Introducing a pup to gunfire by Pro Trainer Matt Duncan
Properly introducing a retriever to gunfire is a paramount prior to a dog showing up for his first hunt. Having a dog that is comfortable with gunfire and a dog that reacts in a positive manner to a gun is two entirely different things. I see often where the advice of “bang pots and pans around the dog” or “take the dog to the gun range so he gets used to gunfire” I cant stress enough that these among many other similar methods will not give you a dog that is properly conditioned to gunfire. They may give you a dog that isn’t sensitive to loud noises but he still doesn’t have a clue what a gun is or what a gunshot means. When we begin introducing a dog to the gun we never want to “test” the dog to see if he is gun-shy. There have been a whole lot of very nice dogs ruined by taking that approach. Now I’m sure there are a few of you saying “well we just shot over my dog and he never had a problem” or “I just fired a gun while my dog ate and he’s the bestest dog ever”. Fact of the matter is if you were successful with your dog using those methods consider yourself lucky, you have avoided disaster. Having a dog that’s “ok” with gunfire is acceptable if you are working with coon dogs, rabbit dogs and such but a retriever needs to understand what the gun means and how to use it to make himself successful. When you pick it up he readies himself when you swing the gun he follows your swing helping your dog become more successful marking falling birds. There are more than a few ways to accomplish this but this is the method we use with all of our dogs. You will need the following materials: Shotgun, primer poppers, live loads, a thrower and a gunner. First thing we need to have is our retriever crazy about retrieving. He doesn’t need to be steady or delivering to hand. If your dog is not retrieving yet don’t worry about introducing gunfire until he is. We just need him to have good momentum and return to us with the bumper or bird. This is to be done on short cover in a flat featureless field where we aren’t throwing challenging marks we are only trying to accomplish introducing the gun not improve his marking. When I do this I have a person (Gunner) 100 yards behind me and the dog with a shotgun and primer poppers (a hull with nothing but a primer). I will also have a person out in front of me and the dog (thrower) with white bumpers or preferably birds. When everyone is all set and ready I’ll signal to the thrower to throw a mark and I will release the dog, while the dog is running to the bird I’ll have my gunner fire the gun. We start this by firing only when the dog is in motion. What we want to see is the dog maintain his momentum and focus on the mark not become distracted the shot. If the dog shows any concern for the gun I’ll have my gunner move back further and try again. If the dog continues driving to the bird I’ll have my gunner move closer ten yards at a time. I’ll only have the gunner advance if the dog shows no concern for the gunshot if he does just move back to where the dog was comfortable and get a couple of reps before having the gunner try and advance again. There may be a bit of back and forth with the gunner but by doing this we are not just thrusting the dog in a situation where he’ll develop a negative reaction to gunfire, we are moving at a pace that is comfortable to him and not pushing it. Eventually the gunner will work up to where the dog is and I will send him back to where he started at 100 yards. We will repeat the process again except now I will have the gunner shoot when the bird is in the air and at the top of the arc while moving closer in ten yard increments until the gunner is standing right next to me and the dog. After the dog has shown me that he has associated the gunshot with the retrieve I will then take the gun from the gunner and begin shooting over the dog. When we do this EVERY gunshot is associated with a retrieve. Now that we have done this using only the primer poppers we will go through the same process using live shells. Introducing gunfire could take just a couple days or it may take a couple weeks. The point is to do this in a manner in which the dog doesn’t get rattled and has an opportunity to associate the gun with a retrieve. It may take a week or two to introduce the gun but that is much better than trying to fix a gun-shy dog because he wasn’t introduced properly or rushed through the process. Be patient and this will require you to somewhat be able to read your dog. If he’s uncomfortable or nervous, slow down. This is not a process for small puppies but more for dogs that are ready to begin formal obedience. Once you are finished introducing your dog to gunfire it is important that we now use the gun often in training. The more we incorporate the gun into our regular training the more the dog learns to swing with gun and views the gun in a positive light that is associated with what he loves, retrieving! If having trouble finding helpers to do this you can also use remote launchers or better yet join your local retriever club. Please feel free to reach out to us with questions or requests for particular topics. Happy training!
Bourbon Bay Kennels