Preparing Your Gun Dog for Gunfire

Thanks to Wynfield Plantation for the Picture

Gun dog training, specifically, is something I have never really gotten into, being the animal advocate that I am, am not really into hunting (although I am not here to pass judgment on hunters)!  However, I have spent many years working with police and protection dogs so I am not new to desensitizing dogs to gun fire.

It is critical to teach your dog or your puppy correctly when it comes to desensitizing him to noise, especially gunfire.

Dog hearing is much, much better than human hearing!  Did you know the ears of dogs are controlled by at least 18 muscles?  And, upright and curved ears amplify sound.  Humans often use ear protection when they shoot a gun, can you imagine how loud that same sound is for the dog ?

Police dogs and gun dogs are often right beside the gun when it fires and in order to be successful I believe it is best to slowly incorporate gunfire into his life.

I have personally seen and worked with dogs that were traumatized by gunfire or loud sounds and although these dogs can be desensitized to a point, some of them will never be effective working dogs.  It is much better to prevent a problem than it is to set your dog up for failure and then deal with a problem later.

I once worked with a police dog that was purchased due to his high drives sociability and workability; however the police department did not test his gunfire readiness.  Turns out that he detested gunfire!  Gunfire or loud noises sent him running for the car.  As you can imagine no officer wanted a dog they couldn’t trust in a shootout!  Turns out his first owner’s husband had gotten drunk one night and shot a goat right next to him.  The sound of the gun plus the bleating of the goat traumatized him for life.

We worked tirelessly with him, slowly incorporating loud noise and popping sounds into his life and eventually he accepted them to a small degree.  However, if he was startled he would still head for the hills!  He made a lovely pet for the officer that should have noise tested him!

Some dogs just don’t have the nerve to deal with certain things.  My oldest dog who is 12 is skittish of all kinds of things and has been since he was a pup.  He would never make a police or gun dog, his desire is to lay on his dog bed and be adored.  Although I have desensitized him to most things, there is still a handful that he finds completely frightening like guns and the windshield wipers.  Some dogs just aren’t cut out for certain jobs.

I believe genetics have a huge impact on fundamental dog behavior, so if you are looking for a dog that will be good with loud noises make sure his/her mom and dad are successful workers.

If you have a puppy make sure you don’t introduce him to loud noises during his fear stage, usually about 7-12 weeks and if you have a fearful pup it may take longer.  Don’t think you can just “flood” a fearful puppy with excess noise and stimulation, you may just ruin him!

Some puppies and dogs will never bat an eye over loud noises or anything else, but some need to be eased into the idea.  I would rather err on the side of caution than traumatize a dog.

How to Start Your Dog out on the Right Paw?

This can be very Demanding Work!

First, I start out by finding an outdoor gun range.

Next, arm yourself with great treats and your clicker if you are clicker training !

Now, drive close enough to the gun range that you can just begin to hear some of the gun fire with the windows rolled down.  Next, roll the windows up (your dog can still hear the gunfire) and begin treating your dog!  Play and have a good time!

If you see your dog begin to show signs of fear:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Vocalization
  • Ears back
  • Tail tucked
  • Lips pulled back

Go back further until the signs disappear.

End the session at the furthest point possible that you can both detect gunfire.

Next time move closer and do the same thing bringing treats or even breakfast or dinner to eat in the car while listening to the faint sounds of gunfire.

You want to help your dog associate the gunfire with good things like praise, affection, food, and toys!

If your dog is at all nervous back up and work more slowly.

As your dog accepts and enjoys the sounds over several days you can work your way closer and closer.

Slowly inch your way closer until you can be in the parking lot with the windows up.

Your next goal is parking lot with windows down.

Finally once your dog shows absolutely no signs of stress or apprehension and is no longer even acknowledging any sounds of gunfire, it is time to take your dog out of the car and play some games together!  Play games in the parking lot and feed him!  Make gunfire the most exciting and happy thing that could ever happen!

If you do this slowly and make sure to pair the sound with fun, games and treats you will build a strong foundation that will lead to many years happily working side by side along any distraction!

