchronization. (What behaviorists don’t understand about Drive, which is why they deny its existence, is that it has programming “hooks” wherein other entities are assimilated into the group configuration. The dogs aren’t learning according to reinforcement, the reinforcements are fitting into a template.) Once the dogs have the bird in their jaws, they run happily back to the human, the most intense negative in their group frame of mind. The gun shot is associated with the prey, therefore it isn’t predator energy and cannot interrupt the dog’s perception of flow. When a dog is channeled in this way, even when another dog “steals the point” as in the first video, the dog is not knocked out of flow. Note also that before a dog learns “NO” (as in rules and regulations) make sure it learns “GO” (as in where all its energy should be focused).

Watching dogs learn in kind of primal activity allows us to see how the predator to prey relationship (and the flipping of polarities therein by way of the brain-to-gut connection) is the basis of sociability and everything we love about dogs.

Published February 15, 2013 by Kevin Behan
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 responses to “The Higgins Method”

  1. cliff says:

    Kevin, Amazing dogs. Following your methods almost exactly in theory and practice. The congruence is almost uncanny. I’ve always been skeptical about using shock collars to train…anything. This is so much better, natural, and effective.

  2. Lacey says:

    That is beautiful – and what a joy to watch a whole hearted dog express his nature. These videos are exactly your writings about how to raise a puppy played out in my head while reading.

    I’ve got some friends who have field trial dogs, and the trainers methods are horrible. Horrible things done to puppies! Brad’s way, like yours, is respectful to dogness. And in the end, these will be happy AND successful dogs, instead of neurotic messes.

  3. Matt says:

    Any suggestions on how to help develop such traits in a gundog exposed to more traditional methods? Tug first building to….?

  4. kbehan says:

    I would definitely get in touch with Brad Higgens in regards to field work, I use the tug/push of war to build confidence in regards to socializing and problem behavior, but then that would have to be tested in regards to a soft mouth with a gun dog. I’ve taught my own dog to carry an egg which he can then eat later, so from my point of view there’s no conflict, but since I don’t work with bird dogs I claim no expertise there, this would have to be proven to one’s satisfaction in regards to field work. Good luck.

  5. Matt says:

    Thanks. The tug work I’ve done has not negatively impacted her soft mouth. She certainly “understands” what she can bite and what she can’t. YDIYM really shattered my training mentality and in a good way.

  6. Faith says:

    I have had hunting dogs for the past 10 years, and have yet to encounter a problem afield with tugging. (My dogs are trained to hunt upland game and waterfowl, as well as bloodtracking large game.) With my youngest dog who is almost 2, I have actually noticed a change in her since I’ve been more diligent with tugging. It’s as if she’s more aware of the power/strength of her bite, if that makes any sense. And since she has the opportunity to bite and channel that energy/desire in tug, tug isn’t necessary when we’re hunting. She’s always had a soft mouth with birds, but she will swing from the tug like my Dobermann did in Schutzhund!

  7. kbehan says:

    That makes total sense. In my model dogs feel first through their mouth, and then if they feel resonant, the feeling radiates throughout their bodies. In this way their arousal can deflect from an oral urge to a wholesale physical sensuality, hence the soft mouth. Thanks for the feedback.

  8. Josh D says:

    In a parallel experience to the above, as Zoey the 2 year old weim gets better at biting a tug toy, she is seemingly gaining in sensitivity when it comes to “mawing” her with my hands in play. She will bite my hand or my forearm but with just enough strength to grip it – definitely what I would consider a soft mouth (although I am not a hunter or do I have any hunting training experience).

    I would love to find a way to replicate the “magic brush pile” in some fashion without the complexity; teaching the dog that I am always the access to the prey. I see this as potentially one of the most important lessons dogs can learn and certainly an extension of pushing and redirection.

  9. kbehan says:

    My version of the “magic pile” is the “ready tree.” After a dog is biting well, I use the term “Ready” as a prelude to the bite, and then during a vigorous bite session I steal the toy from the dog and tuck it into a branch up a tree. Every so often around the property I say “Reaaaaaaadddddyyyyy” (especially when we see a deer for the first time) and then we race to the tree wherein the dog gets to bite and fight for the toy. Playing with me is what catching a deer comes to feel like. If a reactive dog is going to be walked around a neighborhood or through a park, (which means it’s on the hunt for its trigger) at some point the handler says “Reaaaaaadddddyyyy” and then races back to the ready tree that has been positioned somewhere along the route. Subsequently on future outings the dog begins to hunt for the toy and is dependent on the handler bringing it to life with the Ready command.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: