“I wanted to find out if my pup was gun shy, so I took him to the gun club and started shooting over him.”
As a gundog trainer, this is a statement that I just hate hearing! It is similar to saying, “I wanted to find out if my kid was scared of the baseball so I started throwing fastballs to him to see if he could catch.”
When it comes to introducing a young dog to the shotgun, the one you never want to do is “find out” if your young dog is scared of the gun by shooting over him.
A Two-Week Process
A proper gun introduction should be a process that should last no less than a couple of weeks. That being said, the key to properly introducing a young dog to gunfire is gradually getting him used to sounds at a young age without making him nervous along the way. This can be done by beating pans together as the puppy is eating to get him used to loud noises, and maybe get him to actually enjoy hearing them.
Remember the old Pavlov theory with the dinner bell getting the dog to salivate? This process can begin the gun training procedure in the same way!
One key element that will help formal gun training later on is the desire to retrieve. This not only applies to retrieving breeds, but also pointing and flushing breeds as well. Start the retrieving process right away when getting a puppy home. Start with anything that your dog shows interest with — socks, toys, balls, or dummies will work. Try to get your dog retrieving anything!
Once he shows interest in a particular object, try introducing other items. One way to help your dogs retrieving enthusiasm is stop the game when he wants more. What I mean by this is that if you think your dog loses interest after six retrieves, stop on number five. That way he will want to play the game the next session since he did not get enough the series before.
Another thing to try to accomplish is change objects as soon as possible. Try not to get him just interessted in his favorite toy, get him retrieving other things as well. Remember, the gun breaking will be easier with a dog’s desire to retrieve, not his desire for one favorite toy!
As your dog gradually gets older, you can formalize things around 4- to 6 months of age. Getting the help of a friend will definitely help things run more smoothly. Having two people, one throwing the retrieves and shooting the gun, while the other handles the dog on a check cord, is far easier than doing it solo.
The best way to go about this process is have your buddy out in front of you throwing “marked retrieves.” The best thing to use for these retrieves would be dead birds at first, and then you can move to “live” birds. This gun breaking process is the opportune time to introduce a young dog to actual birds. If you do not have access to birds, you can use a couple of your dog’s favorite retrieving items.
Using other dogs during this procedure is actually one of the best things you can do for your dog. If you can get a couple of people with young dogs you can actually double or triple the amount of gunfire each dog gets exposed to. Make sure you work one dog at a time and have the other dogs on a stake out chain so they can watch and listen to each other’s retrieves.
Shooting ‘Live’ Rounds Daily
Most professional trainers will have a program specifically designed for this exact process. One of the advantages that a pro may have, is they can shoot “live” rounds at birds on a daily basis. They will also have numerous dogs in these programs so if a dog does not enjoy retrieving, many times the excitement from the other dogs will bring out some hidden desires.
Starting with a blank pistol is usually the best way to start the actual gunfire process. I personally will use the blank gun for a minimum of three to four days before moving on to a primer pistol. If all is going well with each dog, the primer pistol will be used for a couple of days, and then we will move to a .410 shotgun. Throwing both dead birds and live birds, I will move then to a 20-gauge shotgun, and then finally a 12-gauge. At the end you can actually let your dog flush live birds and shoot them over his head.
Throughout this entire process make sure that your dog is concentrating on the retrieves and not reacting to the gunfire. The dogs actually do not realize what is going on — he is just happy to be playing the retrieving game. If at any time you see any hesitation on the part of your dog, stop and go back to his comfort level.
Remember, this process does not happen in one afternoon, and if it is tried to be done too quickly, it can turn your potential gundog, into a family pet for the next 12 years.
Be sure to visit Sportsman’s Guide for a full selection of dog supplies.
Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels. In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. For more information on training your dog with Cannon River Kennels, call 507-663-6143 or visit (http://www.cannonriverkennels.com/) He provides dog training tips twice a month.