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:
- Teach them not to be afraid of loud noises.
- 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!