Preparing Your Gun Dog for Gunfire
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?
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
- 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.
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!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.