Well hello to you my loyal reader. Sorry it has been a terribly slow year for the blog, just because it has been slow here it doesn’t mean we have been just laying around drinking beer and eating potato chips! If only life could be so grand!
Obviously, we had an exciting and gorgeous litter of puppies from Tule and Fen. After they all went to their homes, we took action on something we have been making casual threats at for the past couple of years and added a non-Drent to the household! You may have seen Fizzy on our social media. In short, we each had our list and had come to be okay with at least one breed from each other’s list but after hosting Laura Reeves for our puppy evals, we were presented with an opportunity we just couldn’t pass on – a Spinone Italiano pup. Not just any Spinone, but one from a breeder who has a proven knack for producing a disproportionate number of the top winning Spinone in the nation! So just like that, Fizzy came into our lives.
In addition to looking high and low for remarkable studs to “import” for our program, managing a litter, volunteer Instructing for Ladies Hunting Camp, we become a distributor for Inukshuk Professional Dog Food, and getting this super cool Spinone as already mentioned. Additionally, we built a flight pen for keeping quail. If you have been following us, you know we use the Higgins Method for force-free field ‘training’ for all of our dogs (to include the Spinone). One of the biggest challenges with using the Higgins Method is the need for birds that will fly. You can get the basics done in a shockingly short amount of time, however, to polish your handling skills and get to a high level of performance, your need for good flying birds is significant. On the bright side, each session is a replication of a hunting scenario where you and your dog learn and gain experience as a team. With proper attention to detail your team performance will creep ever closer to perfection.
Well, the quail situation took a massive hit one evening shortly after my son’s summer visit began. Two nights after a large intake of quail, we had a Trash Panda probing our flight pen, and despite shoring up defenses it/they finally made their move and massacred 40 quail. It was a tragic sight to behold. Terrible if not terrifying was the aftermath. A buddy of mine lent me a live trap to use. So the trap was set and our Ghost in the Darkness managed to take all the bait, without getting trapped and still dig into the pen, and left a dump right in the middle. It is clear we are dealing with an experienced urban troublemaker. We went back to the drawing board with our security plan, dug trenches, sank heavy gauge fencing, weighted with bricks and rocks, and added a solar powered electric fence rated to contain large unruly livestock. We have had two confirmed attempts to breach since, but the juice has been too much. Giddyap, zap, zap, motherf’er!
So, in short, we have been running to and from puppy classes, doing bird work with our dogs, and *gasp* living a bit of life. Yeah, I know that too takes time and energy too. With that, blog posts have been negligible, and my consumption of books has been reduced to a trickle. On the upside, Jenna and I have come a long way with our team handling, and it shows in the improved performance of our dogs. Ila is nearly finished, Tule is holding her own, and baby Fizzy is legitimately doing great work for us – but in all honestly her lower energy level has made the process very easy.
It’s mid-August now, just a few days away from Powder’s x-ray which is a stressful time for us. Her pregnancy was confirmed by ultrasound, which was of some comfort. But to be honest all it really did was mark the start of The Great Wait. How many are in there? Will any be reabsorbed? Will they all arrive safe and full of life? Those are all great questions. Powder’s x-ray is close on the horizon, and that will be a big help. A quality x-ray can show us many things and help us to set expectations for delivery day. Until then we wait. Trying not to get overly excited and get our expectations too high, while at the same time trying not to judge how she looked during previous pregnancies to arrive at some guestimate as to what may or may not be happening. The random whelping supplies we needed to replenish our stocks have all arrived, the whelping room has been cleaned, set up, and arranged.
So, with that I need to get ready for the concert tonight. Until next time, take care and thanks for stopping by.
This morning our veterinarian was able to confirm Powder's pregnancy! This will be her last litter of pups. Powder has been an easy whelper, produced some very nice pups, a great mom, and a wonderful companion. So it should go without saying, but we are very excited for these little adventurers to come into this world!!
We are rolling into the home stretch now! Pups are expected 20 March 21. All have long since been spoken for. We do have other opportunities that remain available HERE. Enjoy the various edits we have made the the x-rays to help us determine how many are on the way.
Interested in a little Drent podcast? The Drent/Two Gun was featured on the 14 Dec 20 episode of Pure Dog Talk! Thanks so much to Laura Reeves for having us on the show! Pure Dog Talk is THE podcast for all things purebred dog and more to include excellent interviews with top breeders, judges, veterinarians, and more. Check it out by clicking the image below.
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 – the bastards flushed. Pop! I had one. The hail stung so badly. The chukar, shot on it’s left, 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.
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fourty some years later this is what you get.