Dogs are not born gun shy.
I hear, with startling regularity, about people who claim their dog was born gun shy. I don’t believe it. Dogs are born with a variety of temperaments and even a very well-bred pointing dog can be tentative in new situations, but not gun shy. Your job as an owner of a pointing dog puppy is to control the environment enough that your dog does not make associations that are negative and will be counterproductive to the goal of having a hunting partner. The job of a trainer (or you, if you are doing the training) is to control the environment enough to make sure the dog makes associations that positive and get you your hunting buddy. If properly introduced to gunfire, your dog should immediately look for a falling bird upon hearing a shot.
I have read, and a quick Google search will confirm, that a responsible gun dog owner should make loud noises while their pup is eating to get them used to loud noises. Don’t do it. The premise is sound, but the application is not controlled or specific enough. For example, you have no idea what is going on in the dogs view if you are 25ft away banging pots together, you have no idea if a piece of kibble has just scrapped the roof of his mouth, or any number of other things that your dog could (not would, but could) associate with. Even if the meal is a strong enough positive stimuli AND you associate the loud noise to it, you really have not gotten any farther to your goal of introducing gunfire. So you have taken a risk (of creating negative associations) with no real progress toward your goal, even if it is wildly successful. In my book, that is a bad plan. Repeat after me… No intentional loud noises, no banging of pots or clanging of pans, no drums, no nothing. Just let your puppy be a puppy until you are ready to start his or her training. The best preparation you can give your little friend is to establish a safe, loving relationship with consistent boundaries. Ok, so now we are ready, how do we do it right?
Introduction to the gun.
The method I am about to share will safely introduce your dog to gunfire and create a positive association with birds, i.e. gunfire equals birds, 100% of the time. You will need access to birds and a small field void of obstacles to run in. We use homing pigeons for this portion of the training. You want your dog to be super crazy about birds. At this point, your dog may or may not be pointing and it doesn’t matter if they are or not yet. When they approach a planted bird we launch the bird (it’s very important to not let them get too close to the e-launcher as you could end up with a negative association with birds) and let it fly. We will do this exercise until the dog is consistently, aggressively chasing the birds. The dog’s focus needs to be 100% on that bird. Your little guy will be fired up! Now that we have them thinking birds are great, we wait until they in a strong chase and fire a blank pistol behind our back (with our body between the pistol and the dog) and several yards away while carefully watching the dog’s reaction. If he/she breaks the chase off, we need to back off and either let them get more excited about birds or start farther away. If we were patient enough in the bird/no shot phase, we will likely not get any reaction at all.
Then the process is just to continue to move closer with the blank pistol and eventually do the same process with a shotgun. It is really simple and requires patience with your dog and a keen eye on how they are reacting. It will not take long before your dog will excitedly jump around looking for that bird when he/she hears a shot! This process can be completed in a day or two or take as long as week or more depending on the dog’s temperament and if they already have some negative associations to overcome.
The gun shy dog.
The process of un-doing gun shyness is much different than the process of properly introducing the dog to gunfire and a lot less fun for trainer and dog alike. I won’t go into the specifics because each case is different and the success rate of correcting gun shyness is not 100%. The single best way to fix gun shyness is to not let it happen in the first place. Fireworks are the number one way dogs are accidentally made gun shy. If you have a puppy around 4th of July, go and ask your neighbors to please be mindful of your dog and to let you know when they will be lighting off their fireworks so you can bring your buddy inside.