One of the most frequent questions I get asked is: How can I correct a gun-shy dog? The best solution is to prevent it in the first place. Gun shy dogs are made, usually by their owners, and not born. Some dogs are more sensitive to loud noises than others. This type of dog can be prone to being gun shy if not properly introduced to the gun.
The following are some step by step suggestions that will aid in the prevention of gun shyness. Steps 2 through 5 apply to correcting a gun shy dog as well. Just be very sensitive to the dog and proceed very slowly, making sure to spend enough time on each step in the process.
1. When at the breeder selecting your puppy, toss a couple of game bird wings attached to a string onto the ground amidst the pups. Drag the wings around and let the pups get interested in the chase. Once the pups are in pursuit, clap your hands and note the ones that interrupt the chase to look at you. These could be sound sensitive pups. Note I said could. Or they could be just plain curious. Continue the chase and step up the noise level using a pan with a wooden spoon. Again, note the reaction of the pups. Is this fool proof? No; but it is an indicator as to which dog may be sound sensitive. There are other factors to consider when choosing a pup from a breeder. We will talk about these in a future training tip session.
2. Once you have your pup home a few days and pup is familiar with his/her surroundings, clap your hands while pup is eating. Again, you are looking for your puppy’s reaction to an unfamiliar noise. If pup stops to look at you, stop clapping. When pup returns to eat, clap again. Do this until pup stops looking toward you and continues eating. Do the same with the pan and spoon. Once pup ignores you, stop the process for you have conditioned your dog to a strange noise.
3. The next step is to ramp up to the cap gun or two short pieces of 2 x 4. This should be done several weeks later after your pup has had his/her first introduction to birds. In the meantime your pup will be learning a few basic obedience commands such as HERE, NO and KENNEL. Place a clipped wing pigeon onto the ground and let your dog chase it around. This is a repeat of the process of introducing your dog to birds. Have a friend stand 40-50 yards away and fire the gun once or clap the 2 x 4 pieces together while your dog is focused upon and chasing the bird. If the dog turns to see what is going on, praise him/her and discontinue the process for the day. Repeat the process until the dog shows no interest in the gun fire and remains focused on the bird.
4. The next step is to move closer to the dog, say 25-30 yards, and repeat the process. Once the dog shows no interest repeat the process until you can stand within 10-15 feet right or left of the dog, fire the cap pistol or clap the 2 x 4 pieces, and get no reaction towards gunfire. Now you and your dog are ready for the next step. NOTE: Never fire a gun directly over your dog. Their hearing is so sensitive that even the best gun conditioned dog could be harmed.
5. The next steps in the process are to move up to a training pistol, one that shoots 6mm crimps or standard 209 shotgun primers. Once the dog shows no reaction you can go to a .410 or to a 20 gauge. The last step is the 12 gauge. Now you have a dog that is properly introduced to the gun.
Never take your dog to the trap, skeet or sporting clay range to be with you when shooting. Continuous gun fire can ruin the best gun conditioned dog. Also, on their first few hunts, hunt alone or at most with one other person. The last thing you want a young dog to experience is a barrage of gunfire as a pheasant flies across a line of hunters! You want your dog to associate the fun of hunting with gun fire. If you follow this step by step approach, your dog will react gleefully when you pull that old shotgun from the closet.
Stop by next month for another training tip. And don't forget to visit us on our web site, www.huntsmartpro.com.
CJ & Shawnee