Imagine suddenly hearing an unexpected loud noise in close proximity to your person. Perhaps it is a calm, quiet day and the silence is shattered by a dramatic boom. Whether you are intently focused on a specific task or instead enjoying some rest and relaxation, you are likely to be started by a sudden, deafening sound.
It is not only us as humans that are startled by sudden noise. The same reaction occurs in dogs, even those bred for hunting with generations before them of successful hunters. Although it may be expected that a dog with certain lineage would take to the sound of gunfire with no fuss, the fact of the matter is that introducing rabbit dogs to the sound of gunshots should be a gradual process. If rabbit dogs are not introduced in a proper manner, the end result could be a gun-shy dog that cost you a lot of money but is now too riddled with fear to hunt as intended.
In order to go about properly introducing rabbit dogs to potentially frightening noise, a good option is a suppressor. Though these are not freely available for purchase just anywhere, it is possible to secure one in most states. There is some additional cost as well as a background check associated with acquiring a suppressor, but this is time as well as money well spent. Once you've secured a suppressor, the process of introducing rabbit dogs to gunfire can begin.
Photo: Christopher Eger
To get started with the introduction, you first want to ensure your dog is at an appropriate age to handle the experience. Pups that are very young may not quite be ready for the experience and some do take longer to mature than others. The key thing to look for when making a timing determination is confidence. If your pup is generally more hesitant than curious, for example, some additional time to mature may be necessary. However, pups that carry themselves boldly are good candidates for a suppressed gunfire introduction.
Once your pup is mature enough to handle the experience, you want to establish a protected area to ensure he/she is going to be and remain safe at all times. This means keeping him/her behind the firing line and out from under your own feet so no accidents can occur. You may wish to have a buddy holding the pup on a leash so that person can simultaneously keep the pup safe as well as provide positive reinforcement at the same time. Although it is possible to confine dogs to a crate, the nature of being confined while loud noises are present can actually make for a more stressful situation, so avoiding crate confinement is best.
Since dog training works best on a payment plan of sorts, be sure to have some form of payment on hand as a reward for your dog. If your pup prefers treats, the payment should be treats. If he/she has a favorite ball, then use the ball. After firing a shot and getting the reaction you desire, which ultimately will be no reaction at all, be sure to offer that reward and lots of praise. Remember, too, that dogs will feed off of your energy, so try to remain calm and don't get too anxious even though you are anticipating how your pup might react.
By using a suppressor, you are able to minimize the level of sound to which your rabbit dogs are exposed. This makes it less scary and/or startling and gives dogs a change to chance to acclimate to sound gradually as you work from a quieter firearm to a louder one and eventually the one you will use in the field hunting rabbit. By taking it slow and doing this in a controlled environment, it is possible to give dogs a much more solid training foundation and tolerance of gunfire than if you simply took them into the field and fired at full sound the first time out. Making it a progressive process through the use of a suppressor will help eliminate a gun-shy dog down the road, giving you a hunting buddy you can rely on for life, such as the pup in the video below.
Is suppressor training a part of the work you do with new pups? Do you plan to incorporate it in the future? Let us know in the comments.