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  1. Vernon says:

    My Scottie is traumatized by thunder. Thank you for your blog on gun dogs but thunder is not predictable! Fortunately we live in an area where this is infrequent which possibly explains the reason. Regards


  2. John W says:

    My dog, an English Pointer, was a rescue dog and I couldn’t work out why someone would abandon him. Then we had a thunder storm and the poor thing nearly died of fright. There is a strong hunting ethic here in France and so gunshots, in the country side, are a way of life. My poor dog hides whenever he hears them. The above advice is very useful and I will give it a try and hopefully make his life more bearable.


    Debbie Koop Reply:

    I agree with the breed making a difference for sure. I’ve raised a Golden, a couple Viszla and now have a Pointing Griffon. When all were very young the noise level was quiet at feed time and often I bang the dish a little and it associated the bang with food time. Should they show fear I backed off. Eventually all but one has caught on although I never bothered with my Heeler! Yes, I take my 22 outside and shoot always trying to make it a fun time, like ball, bird, or words that make them excited. So far so good but the breed does make a difference.
    Thank You for the article.



    Deborah Todd Reply:

    To John And Vernon,
    Your dog’s reaction to thunderstorms is likely different from
    his response to shotguns. Research at Tufts has revealed that some dogs are sensitve to the electro-magnetic changes in the atmosphere that accompany these storms. It is believed that some dogs receive intermittent static shocks (like we get on very cold dry days!) during thunderstorms which is painful and frightening. Many dogs will find a tile or other non-carpeted surface to “ground’ themselves. There is a product on the market which works incredibly well called the Thundershirt. Check out their website. If it doesn’t work on your dog, they will refund your money. Good luck and thank you Minnette and Chet for promoting a humane trainig approach! Deb


  3. Dale Wolff says:

    When I first got my dog as a puppy I would let her ride on my 4-wheeler to a spot I like to shoot. I would fire a couple of shots and give her a ride home.

    Then I let my dog into my shop when I am working. I was suprised how many loud noises there are in a shop. When I see her run for the door I catch her and tell her good dog. She comes back into the shop just to be with me.

    The last time we went hunting I shot at some pigons. She looked for one to fall from the sky. I wish I was a better shot.

    I think she is going to be ok around gun fire. I want her to be a hunting dog.


    Dale Wolff


  4. Dave Simpson says:

    Hi Chet,
    Did my Guy Fawkes message trigger this?
    It’s so sad to see good home dogs running wildly away from the noise source (no owner in sight). Find the Road Kills on the highway next morning. “Lost” ad’s in the papers and at the local shop.
    Mine are fine. Bit upset by the sound and smell at first, but settle quickly. Your advice is the right way to go. Also, the reassurance of having someone they trust, who isn’t bothered by the noise..


  5. cyndy saenger says:

    i have two 10 and 12 pound poodles. both of them are terrified of thunder. when it starts, it’s like they are trying to climb UNDER me! i get scratched and stepped on till they feel like i am protecting them or till the thunder stops. they are 2 and 3 yrs old. what do i do to help them get over this terrible fear of thunder? cyndy


    Lisa Reply:

    Try playing a storm CD (Thunder Rolls by Garth Brooks has some thunder in it) quiet at first and then louder, of course while using treats and games


  6. Witz says:

    As mentioned genetics plays a huge role. I have a 9 month old workingline GSD and his parents competed in trials that includes gunfire. He has never even winced at thunder or gunfire. In fact he is complete non plus. We also watch our son’s Pitbull and she can hear thunder and or a hunter’s shots even if it’s at a great distance. She shows all the signs mentioned in the article. Desentization is very difficult after the first negative reaction starts, but can be worked on if exposing a pup early and often in the step by step way described by the author.


