Not For Sensitive Ears by Gary Adair
Gun-shy dogs are by-products of manmade mistakes, not canine genetics. And boy have I heard some ill-advised methods on how to introduce a pup to gunfire. Perhaps the best advice I could give is to stay clear of those online hunting forums (I‘m not saying that good advice can‘t be obtained there), which seem to harbor the worst of these tips. Better yet, why don’t we take a look at the proper way to “intro” our four-legged hunting prospect to the wonderful sound of gunfire.
Although the methodology for introducing a pup to gunfire may vary amongst individual trainers, most would agree to never utilize a gun at the onset. Pups have sensitive ears — not to mention all that’s new to their world — and shooting any firearm, at any distance is not the way to go. Besides, if pup associates the gun as a negative you’ll have a ton of work ahead of you that could have been avoided with the proper exposure. It’s much better to take baby steps then one giant leap!
While my first step with a new pup is always bonding — which I consider paramount — I’ll also initiate some random exposure to loud noises (clapping) during this early stage of training. In addition, bird wings come into play to enhance pups hunting desire. Although it’s only my opinion — and we all know what opinions are like, the three of these practices are what lay the groundwork for a gun-broke bird dog. And it must be noted. Basic obedience (sit, come, stay and heel) should be implemented during this time as well.
Once pup shows an interest in the wing and begins to ignore the random clapping (usually about a week, depending on pup), it’s time to advance his training. This is where a child’s cap gun and a metal cooking pan (or a can of pennies) is used. First, I like to bang on the pan with a butter knife (from a viewable distance) while the pup eats (three or four bangs repeated a few times per feeding). While pup may find this distressing at first — which is normal — he’ll eventually let his stomach override the commotion. Again, you’re probably looking at a couple days to a week of doing this, but it will depend on each individual puppy. As pup no longer heeds the pan shenanigans, it’s time to move on and implement the cap gun.
Much like the clapping and pan banging, the cap gun (I use paper caps) should be used randomly and at a distance. (Tip: Paper caps can be folded over two or three times for a louder bang). If pup becomes startled with the first crack of the gun (which would be very rare), continue using from a distance until he ignores it. If he acts excited or pays no attention, begin moving closer until you’re right next to pup. Consequently, it’s at this point in time where the wing and cap gun should be used simultaneously and things begin to fall into play (sight — wing/cap gun, sound — cap gun and smell — wing/caps). In essence, this equates to the hunt.
With pup fetching and retrieving the wing at the crack of the gun — with no problems of course — it’s time for more firepower. Although one can start with a 22 and work their way upward (410, 20ga. 12ga.), I always start with the weapon (12ga.) I’ll be hunting with. Either way, begin by shooting at a distance (as far away as 200 yards depending on weapon) and work your way closer while reading the pup with each shot. The key being pups reaction and keeping him focused on the wing (or live pigeons or quail can be used in place of wings). If pup shows any apprehension, move back a little and get pup excited about the wing/bird before firing another shot.
This is only one of many methods for introducing a pup to gunfire and there are even tapes on the market — that I haven’t tried — which can have the same result. Taking pup to the local skeet/trap range or shooting from a boat (with pup) while in the middle of a lake (yes, I have heard these ridiculous “suggestions”), well… try these only if your objective is that of a gun-shy companion!