4 Tips for Training a Gun Shy Dog

Successful hunting dogs hear gun fire and take off with excitement ready to work. But what if your dog hears gun fire and reacts with fear? That can make hunting far from fun, but rather a disaster. There are countless reasons your dog may develop a fear of loud noises. Some dogs are born gun shy, while others develop distain for loud noises after a particular incident. While some dogs are easier to rehab than others, it is entirely possible.

You must accomplish two things to successfully remove the shy out of your gun dog:  

  1. Teach them not to be afraid of loud noises.
  2. And, to associate loud sounds with something positive. That way they don’t just tolerate the sound of gun fire, but they get excited to do their job when they hear it.

No doubt, it’s going to take time and patience to restore or build up your dog’s confidence. Patience is fundamental, because a lack of patience and pushing too hard can send your dog right back to square one.

Tip #1 for Gun Shy Dogs: Get Them Used to Loud Noises 

Repetitive exposure to something “scary” helps take the edge of fear away.  Start slow by introducing loud noises around your dog, for instance bang some pots and pans together in the kitchen while your dog’s hanging out in an adjoining room. Don’t bring the loud sounds too close to your dog, especially not at first, you don’t want to traumatize them further.

The goal is to make loud noises right before something positive happens, such as dinner. So, bang those pots and pans together just before setting your dog’s food dish out. Fetch is another great time to make loud noises. Work on loud clapping that gets progressively louder while you play fetch or another game your dog enjoys. Work slow and progress sound levels over time as your dog shows more confidence.  

Tip #2 for Gun Shy Dogs: Go Hunting in Silence   

Much of hunting is done in silence, the loud part is the gunfire. Take your dog out for some upland hunting activities, sans gun. Let your dog get excited about chasing rabbits and birds without any big bangs. If your dog is showing excitement about going after animals, start clapping and then progress to louder noises as your dog’s confidence increases.

Tip #3 for Gun Shy Dogs: Slowly Introduce Loud Sounds in the Field

Bring a buddy out in the field with you when you’re ready to start introducing or reintroducing a gun. Use a ‘starters pistol’ that shoots blanks so that’s it’s not as loud the first few times around. Start shooting the gun off in the distance while you or your buddy stays with the dog and covers his/her ears. Immediately following shots, offer your dog praise or a treat so that they associate loud sounds with positivity. As they get used to the noise, you can advance from a starters pistol to a shotgun and start getting closer to your dog.  

Get your dog excited about live birds by letting one loose and letting your dog chase after it. Wait until your dog is a good 50-yards away before firing your gun. If your dog doesn’t act scared, continue shooting birds closer and closer. If your dog acts fearful, it’s time to take it down a notch and go back to confidence building activities.

Tip #4 for Gun Shy Dogs: Get Help from a Professional Hunting Dog Trainer

We get it, we are a ‘do it yourself’ breed of people too, but sometimes outside help is the key to scoring a great hunting dog as opposed to a timid gun shy dog. Plus, there are different levels of gun shyness, with some dogs developing extreme sound phobias. Trainers have experience working with dogs that have similar issues and so they know where to start to get your dog back on the right track.    

Live in or around Nebraska? One of our top hunting dog trainers Jessica Bock at Surefire Gun Dogs offers a spectacular gun shy dog training program. If Nebraska’s too far to travel, check for hunting dog trainers in your area that offer similar services.

Have you ever dealt with a gun shy dog?

Share your experiences in the comments below!




Vic on October 29 2018 at 01:54PM

I transitioned from starter pistol to an intermediate caliber, eventually leading up to a 12 gauge. Starter pistol to 12 gauge is quite the difference.

Gary Marggi on October 29 2018 at 01:54PM

A friend of mine had someone return a gun shy Plott hound he had sold.
He never had a gun shy dog in the past and did not know what had happened to cause this.
He tried shooting a 22 rifle near him and sure enough he was very frightened.
My friend took the dog to a nearby trap range and tied him off ass far from the range as he could.
Next week he moved him a little closer, so on and so on.
After several weeks of doing this twice a week the problem was solved.

Johnny B on October 29 2018 at 01:55PM

I had a German shorthair hunting dog that was a bit gun shy; I ended up putting cotton in her ears until she was used to the noise then she when without and was fine ever since….
Do not use cotton balls as they are hard to get out…. Use only one piece of cotton….

Thomas on October 29 2018 at 01:56PM

Moved to the country, found out my dog is afraid of guns shots I can barely hear. Let alone anything close. She afraid of thunder too, but I figure that’s another issue has no problems with clapping right next to her.

Charles Andrew on October 29 2018 at 01:56PM

Good article

WillBill on October 29 2018 at 01:56PM

It is the 13th week of a dogs live that you have to be carefull of loud noises. If there is thunder you are screwed. I had one that this was the case. It took some time but he was a good hunter. And do NOT use the shotgun when he is out front of you cause the blast is deafing.

Darrell Lee on October 29 2018 at 01:56PM

I always start out with 22 blanks at a good distance while my wife feeds the dog. I work closer to the dog for the next few days until I am close to the dog at feeding time. After the dog is comfortable with the 22 blanks I go to a 410 shotgun doing the same routine. After that I advance to a 20 gauge and finally up to a 12 gauge shotgun using the same routine.

David Bradford on October 29 2018 at 01:57PM

I once had a beagle that was so gun shy that he would panic if he heard bubble wrap POP. Shortly after I rescued him from the shelter I had taken him to a dog park to play. While there he suddenly acted panicked for no apparent reason. It took me a little while to work out what was different that could have brought on the behaviour. A man I was talking to had lit his cigarette with a match and the sound of the fizzle and smell of sulfur seemed to be what had set him off. I assume whoever had him before had teased him with firecrackers and traumatized him. Try as I might, I was never able to desensitize him. Just snapping my fingers was too much for him. He was an otherwise wonderful dog that loved to chase rabbits and ducks. Sadly, I lost him when he broke through a fence to go after a skunk and was hit and killed crossing the highway running away after being sprayed.

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up