  7. Luann says:

    Hi Chet,
    I have a chi mix and just adopted a Husky. We go to the park everyday and there is a gun shooting range next to it. I notice that my Husky is afraid of the shots and pulls on the leash and nervously walks. I use to walk them away from the range and little at a time I came upon trails that are right next to it (but stay within the signs) and she is getting better. She loves the park and that helps with the desentization. Also I laughed when you stated that your dog is afrais of windshield wipers, My Chi mix jumps when I have to put them on so I’m trying to desentatize him from that and put them on when we get to the park and then he doesnt mind as much anymore. Thanks for the great tips.


  8. Brenda says:

    Usually these articles are SO encouraging – but I am working hard with my 2 year old rescue border collie who heads for the car at ANY noise – and now I feel it is hopeless! I play “look at that” games with him, rewarding him for sounds, I slowly introduce new sounds to him, I use “animal rescue” when I know he is going to be exposed to loud sounds…I would welcome some more ideas. Please consider an article on more ideas for dealing with dogs with loud sounds, and even a video of you working with a sound sensitive dog


    Louise Thompson Reply:

    One of our dogs is very frightened of storms, thunder and high wind sounds. She is almost 9 years old and tries to hide and trembles during these sounds. She jumps into my bed and makes it shake. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!


    Minette Reply:

    try this


  9. Mary says:

    My little Yorkie is scared of odd sounds like the heater which to me sounds exactly like the air condition, but she hears something that I don’t. There have been some guys doing stuff on our roof and she is very scared of that, yet if she hears someone coming up our stairs she turns into a Pit Bull ready to chase them away. I understand what you say about them associating the noise with something good like treats, but also I have been told she will think I’m rewarding her to be scared if I treat her or pick her up. I can’t train her outside because she is scared of cars. We are stuck with puppy pads. I don’t want her to be scared. It breaks my heart.


    Lisa Reply:

    Only rewarding for being scared if you treat her while she is scared. If you find a quiet enough volume or far enough away from the sound where she is not scared but can faintly hear it then treat her, you are not rewarding her for being scared. Treat the behaviour you are looking for ie relaxed or playful and confident.


  10. Ann Robilliard says:

    Hi Chet, we have a red setter ,now nearly 12 years old that we found curled up outside our gate when she was only about 6 months old. She came straight to my husband and I but was absolutely terrified, petrified, sheer panicked at any body else. She took 3 months to go to my friend whom she saw every day and made friends with every evening but would be back to panic the next day. Lucy is still very nervous of people and very scared of gunshots, and thunder, in fact over the last few winters we have had so much thunder and lightening that now she only has to hear rain and she is on alert and ready to go and hide under the bed. Just 2 nights ago my husband asked me if it was raining as Lucy was sitting up very erect and sure enough it was. We don’t know where she came from , she wasn’t chipped but would love to know what had traumatised her so much. She is a very loving dog and loves attention and contact with people she has made friends with. I really enjoy all your articles and advice.


  11. Carol says:

    My husband is a competitive rifle shooter and practices at home a lot (we have a 100 yard range right at the front porch and a 200 yard range in the field below the house). We rescued a 9-week old mutt in June and really wanted to try to have a dog who wasn’t afraid of gunfire as the last couple of dogs were very afraid of it.

    She’d only been with us for a few days when my husband went out to practice and I sat down to do some sewing (not far from the front porch!). I took the puppy and a little bowl of kibble with me and each time a shot was fired I popped a kibble in her mouth (she’s a SUPER food oriented dog!) and petted her if she wasn’t acting fearful. After about 4 or 5 shots she just looked to me asking “more food?” each time. I gradually gave her fewer bits of food, not one for every shot and she’s completely relaxed around guns and gunfire now.

    BUT she’s TERRIFIED of the vacuum cleaner, I should have desensitized her to that too I guess!


  12. G.L.WOODS says:

    My dog is from a different situation. He i’s a small breed, Yorkshire Terrior and a family pet. However when our garbage disposal crushes a bottle or large piece of glass, he is so affected that he hides and obviously i’s a scared dog! He’s not quite in the police dog catagory but I don’t want him tramatised and since we take him every where, what will happen when the 4th of July rolls around? How do we help him?


