After the painstaking process of selecting and investing in a pup and training him or her to hunt is complete, it can be quite disappointing for that dog to turn out to be gun shy. Nothing will stop hunting progress in its tracks faster than a rabbit dog that cowers at the sound, or even sight, of a gun. This has resulted in a lot of hunters rehoming dogs, but it doesn't have to be that way.
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Although there could be various reasons for gun shyness, such as a timid nature or even a possible genetic predisposition that makes dogs sensitive to noise, it is something that patience can help you and your dog overcome. Much like all things we try to learn in life, there is a process. You can't simply wake up one morning and decide to build a spaceship; you must first learn how through a gradual process. The same theory applies to introducing dogs to guns in order for them to gain their acceptance of the sound.
Some dogs will be unfazed by the first gun fire they hear and others will experience immediate fear. For all dogs, however, a slow introduction is best. By taking a dog straight into the field and beginning to shoot as you normally would, it is possible that a timid dog will get nervous and retreat into their shell, making them unsuccessful as a hunting prospect. Instead of throwing dogs right into the deep end, take it slow by getting them accustomed to the sound of guns with quieter fire before building up to the real thing.
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The introduction to gun noise can be done by using guns such as a cap gun or standard velocity.22 fired at a distance. You can gradually bring the sound of fire closer to your rabbit dogs as they accept the sound from afar, increasing the sound level to a .410 shotgun and on from there. With each shot fired, make sure there is someone present with the dog or dogs to offer positive reinforcement so the sound is associated with something good instead of something frightening.
Alternately, you can introduce your dogs to gun fire through the use of a training pistol. While these can prove to be invaluable training devices, do note that using or possessing blank pistols and starter pistols is illegal in some places, therefore it is necessary to stay up to date on your local laws. If you do decide to go this route, some popular training pistol choices include the Alfa .22 Caliber Blank Pistol, the Viper .22 Blank Pistol, and the 209 Primer Pistol Starter Kit. The prices on these items range from about $100 to a little over $200 each.
Photo: Gun Dog Supply
Ultimately your best tool, however, will be engaging your dog and keeping him or her interested in the job at hand. A dog that is excitedly chasing a rabbit will be less likely to put off by gun fire than one who is not as enthusiastic about the job in the first place. It is at times like these that you might have to consider the suitability of the dog itself. On the bright side, most well-bred rabbit dogs will have a natural drive to hunt that overcomes fear of the gun. In the event of a dog that is unsure, training and patience can help get him or her back on track.
How have you overcome gun shy dogs? Do you prefer training pistols or acclimating dogs with actual guns? Let us know in the comments.