Finding time to properly train your hunting dog around guns can be tough. If you live in a city you can’t shoot a shotgun off in your backyard every morning without getting a few complaints. As a result, gun training is easy to rush and neglect. That’s what happened to me. Here are the mistakes to avoid and how to correct them if they have already occurred.
I introduced Nali to guns when she was very young. Her retrieving instinct developed late and, as a first-time dog owner, I was frustrated with both myself and my dog for her incompetence. Though she would retrieve at times, the sound of the gun distracted her and she would not return the dummy to me. I didn’t want her to develop a habit of not retrieving, so I scolded her, which was my first mistake. This all added up to a disaster of a training session in which I was frustrated with my sister, my dog and myself.
Next, I stepped back and evaluated the situation. I took a few days off and worked to rebuild trust with Nali. After some time I began throwing dummies again. Then, I began carrying the shotgun with me during training but not firing it. After a couple weeks I began throwing retrieves while Nali was still a distance away and firing the gun at the same time. Eventually I could fire the gun while standing right next to Nali. Problem solved.
My next mistake was that I failed to continue the gun training sessions. Bill Hillman has a great training clip in which he describes the secrets to dog training as consistency and practice. I failed to do either of those. Several months later I was shooting with a friend and realized that Nali had become frightened by the noise. I tested her by firing a pellet gun, and she was still very timid. Though I tried to stay calm, the whole situation was incredibly frustrating. As a result, I rushed to fix the problem, which only made things worse. Though Nali enjoyed retrieving at this point, she would not bring back the tennis ball to me if I had the pellet gun in my hand. I had to find another way to reintroduce guns without stepping backwards in other areas.
I had Nali sit on one side of the car while I hid a pheasant wing on the other. Next, I shot the gun and called Nali to me. I would give the “find it” command, and Nali would search quickly to uncover the hidden wing. This drill worked much better as she did not have to return to me after finding the wing and she was much more distracted when the gun was fired. She will now sit next to me, wait for the gun to be fired and then begin searching once the command is given. Thank you for reading. I hope this article will help you avoid or respond to any issues your dog may be having with gun-shyness.
Bio: Stuart Hoegh is the owner and guide for Three Brothers Outdoors guide service in Sunriver, Oregon. He will hunt antelope in Wyoming, elk in Colorado, mule deer in Nebraska, and every animal in Iowa this year.