This step will make or break a gun dog, so tread lightly and take your time.
One way to increase the likelihood of a puppy developing gun shyness is to grab the old 12-gauge, go out to the training area, sit your puppy directly beside you and startle him by cranking off rounds. At this point, you have, by your own devices, created a potential training nightmare, one that the puppy may never get over.
Here’s the proper way to introduce gunfire.
I introduce all my pups to gunfire only after they are retrieving well. To accomplish this task, I set my four-shooter launcher out at 100 yards from where I intend to have the puppy sit. I then heel pup over to that predetermined point, command “sit” and then “watch,” press the tone button to get pup’s attention, and fire a dummy from the launcher that will land in a predetermined spot approximately 20 yards from our position. At this point, the pup should watch the dummy from the time it leaves the launcher until it hits the ground. After a slight delay, I have pup retrieve the dummy.
The puppy has now started to associate the sound of gunfire with the dummy and most importantly with his reward, the retrieve. I give the puppy four dummies each day and also move him closer to the dummy launcher until he is sitting directly beside the launcher (in usually four or five days). If at any time the pup flinches, drops or exhibits body language that I deem to be a possible negative reaction, I simply move the dummy launcher further away from pup, thereby reducing the noise level. I repeat the sequence until the desired reaction is achieved—a happy puppy.
When I am totally satisfied with the pup’s reaction to the gunfire associated with the launch, I then use my shoulder-mounted launcher not only to further desensitize the pup to gunfire, but also to train the pup to watch the movement of the gun barrel so that later on he will watch for upland birds or waterfowl based on the gun movement. I have found that this makes his transition training to actually hunting scenarios much smoother and faster. From this point in the progression of the pup’s training, I use hand thrown, winger thrown, or dummy launchers in all training scenarios.
For the past 15 years, Bill Gibson has studied, trained and learned how to apply low-force training methods from masters in the United Kingdom, Ireland and U.S. Bill and his dogs have won Team and Gundog Challenges in Northern Ireland. He has also served as a judge for the British Field Trial Society of America. A retired law enforcement officer, Bill is the Director of Gundog Operations for Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels.