Doesn’t necessarily have to stay in Oregon. I recently joked with my gun broker about recent changes in Oregon and our trip to hunt Chukar and Quail. He said, “Guns and Methamphetamine together at last”. I replied, “Be still my beating heart” and chuckled as I walked out the door new 28-gauge side by side in hand.
The next day Jenna and I were saddled up and rolling, headed for the South East-Central region of Oregon. A desolate and remote place with a special austere beauty. For the record, the scenic by-way really isn’t the most scenic route to take. To be honest it is rather anticlimactic if not the most direct way to get to our designated accommodations.
When we drive, we drive. We care for our dogs, yes. After that everything else suffers to some degree. We had secured lodging with a regionally historic spot, and I was kinda looking forward to staying there. After a long haul we were immensely proud to have arrived in time to have been able to order a hot dinner, at least according to their electronic presence, only to be told – no dice. At least he was friendly about it as he nodded to the store, we were being welcomed to explore. I chose a bag of Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips and a Chocolate Porter produced in state. Jenna selected a potpourri of sweets. She may have chosen more wisely as my tongue was still tainted by the chips in the morning… but you aren’t here to read about this kind of stuff, or are you?
How can I describe Chukar hunting? Well in many places it can be a profoundly serious event. Like life or death serious for you and or your dog – I have a story or two I could use to highlight this for you, if you cared to hear them. This is after all part of the mystic of Chukar hunting. At its simplest terrain is your primary antagonist. Everything else is, well, optional. We signed in, and then opened our gate and headed up.
The trail was oft off camber and slippery, but no match for the Power Wagon or my resolve. Slowly we wound our way to where seemed like a reasonable place to stop and disembark on our Oregon Chukar adventure. We prepped Tule and Powder, then set off, uphill. So up we went. Going up isn’t something you to take for granted. Be it a step, or a hundred. You feel each one. Each and every step. Our objective was a high alpine meadow, nestled in a craggy bowl high up. Schlepping higher. I arrived behind the girls, slightly out of breath. Jenna is still climbing, dogs are on scent – of course they are. No rest for the weary, I trudge on. Powder is on point a hundred yards out. Tule is exploring space fifty yards to the North of her, the ground is now like walking on a large Twinkie covered in thick grass. Tule joins Powder. No mistakes are made, the second dog was too much, and the Chukar begin boiling out and across to where Tule was investigating. Yes! This never happens. The girls begin working the birds again. It takes little and they are out and up. S.O.B. Like a fool I pursue them to no avail.
We allowed ourselves to be taunted by the Chukar’s call to reconvene. Stalking one here and there only to be made to feel a fool, again. Chukar hunting, it gets personal quick. After getting our fill, we opted to hunt down and around. Possibly we could get into more chukar, but I had hunted here before, and there was a veritable army of quail living amongst the spring seeps dotting the mountainside. Surely, that would pay a dividend.
We looped around, the girls got birdy, and like many times in bird hunting you have a choice to do this or that. Literally a 50/50 shot at doing the right thing. Invariably I choose the wrong ‘50’. Powder was on them, the point indicator was right, she wasn’t lost and figuring her life out – she was on point. The birds flushed overhead to drive the point home – Jeeebuz. Where were these damn quail anyway? We zigzagged down, spring by spring. Nothing. Not a damn thing. What. The. F?! There was one much lower, but I called it. Jenna’s foot was sore and to hit the last one, we’d be all but on the valley floor – I did that last year, walking back up on cooked pasta for legs – yeah, it wasn’t so exciting. I was willing to give the quail a pass if they were there. You win, this time.
The truck wasn’t so far away. But it was so much higher. The Mandalorian could be there in a moment. I could be there in maybe an hour if I pushed. Jenna wasn’t having fun, so it was going to be a trudge. So we trudged. And in trudging one is given time for self-reflection. I came to understand. I am a good person, like many with some misgivings, but a good person nonetheless. Existentialism. Self-Exploration. F*@#king Chucker hunting. The truck was close – thank God.
The girls had been getting birdy off and on. Pushing here and there. Pulling back, searching. But the truck. It was close, right? Bing, bang, bong. Powder was on point, wait, Tule was too, just over there. The girls are juking and jiving. Point, move, point. One loses it and returns, then the other…
Holy shit it’s steep, but I can’t lose contact, or it’ll be another lost opportunity. The wind, what is going on? I can barely take a step. Tule on my right, Powder to my left, maybe at most 10 yards apart. The hail came. Punch, push, point. Finally, I found the energy and steeped through – they bastards flushed. Pop! I had one. The hail stung so badly. The chukar shot on it’s left it went spinning to the floor. Tule went one way, Powder the other. I went straight ahead to where the bird should have hit – nothing. Shit. Tule cruised by happy as a lark, without a bird. Where was Powder? She materialized up the insanely steep slope with a very lively bird in her mouth. Yes!
About 15 feet out she was met by Tule who lowered and turned her head. Powder, slowed, and gently lowered the very much alive bird to the ground and opened her mouth slightly, but kept it penned on the ground and allowed Tule to pick the bird up. She walked side by side with her, as Tule brought the bird to me. Who are you kidding, these dogs are Super Pro! Now, please make the hail stop.
Would you consider your gundog a valued member of the family? Or maybe even your buddy? Then maybe you should take some time to hear me out, because there is a better way to get a high-drive dog to perform like a rock star in the field than what is commonly accepted. The Higgins Method will help you to capitalize on the relationship you have with your dog, and only make it better by bringing you closer by building you and your dog as a team.
But before I get to that, I’d like to help frame up my personal experience and how I’ve come to this conclusion. I’ve trained dogs for about forty years now and to be honest, I still feel I have much to learn and improve upon. I acknowledge this and actively take active steps towards educating myself and developing my skill set. Done so by reading dozens of books, watching countless hours of videos, and seeking out hands-on training for myself. Part of this ‘mission’ of mine has led me to train with the best trainers and groups I could work myself into. Since I became serious about gundogs, and the training of gundogs, I have only redoubled my efforts in this arena. So, while the number of gundogs I have trained outright is not exactly an impressive number, I have learned by watching others and participating in the training of hundreds of dogs.
One of my gifts, or curses if you will, is to notice patterns where they don’t seem to exist. It happens most when I am at peace yet fully engaged. Suddenly the connections begin to appear. When it occurs, these connections help me to rather quickly rule out or rule in information, what is effective and what is not, identify trendlines, and so on. It is a quality of mine people have both loved and despised in my previous professional life…but that is a story for another day.
Getting back to it. I’ve had the opportunity to train and befriend some really notable gundog people, several with a presence on the national level. People who I am friends with and hold great respect for to this day. I saw why and where their method worked, the parts of their programs that were money in the bag, their overlaps and similarities; some parts being practically magical and then the parts that just worked be it for whatever reason: force of will is a commonality. And yes, the differences too.
Of particular interest, in dog sport, the ‘positive methodology’ (poorly named, hence it being so poorly understood by many) rules supreme! I mean really, pick a sport from Agility all the way to Tactical dog ‘training’ and just about every point in-between ‘positive’ is The Way, not just a way. With one notable exception, the gundog. The poor gundog, which spends most of its time as a humble family companion, is trained in a brutish old-world way. Why?
I’ll venture this – it’s tradition. Most or all other dog sports are relatively new, and therefore people haven’t been steeped in a particular mindset for a full generation, let alone multiple generations. On the other hand, we humans have been doing the gundog thing for a few hundred years now. The whole hunting over a gundog isn’t just an institution steeped in tradition, it’s been painted, and written about both academically and poetically. Training the gundog has been brought to a state of near mythical proportion. How do you change that?
The old way is centered on the perception that the handler must control the high-drive dog. This control must be absolute. Stop when I say stop, go when I say go, as if the handler knows better in all situations – anything else is disobedience and subject to punishment. That’s assuming the dog even understands why. We can get more into that later if you’d like. The use of force to get what the handler wants when the handler wants it is the easily moved forward backstop. When in doubt, add ‘stim’ seems to a tried and true panacea for all gundog problems. Maybe you even bought videos, books, or into a membership with some organization advocating the use of force. Worse yet, not just advocating the use of force but actively promoting and normalizing it. Some methods are better than others, but at a certain point they all neck down and follow a similar methodology which is wholly dependent on the use of force. How draconian a particular method is seems to be related to how much force the prolific trainer needed to use to generate “success” - then their followers’ line up eager to replicate what they perceived ‘worked’ for so and so. As always there is talk of washouts, dogs that couldn’t hack it, the abuse they don’t want to talk about. Yep, I said it, abuse. That and my sense of pattern-detection has kept me from being able to go all in with all the variations based in this old-world methodology.
Okay, now all the traditionalist out there are looking to burn my house down – that’s fine, it’s insured, its value it tracked appropriately, and we are looking to leave Washington. Just let me get my dogs out first, please. Trust me, I’m not being dramatic, the responses I’ve gotten on a variety of forums has only been met with varying degrees of hostility. One does not threaten tradition casually or make hamburgers from a sacred cow...but my grill is hot!
Okay, enough of that. Let’s talk about the Higgins Method. First and foremost, the Higgins method is entirely Force Free and capitalizes on the intelligence of the dog, the dog's natural desire to be cooperative, and energy management for dog and handler – wait, what!? Yep, that's it in a nutshell. In short, Brad uses a truck load of good flying birds presented to the dog in a way where the dog gains an understanding that in order to be fully successful it needs to cooperate with you, the handler – all without the use of force. Once the dog believes this, the rest is up to you. How long will it take for you to trust your dog and believe it will play its role for you? Once you have achieved the fifth stage of grief, also known as: acceptance, a team is born. Once dog and human are a team, hunting is a relaxing exercise in watching your dog perform. You’ll need to put your constricted chokes away and possibly consider adding spreader loads to your arsenal.
Ila has been brought up this way. We used compatible Force Free techniques to shape every behavior of hers leading up to her Higgins introduction. Afterall, it is hoped that she take over her mother’s role of being my Medical Response Dog at some point in the future. Ila is deeply in tune with me because of this, to the extent that her performance is tied to how true my handling is. If I do my job right, she will do hers right. Not that I look forward to becoming a sloppy handler, but as she continues to mature, her dependance upon my exact handling will lesson. For the record, she has been steady to wing, shot, fall and release since six-months of age – without a single zap. Wouldn’t you like to know what it feels like to bring a Gatling gun to a knife fight? If so, it’s time to ditch the old paradigm and step into the era of modern canine learning and bring this to your beloved gundog. Once you do, you can focus on your tactics, getting your dog get into the best cover, and supporting their effort to find every bird in the area for you. Sounds rough doesn’t it?
This is more or less a companion piece to the Higgins Gundogs review I made last year. We are clients of Higgins Gundogs, and receive no preference or benefit from writing anything ‘pro-Higgins’. To that end, Ila is still in pursuit of her Higgins Gundog title. Which will only be earned when she and I can unequivocally demonstrate our mastery of team dynamics. We are hoping to achieve this goal in early 2021.
A couple of weeks ago Gunner Kennels sent us an email asking if we would be interested in becoming an affiliate partner with them. We get similar offers fairly regularly from all kind of places, but the "deals" tend to be dubious at best, so we simply decline. This morning we had a great conversation with Virgina, the Gunner Partner Program Manager, and decided moving forward would be good for our clients and friends, as we would be able to offer discounted prices on Gunner Kennels. Shipping is free, and the further you are from TN, the bigger this savings is! To ship a G1 Intermediate from TN to WA is nearly $200 (they are 48# afterall) and drop shipments to any address in the nation are totally possible all at no charge. Basically the ordering needs to be run though the Two Gun account to qualify for the discount, taxes will apply, but shipping is free! If you are interested, please inquire.
So it appears Powder managed to smuggle some souvenirs back from her trip to Arizona and while Tule would prefer some actual baked treats, she says these would do just fine... Both girls are due 23/24 July. X-rays are scheduled for 16 July. So it should be an exciting summer!
**Applications for this opportunity are closed, if you have interest in a Two Gun or Duck Creek Drent, please inquire about our future plans**
Since we are really hoping Tule & Powder are with puppies and only about 2-weeks in, we took our newly minted yearling, Ila, and Jenna's Fowler. Fowler has managed to place each time he has played in the friendly competition. This of course was Ila's debut, and she did great. The rules are simple: 10-minutes max in the field to get two birds to hand any way you can. Retrieve of the 2nd bird stops the clock, lowest time wins, all breeds are welcome. As you might imagine, retriever breeds do quite well in this, because many simply roll in and scoop up the released chukar. No need for shooting, hitting or actual retrieving - that all costs time. This year there were 40 dogs entered, the club's larget registration to date. Once Ila realized there were birds in the field she became all business, and did a great job by pointing her birds, all nice and steady, and retrieving them when sent to 'hunt dead'. Her time wasn't so impressive, but unlike more than half the dogs that ran, she got both of her birds before the horn sounded. Had she put her working hat on from the start, she would have made the finals. To give you some perspective, out of 40 dogs run on the day, 26 did not complete their round. A round consisted of getting two birds to hand in less than 10-minutes. Last bird to hand stopped the clock. Fowler of course knew what was up and acted accordingly from Jump Street. Some nice clean points and purposeful retrieves put him into the final round (top 8 fastest scores from the initial braces) where he remained in first place until the last heat when one of the retriever boys went out and merrily picked his birds up, and a retriever was gifted some fantastic luck - scooping one, and having his bracemate send a bird over to land perhaps ten feet in front of him! So we bagged third place with a great job and a solid performance less than one second behind second place!
