Stonebroke Kennels
100% Field Bred English Springer Spaniels

Preventing Gunshyness

I decided to devote a separate page to preventing gunshyness. I believe it’s the most important part of training a pup, bar none. It doesn’t matter how good a pup is in other areas……it could be the best retriever ever born, have the best nose, be the smartest and easiest to train, etc., but if that pup isn’t introduced to gunfire properly and you make it gunshy, it’s absolutely worthless in the field. Preventing this problem is easy, but it needs to be done properly. All aspects of training take time, but this part of training needs to be done very slowly and carefully. Note: Do not….I repeat, DO NOT! take your pup to a gun range to test it out to see if it is gunshy. This isn’t training. It’s setting your pup up to quite possibly fail and if your pup fails, you have a huge problem that is easily avoidable!

Pups are not born gunshy. Every breed of gundog comes from a very long line of dogs that have been proven in the field. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking Springers, Labs, Setters, etc…. These dogs come from decades and decades and decades of solid hunting stock. Gunshy dogs are created by owners who either do not know what they are doing or who are too lazy to take the time to train a pup properly.

There are many methods to use to prevent a dog from becoming gun shy. I don’t believe there has ever been a book written that doesn’t address this issue. Rather than discuss all of the different ways to ensure your pup will not be gunshy, I’ll suggest following whatever method the book you are using to a “T”. Do not rush this training, and under no circumstances take your dog hunting until you have completed this part of the training. If you are unsure of how to go about or don’t have the time, take your pup to a professional trainer. It will be the best money you spend on your pup!!!

I’ll try to explain the method I use. This method works for someone who doesn’t have someone to assist them… I’m a firm believer in using the “Chain Gang” for a variety of training. This involves a chain staked to the ground where dogs are chained on a short chain. I’ll attach a photo. The dogs ARE NOT chained out and left for hours on end. The chain teaches a dog to give to the lead…people are not part of the equation in the dogs mind, so they do not associate the pressure on their neck with people…the other dog(s) on the chain create the pressure.. The dog’s “fight”, so to speak, is with the chain and not with you.

So, start by putting your dog on the chain and leaving him there for an hour or two… Be sure to do this in the shade if it is warm out. Watch the dog’s reaction. Some will fight the chain, some will lay down immediately and just wait, etc… every dog is different. Keep an eye on the dog from a distance and do not release the dog until he/she settles down. Do this daily for a week or so. You’ll find this will make obedience training much easier when you start. I usually don’t start this until a dog is 5 or 6 months old… It will not take many days until your pup sees you as the one he gives him his freedom. He will be very excited to see you as he knows you will be letting him off the chain… This is where introducing him to gunfire comes into play.

Four of my Springers on “The Chain Gang”…

Zena-Sage-Buckshot-Lizzie Belle - August 17  2014 003

When your dog is comfortable on the chain and is getting excited when he sees you coming, he’s ready to introduce to gunfire. It might take a week of being on the chain for an hour or two each day or it might take two or three weeks.. It takes as long as it takes. Have him on the chain where you can be at least 100 yards from him before you start introducing him to gunfire. After he’s been on the chain for an hour two start walking toward him and call his name…when he sees you, immediately fire a cap pistol (you’re about 100 yards away at this point). Watch his reaction… If he shows any fear at all, wait until the next day and repeat the same sequence, but fire from a little further away. I’ve never had a dog show any fear when firing a cap pistol from 100 yards, but I suppose it’s possible. Repeat this every day until your are about 50 feet from the dog. If at any time he shows a negative reaction, go back a little further. My dogs are so excited to see me coming to release them, they pay no attention to the cap pistol. When everything goes well with the cap pistol, switch to a training pistol that shoots .22 blanks and do everything over like you did with the cap pistol. Start at 100 yards and gradually work your way up to about 50 feet. After this goes well, do the same thing with a shotgun. Shoot only one time each day as you get closer. By the time you complete this training (usually 3 to 4 weeks), your pup will associate gunfire with you and freedom….he’ll show no reaction to the gunfire except fun. He’ll be jumping at the chain trying to reach you. Now you can shoot around him when you start bird work, throwing dummies, etc… One word of caution… DO NOT shoot with his first exposure to birds… Give him a couple days of birdwork with no shooting.

Again, this is only one method… There are several other ways to ensure your pup will not be gunshy, but the method I use works very well. I’ve never had a gunshy dog, so it obviously works!!!

Good Luck!


3 Responses to “Preventing Gunshyness”

  1. Tim: I like your idea about introducing the pup to gunfire. It makes perfect sense. The way I had previously been using was to introduce the dog to the cap pistol when he was eating, presumably to have him associate the gunfire with something pleasant (ie food). I never had a dog afraid of gunfire. However, I’ve had a few dogs that seem to get hungry when I shoot, and more than a few birds have made tasty trail snacks for my hungry dog(s)! I think your way is a lot better, as there is no association with food in the pleasant conditioning–just the idea of being off the lead and being close to me!

  2. Will this method help with mature dogs?

    • My method works great for preventing a dog from being gun shy…..Curing a dog that is already gun shy is a whole different ball game.. I’ve never had a gun shy dog to try to cure, so I don’t know if my method would work or not…. That’s a job for a professional.

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