Introduction to Gunfire
You can't have a gun dog if it's afraid of guns. Plain and simple! Pro Staff team member, Bob Tebbens of Turtle Creek Retrievers and I discussed the Dos and Don'ts for introducing your future hunting dog to gunfire.
Bob emphasized that a pup should be socialized to loud noises from the very beginning. "Don't tiptoe around your pup or baby them." He feeds his pups from a stainless steel food bowl and taps the bowl while the pup is eating. The food helps to dampen the clang of the bowl and gently introduces them to strange, loud noises. After some time, Bob will tap on the bowl without dog food in it, which increases the volume of the clang. This is one simple step to start your pup off right.
Now that you and your pup are ready to add real gunfire in the field, Bob and I strongly encourage you to slow down and take your time. Please don't rush this process! Bob says, "At this point in your training, your pup should be extremely enthusiastic about retrieving and have confidence in the partnership you have built." Start by having a helper stand 100 yards away with a small caliber gun, like a .22. When you have the pup excited and ready to retrieve, toss the bumper and send the pup. When your pup is halfway to the bumper, raise your hand and signal for the shot. Bob waits to shoot until the pup is mid-retrieve because they're making their own noise through the grass, they're breathing heavy, and all of a sudden a soft "POP" goes off. Now that the gun went off, read your pup's body language! Did they stop, slow down, turn around and look? If they showed no sign of fear, praise the heck out of them! If they reacted, back up and slow down. Throw the bumper without a shot and praise them! Have your helper move further away and try again. Remember to keep the excitement level high, watch their body language, and praise them to reinforce their confidence.
Bob suggests doing a few sessions at this distance before moving the gun closer. Make sure your pup's body language is always confident and excited. Gunfire should always equal fun! As you progress, move your helper closer by 10 to 15 yards after each shot.
Once you're able to have the small caliber gun going off next to you and your pup is retrieving with confidence, it's time for a shotgun. Start the process all over again at 100 yards. Build excitement, throw the retrieve, signal for the shot, and watch their body language. Slowly shorten the distance between you and the gun over several sessions.
Bob explained, "the two biggest mistakes people make are: moving too fast, too close, too soon or they "test the dog" to see if they're gun shy." Bob and I completely agree that this is a process. If you cut corners, you could lose your hunting companion before you even get to hunt with them! You have many years in the blind and too many memories to make with your gun dog to create a problem because of gun shyness.
Remember to enjoy this process. It should be done slowly, but by taking your time, you will ensure that your young hunting dog will love the sound of gunfire and be excited to do its job in the field!
If you have any questions on this topic or other topics, please feel free to contact us!