Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Dog Is Gun Shy

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Many people accidentally create fear of gun fire in their hunting dogs by rushing their dog into exposure before they are ready. I have heard many horror stories of people who assume a puppy should be genetically programmed to like gun fire. They will shoot a shot gun over their puppy and then are surprised and disappointed when the pup startles and develops fear.
Introducing your dog to gun fire should come only after you have developed a great excitement and desire for a retrieve. Use a helper to throw marks for your dog out in a mowed field. Have them get your dog's attention with their movements and their voice at first. I always use a high and excited voice to yell "Hey, Hey Pup!" as I am twirling a training bumper around and waving my arms.
When the dog's handler calls for me to throw the bumper, I watch the dog carefully even as I am continuing with my movements and voice to make sure he is going to see the object go up in the air and then fall. The handler should restrain the dog until the bumper is high in the air at the top of the arc of the throw. Release the dog while saying his name in an excited way.
After a few days or weeks of creating excitement in the puppy or dog for the retrieve, I begin to not only use voice, but add in a duck call after the voice in getting the dog to look out at me for the retrieve. After a session or two with the duck call, I go to a field near a freeway. The noise of the freeway will mute the sound of the starter pistol I am going to use to introduce gun fire to the dog. Now I use voice to get the dog's attention and substitute the pop of the starter pistol for the duck call. I make sure that I am at least 50 yards away from the dog when I shoot the pistol.
After I have introduced the noise of the starter pistol near the freeway, I will move to a quieter field where the noise of the pistol will be more pronounced. After that is going well, I will introduce a much louder sound of a shotgun at a distance.
To introduce the dog to being shot over, I will plant some shackled birds in a field. When the dog finds a bird, it will fly up a few feet but the weight of the shackles will bring it down again. (Trained homing pigeons can be released to fly back to their loft as well.) When the dog thrills to the bird flying up, I shoot a starter pistol so that he begins to associate a loud noise with birds flushing.
Finally, I will plant birds and shoot a shotgun over the dog. By taking it step by step and developing the dog slowly and surely, my dog will not only not be fearful, but actually be excited about the sound of gun fire.
Watch the video of training hunting retriever pups!

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