I have been pretty quiet about what is going on with regards to the second edition of my book The Drentsche Patrijshond for the North American fancier, after all, the book has been sold out now for over two years now. I paid the big bucks a while back and put together an elaborate survey via Survey Monkey and that survey was sent to everyone who purchased a copy of the book. Thankfully, I received some good feedback. Interestingly, what I received is very much what I had expected – I had accurately assessed what people would like, and what the book needed to be more complete. That was a huge win!
Here is where it got sticky. The original fully edited manuscript was lost. Neither my publisher nor I had it. But we did have the PDF file of the pre-production book, which still predated the last round of house cleaning for the production run. So, I cracked the PDF and unleashed a storm of formatting errors – the result of my designer using a host of proprietary fonts. The resulting file did in fact look much like a train of dumpsters flipped into a ditch and set alight. It was a total disaster. I had to put it away it was so bad. Still from time to time I’d open it and try to make corrections. Some efforts were hours long, others just enough to open the file stare fear in the eye and close it. One day I was fooling around and had an epiphany regarding the pattern of auto-formatting the file crack job created. From that point, the clean up job become mission possible. Tedious, mind numbing the task was. Much, like picking grains of rice from a sack of lentils, the task was hours and hours of careful combing – but I did it. I managed to create a clean manuscript.
Still, there was the task of restoring the final print edit. This too was an unenviable task. Some of the edits were subtle, some quite significant. The result of my publisher’s efforts really put a level of polish on the project I was not capable of producing. So, I would set time aside and have a pre-production book as well as a book from the production run set page for page just off to the side, with my trusty laptop and power supply at hand and went word for word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. Page by page. Chapter by chapter to restore the edits and make adjustments in a few places. This task took longer than I had anticipated, but the work passed smoothly and helped to breathe new life into my desire to see the project through.
With that wind under my wings, I began writing about all the things I wished I had been able to have in the book when it was sent to print, the same things my feedback told me that others wanted. To date I have written 21,000 words and still have more to write. Because the way my creative process works, I make the process a bit more difficult on myself than it really needs to be. It just is what it is, I stopped fighting it a long time ago – but I do still curse it from time to time. These past few weeks I have begun shaping what I have produced into a cohesive piece, so that one idea flows or builds to the next. I thought I had it, then realized I had boxed myself in and so I had to redo the whole thing. Cutting and pasting within a lengthy Word document is tedious. Scrolling up and down, down and up. Finding text and moving it to the right place, highlight text for future editing, and so on. Then identifying what is it that I am missing.
That is right, with 21K written, I most likely still need to write the better part of 10,000 or more words to cover what I have wedged in my headbone. That might be terrifying to many of you, but for me, it’s really not a big deal. My greatest limiting factor with regards to production is my ‘exquisite’ keyboard skill. Putting words to paper, so the speak, comes easy to me and now that I know what I want to write about, it’ll be for me to ‘buckle down’ and throw words at those thoughts until the idea is covered. Like this update, a thought I had last night. And this morning after breakfast, just tap it out in forty-five minutes or so…
In many ways I am glad I wasn’t able to include this new material in the original book. I really wasn’t ready to write about it. I wanted to, but I lacked the confidence needed to write definitively about the topic I wanted to write on. As I was in the process of learning and transition. In the years before and between when I was writing for the first Drent book project and now I have read thousands of research quality and fully cited pages, on canine behavior. Taken online courses, watched hundreds of hours of pro-trainers work with dogs and of course work hands on with a few pros as well. Of particular importance, is to note, more research has been done on the behavior of domesticated dogs in the past fifteen years than the preceding 150 years combined. This research has changed how and what I do with my dogs and after training dogs for a little over forty years has completely changed the way I train dogs.
It is my hope to produce a guide to help my reader to not have to do what I did, it took to long and for my reader it does not have to. You will be gifted with what I have learned regardless of medium, written in my direct conversational story telling style. So when will it be ready? That my friend is a great question. I do plan to make regular updates with regard to the ‘second edition’ from here on out. That alone will help keep me accountable with the whole production effort, as I plan to do it all myself this time and self-publish under my own label. Until next time, take care.
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fifty some years later this is what you get.