Today’s Blog post comes from Cade Knotts – an experienced outdoorsman and dog breeder. When he’s not working for BladeOps or with his family, he’s constantly tinkering with guns and knives.
Trying to get your pup accustomed to the sounds of gunfire isn’t quite the same as training them to sit or flush quail or stay put. Gunfire is an artificial intrusion in the field, and if you try to rush their training, the pups could become gun shy or nervous and jittery around loud noises. And unlike those other behaviors, this isn’t something that you can easily correct.
The goal is to introduce the pup to the sounds of gunfire a little at a time and create positive associations. This can be a very involved process, and it goes beyond just firing a gun nearby and then giving the dog a little treat. Take the time to carefully acclimatize the pup to these sounds and avoid some of the common mistakes, and you will have a lot more success.
Things to Avoid
There are a number of common mistakes that can effectively ruin your efforts to train your pup. Remember that it’s all about going slow and working up to the loudest guns at close proximity. You should never, for example, just fire a gun around the dog to see if he is gun shy. Being gun shy is not a genetic predisposition – it’s something that is instilled from bad training.
You should never take the dog to a shooting range. Some people believe that by “throwing them in the deep end” they will acclimatize faster, but in reality they will probably just traumatize faster. Do not take the dog out hunting prior to a proper introduction to gunfire and hope that the on-the-job training will be sufficient. And finally, never fire a gun close to the dog while feeding him. This will not create the right kind of associations.
The Most Effective Training Process
By taking a dog through the right training steps, slowly and deliberately, your pup will have a better chance of getting used to the sounds of gunfire without getting gun shy.
Step one: provide lots of live bird contacts. This initial phase doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with loud noises. Get them out into the field and see how they react to live animals. The important thing is to make sure they show enthusiasm about retrieving and chasing before you start to test their resolve. If they are having fun when they hear the artificial noise, they will be more likely to create positive associations.
Step two: start small and from a distance. While the pup is running around, fire something very small (perhaps a .22 crimp shell) while you are at least 75 to 100 meters away. Ideally, the dog should be chasing a bird when you first introduce him to the .22 shot to start building the right associations. If the pup has an adverse reaction of some kind, wait for at least a week and then try again. Once you are sure the pup is accustomed to the sound from this distance, you can start moving a little closer until you can fire a shot nearby without startling the dog.
Step three: try again with something bigger. Now you can move from the .22 crimp stage on to a louder .22 blank. From there you might try a shotgun. Every time you graduate to a larger gauge or louder gunshot, start back at the 100-meter distance and work your way toward the dog.
If you are concerned that the pup has developed some gun shyness, or that you may have pushed things too fast, you could try some “group therapy.” Sometimes it can be effective to use a group of dogs that are already accustomed to the sounds of gunfire to help the pup learn by example and start rebuilding confidence.
Training is an ongoing experience because it’s always possible to learn something new and improve abilities. Take it slow in the early stages, stay consistent over time, and you and your new dog will have a much better time in the field.