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Keep Your Dog from Becoming Gun Shy

by Steve Snell

All gun shy dogs are man-made. While some dogs may be more prone to becoming gunshy, it is not a genetic flaw. Some dogs are more sensitive and this can make them more "likely" to become gunshy. Even the boldest of pups can become gunshy if the introduction to the gun is not handled correctly.

The following method works fine with pointers, flushers, and retrievers. While I start all my pups using these techniques, this method will work with any age dog that needs conditioning to guns and gunfire.

There are several things that you should NEVER, EVER do to a young dog.

  • Never fire a gun around a dog to see IF he is gunshy
  • Never take a dog to a Shooting Range to introduce gunfire
  • Never take a dog "hunting" prior to the proper introduction to gunfire
  • Never take a young dog "hunting" with an older dog for some "on-the-job training" prior to the proper introduction to gunfire
  • Never fire a gun close to a young dog without proper introduction -- keep him away from any kind of target practice or random shooting
  • Never allow your dog to be exposed to fireworks
  • Never fire a gun close to a dog while feeding him (many folks do this but it does not make the proper association)
  • Do your best to keep him indoors during major lightning and thunderstorms
Many young dogs become gunshy from things that are out of the owner's control or unknown to the owner. It's best to get started on gunfire and noise introduction as soon as possible. I start mine the day they get to my house.

Getting Started

It's great if your breeder has already started the introduction but you never want to assume that they have.

We always raised our litters in the laundry room. This starts their life with a series of doors opening and closing and washing machines and dryers running. We also always have a radio going in the background. This gives them exposure to many noises, voices, music, and loud and blaring commercials. My dad always said the best dogs were raised on "Country and Western" music, but I'll leave that up to you.

I make as much "noise" around my young pups as possible. Start out slow and build up.

When I am around my pups, I clap my hands, clang food bowls, open and close my truck and dog box doors. Start out quiet and build up. Always watch your dog and see if or how he reacts. I prefer that the pup be moving around out in the open having fun. I want the noises to be part of his normal routine. I go out of my way to be as loud as I can over time.

I want him to be well adjusted to any sudden noise. The best way to do this is to have a regular series of noises going on. Again, start slow and build up. Never go too fast.

Seeing the Gun as a Positive Thing

Many dogs that become gun shy are not only afraid of the sound of the gun, but they are also afraid of the sight of the gun. This happens when the first time a dog sees a gun is also the first time he hears one. He puts two and two together and makes a break for it the next time you take your shotgun out of its case.

I like for my young dogs to see guns on a regular basis as part of the routine. Feeding time is a great opportunity for this.

I have young kids so I don't like to leave my guns lying around. In place of a real shotgun, I use an old daisy "Pop" gun. It looks like a shotgun and it even makes a good pop noise when I cock and fire it. I carry one around on walks in the field and during feeding time.

This allows my pup to SEE a gun in a positive way and for it to become a normal part of his world.

If you live in a neighborhood, you may want to let your neighbors know what you are doing -- there's nothing worse than being the crazy guy next door walking around in his backyard with what "looks" like a shotgun ;)

Introduction to Birds

See 3-minute video here.

Before we start with actual gunfire, we need to get started on birds. The best way to get a young dog going is to "seed" an open field with a few game birds. I prefer quail but pigeons or chukars will work.

Take your young dog out and let him find, bump, flush and chase these birds. Be sure to carry your pop gun or your shotgun (unloaded) on these romps. Your pup needs to see you with your gun while he is "hunting" and finding birds. This helps with the positive association.

After you have done this a few trips and your pup is now "hunting" for birds when you take him out, you can add gunfire. This gets him thinking birds and guns, guns and birds.

This is correct association that we want. My dogs love guns and gunfire because they know they go with birds. It's the key.

Adding in the Gunfire

Once your pup is good and "bird" crazy, you can start adding gunfire. Don't worry about him pointing or flushing birds or any other advanced training. You need him to be as "bird crazy" as possible.

See 3-minute video here.

I prefer to start with a Blank .22 pistol with the very quiet "crimped" acorn blanks. They are the lowest volume of all the blanks we sell.

To do this right, you will need a helper. Put your helper in a spot where he will always be at least 100 to 150 feet away from your pup but can see all the action.

Plant your birds and take your pup out into your bird field and let him start hunting. When he finds your first planted bird, let the chase begin. As soon as the bird is in flight and the pup is in full chase, signal your helper to fire one shot. I lift my hat off my head and hold it high in the air.

Watch your pup for any reaction. As long as he keeps going full blast you can continue. If he stops and looks around don't make a big deal out of it. Keep on walking and find the next bird. Let him flush this one without any gunfire.

I also like to keep a bird on me so I can flush one from my vest if he needs a little distraction.

As long as he has no reaction to the gunfire, keep adding it in as he flushes birds. Slowly move the blank gun in closer and closer over time.

Keep moving the gun in until you are firing the gun at your side as he finds and bumps the birds. After you can do this, start over with the louder CCI Short crimps and the much louder Winchester .22 Short blanks. Same rules apply. Start at a distance and move in slowly.

After you can fire the gun yourself when the pup is close to you chasing his birds, you can move up to a small gauge shotgun. I prefer to start back a little further than I did with the blank pistol, say 200 to 250 feet just to be on the safe side. Use either a .410, 28, or a 20 gauge gun with light loads, the smaller the gauge the better. Hold off on the 12 gauge for now.

Same rules apply again. Move in slowly. Before long you'll have the right association (Bird and Guns - Guns and Birds) and you will be ready to start killing birds over your pup and making him steady.

The important part of all this is that you take your time. Never, never ever get in a hurry. Build your pup's confidence and the proper association of "Bird and Guns - Guns and Birds."

-- Steve

 shop Episode 20: Introducing Gunfire
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Episode 20: Introducing Gunfire
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