Gun Shyness IIII have a 2.5 year old German Shorthaired Pointer which has become gun shy within the last year. When he was younger I acclimated him to gunfire using a .22 pistol. I started firing at 200 yards away and with time gradually decreased the distance from the dog. With time, I was able to fire the pistol while standing next to my dog without seeing a reaction.
During the last fourth of July, the dog got severely frightened while some fireworks were set off about a 1.5 miles from our location. Recently while attending a training session conducted by our local dog training club my dog became frightened by some shots from a starters pistol and some shotguns (the closest shot was approx. 200 yd. I'm not sure when he became gun shy. The first time I noticed an adverse reaction to loud reports was during the last fourth of July.
I've read the section on this site about gun shyness. However, I'm not sure how to handle my dog as he seems to have developed a severe fear to gun fire. During the training session above the dog became so frightened that I was unable to get him interested in a live pigeon which I set at his feet. When he gets frightened by gun fire he will not take food or respond to commands. I'm not sure how to associate gun fire with something positive since his reactions seem so severe. The advise I've recieved so far is to try dropping pots and pans while he is eating. Once he is accustomed to the pots and pans to try a cap gun... I haven't tried this yet, I understand the logic but I am afraid that the dog may form a negative association with eating. I would appreciate any advise you can offer.
B. D. Olson B.D.,
Your dog seems to have learned his gunshyness although it is possible that you didn't notice some early warning signs that may indicate a genetic predisposition to noise sensitivity. If the problem is genetic you are unlikely to solve it. If it is learned then you may be able to solve it. Understand that it will take a lot of time and it may not ever work.
I would start by removing this dog from any exposure to gun fire or loud noises completely. Go back to pointing, retrieving and playing without the gun. Build the desire and drive for the bird until it is driving you crazy. Do very little control work, let him break, cheat and get away with murder. The point here is to rebuild damaged drive.
When you have built the dogs drive for the bird to a fever pitch, start with a cap gun 100+ yards away. Have an assistant fire the cap gun as the dog chases a flushing bird. You amy not even hear the shot, the dog will. Move the cap gun in as the dog is able to handle it, only firing during a hot chase of a flushing bird.
Repeat the process until the dog is able to handle a louder and louder report. Still no control work here, just building drive and tolerance for the shot. When the dog is handling this level have a shotgun and bird station 100 yards away. Have an assistant throw and shoot a live bird. Release the dog when he sees the bird flush and let him retrieve, eat, carry or do whatever with the bird. Build on the solution from there.
Let me caution you that you are undertaking one of the most time consuming and frustrating training efforts around and there is no guarantee that it will work. If the dog is worth the effort, then best of luck. If the dog is mediocre in the other areas of bird work, you might consider washing this dog out and getting another bird dog.
Highland Retriever Kennel
For more information on GunShyness, try:
Gunshyness - Jan Burkholder
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