    Minette Reply:

    Back him up to where he almost can’t hear the disposal then treat him when he shows no signs of anxiety. Then slowly VERY slowly you must work your way up closer. Do NOT reassure him and pet him or coo to him while he is scared, this will only make it worse. He thinks you are praising him for being scared. Simply back up to a point where he is able to take a treat and forget what is going on.

    True fears or “phobias” can be very difficult to overcome or even control and this takes a lot of time and consistency. For a while you might have to crush the bottles while he is gone. But if you work hard in a few months you might be able to get a handle on this fear…just go slowly at his pace and be patient and kind without “praising” or reassuring him!


  13. dorothy says:

    my dog is scared of any noise in the house. outside she is fine,loves thunder will play out in it if i let her. hope this works for her


  14. Norrie says:

    All of our puppies from day one have been taught the phrase “Don’t worry, be happy” whenever they show any signs of distress. We began as soon as we got them, and it has always worked for us to cover pretty much any situation, including leaving them alone, sounds of sirens, fireworks, etc., even in meeting strange dogs or going somewhere new. While they know many commands, the Don’t Worry, be happy” immediately calms them. This term is the only one we use when reassuring them, so it is never misused. Our dogs understand many ordinary English words and know exactly what is expected of them. We have never used clickers or unnecessarily startle them to get their attention. They also know the phrase “settle down” which works very well in the car or in the house when we want them to do just that. We currently have only one dog, a six month old, as our two Bichons went to dog heaven this year, but he too is being taught the same way. No specialists but what we have learned over 25 years, works for us.


  15. Eileen says:

    My dog used to be scared of thunder. Then she just outgrew it when she was around six. But only when she is indoors. Outdoors is a little different. I think it is the static electricity in the air during an electric storm.

    Right now, the thing that makes her skittish are unmuffled muscle cars. Since I do not own a muscle car, I am not sure how to desensitize her to that sound. Not sure how she would be around a gun since I am not a gun owner and probably never will be despite my predilection to owning gun dogs. Maybe I like their athleticism.


  16. g. baker says:

    I have a Blue Lacey that is three and a half years old that gun fire does not affect in any, except she gets excited and wants to go see what you shot. She is very terriffied of thunder.If she is inside when we fire a gun she acts like it is thunder. I have tried a lot of different things to get her comfortable around thunder but to no succes.


  17. Christie says:

    Hi this article is great!! I have a Shih-Tzu who is 4years old and to say is scared would be an understatement, of storms and fireworks. Living in Spain we have plenty of fireworks and the occasional storm. My dog, Rikki, sits on my lap and I reassure him, to no avail…and how do you predict thunder? but when its around, as with fireworks, he just shakes and shakes, nothing reassures him. I was hoping that as my other two, who could not care less would give him confidence, but no way. Any suggestins would be good!?!?!?!


    Minette Reply:

    read this article


  18. Phillippa says:

    Hi Chet,
    Very interesting and useful advice. I wonder if you could help me with my dog. He is a 5 year old miniature yorkie and he is frightened of lots of things, but the one thing which would really change my life, would be if I could stop him from barking non-stop at visitors to the house. From when he hears the doorbell until they leave, he barks and barks at them. It’s so stressful I have wondered if I will be able to cope with him much longer. Sometimes if they sit down he goes quiet, but he starts again as soon as they stand up.
    Please, please can you help?


  19. Clarissa Misa says:



  20. Art Booth MD says:

    It has worked for me most times


  21. Cynthia says:

    My mom is a GSD breeder. She always treats each adoption as if the pup were a child to insure the pup get the best home. She adopted out Rex after doing this, and she also leaves them (especially 1st time dog owners) with training instructions as well as rescources of where they can find nearby trainers, vets and information about the importance of socialization, and basic home care. She has been breeding for about 14 years and had one pup come back to us. His name is Rex, and thoes people did not socialize him. He came back because he showed aggression toward a child. He was rarely if ever exposed to children. What did they expect? Anyway, after a lot of rehibilition he never did get accepted into her pack, but he did learn to tolerate strangers, and some other dogs. I moved out on my own by then, and I took him and he is awesome! He is a lot better with strangers, and we have playdates with other dogs at my home. However, Rex is DEATHLY afraid of the fire alarm. The stove is not vented so it doesn’t take much to set it off. It’s aweful. He shakes so hard he completely shuts down and once he hid on top of the recyclables in a very tight spot.


  22. Lee says:

    My new 6 month old english pointer puppy is nearly afraid of every loud noise and I am very worried about it. I just got my new puppy from abroad and I understand that the way she travelled was difficult for her being that she had to leave her own mum and dad, her master, travel on a plane , in a car with a newmaster and on a ship in a totally different country. I am also aware that she has to get famailar with the new environment and new master and family. I took my dog to a hunting field and when she heard the sound of the shot gun she was very frightened. I left the place immediatly but now I am very concerned and I am noticing that for every loud noise that she is hearing she is showing signs of fear. Do you think that by time she will overcome these fears especially shot gun noises which I will be using for hunting? I primarily chose this breed due to hunting reasons.
    Thanks and I would really appreciate if you help me.


  23. Lee says:

    I have a 6 month old english pointer puppy which I go one week ago. When I took her for some training for hunting she experienced fear of shot gun noise. do you think she will over come this fear ?


    Minette Reply:

    It honestly depends if this is a “phobia” or just a small fear.

    Phobias are hard to overcome whether you are human or canine. Sometimes a dog can learn to control a phobia but will never be completely desensitized or like the stimulus.

    If, however (and it is more likely) that this is a fear then it can be worked on. Just work slowly and from a great distance. She is so new to you, she is acclimating to many different things let her be a dog for a while without pressure. Let her work at her pace and don’t force her or it is likely to become a phobia!


  24. Penny Klyber says:

    I have a 2 year old Cockapoo, that I have had since he was 8 weeks old. This year for the first time, he is afraid of firecrackers. He wasn’t before. He was easily and quickly totally potty trained 2 years ago. No accidents! Now, he will not “go” outside. Day or night. The 4th is over, and the problem isn’t going away.I can get him outside without much of a fuss, but he won’t go. All I have to do is turn my back for a second, and he goes in the house. Doesn’t matter what room we are in. I have taken him out for very long walks, or many short ones, doesn’t seem to matter. I know not to coddle him when he is afraid, and I don’t. I tried taking him out and carrying treats with me, but he won’t eat outside. He doesn’t want them. He is not as afraid in the house, when he hears them outside. He seems nervous, but not afraid. He is not afraid of thunder, or anything else. I live in a small town outside of Chicago, and don’t think there are any outdoor shooting ranges near us. Got him a “Thunder shirt” and that hasn’t helped. Now what?


  25. damian harris says:

    hello my dog is a stray, it was around the time after 4th of July, ive had her for 2-3 years now so shes about 5-6 years old now after learning from the vet she was older than we thought. Sometimes someone in the neighborhood either shoots fireworks or shoots guns, anytime she hears it she shivers and goes under my desk, if i try to hold her and lay with her on the bed, she wants to run under the desk. I also own guns anytime im cleaning or checking them the clicking sound of the gun she freaks out and starts shivering again, ive never shot anything while she was around cause of how she is. Is there something i can do or is it too late


    Minette Reply:

    Read the article and follow the steps.

    If it is terribly severe talk to your vet about medication that will make it easier for desensitizing her.


  26. Rick Travis says:

    I have a small dog who is afraid of the sound of heavy diesel trucks and hydraulic sound from the garbage truck or a fire truck. she hears them long befor I do and hides under the bed, shakes and puts her tail between her legs. Airplane rides are stressful for her to. How can I help her over her fear. We have tried medication from the vet, over the counter natural flower and the comfort coat without much success. What can I do to help her?


  27. Colleen Bryant says:

    My trial dog doesnt bat an eye to thunder , large trucks passing , gunshots at shooting range but on the trial ground breaks his down on the gunshot. I can put him in a down and walk up and down firing with no problem. Come trial day and the effect of the gun makes him break or run to check where the shots are coming from!


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