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Thread: Fixing a gun shy dog

  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Default Fixing a gun shy dog

    Since I am one of the few guys at my sportsman's gun club with a steady, good marking and handling retriever (people think that whistle stuff is "cool" and relatively speaking my dogs behavior is good), I have been asked to help another member with his 2 year old German Shorthair who is gun shy. I spoke to the guy tonight, very nice guy and says he tried introducing the gun with a 22 blank pistol and that his dog has decent OB and is very birdy, "just" gun shy. Something went wrong somewhere, he's not sure why/how, and now the dog bolts when it hears gunfire. This is his 4th GSP and he never has this issue before. He is a pretty responsible guy and I believe him when he tells me he tried to gradually intro the gunfire and didn't just blast a gun over his head

    Any suggestions or on-line material on the issue from anybody? I always associated retrieves and other fun things with gun fire and introduced it gradually. Luckily, I've never had the issue or had to fix it. I am going to meet the guy over the weekend to meet him and his dog at the sportsman's club. We can shoot guns, throw bumpers and use birds there. The property is big enough to get far enough away to hear only faint shots if need be. I am thinking distant shots associated with birds/retrieves/treats whatever it takes (without coddling the dog) and build up gradually???

    Thanks!
    A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down. -Robert Benchley

  2. #2
    Senior Member John Lash's Avatar
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    Sounds like you are on the right track, I've never had to deal with it. But, I would think that's a good plan. Everything I've ever read on the subject suggests just what you're planning.

    I have read about taking a dog to a shooting range, parking in the distance, reassuring the dog, and then gradually moving closer. Most shooting ranges you could "work" all day.

    I think he would have done the same things though....I think that comes under an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Good luck.

    John Lash

  3. #3
    Senior Member Sharon Potter's Avatar
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    I've worked with a bunch of gunshy dogs over the years, with good success. Especially with a GSP or pointing breed, making them absolutely bird crazy is key. Just liking birds isn't enough...they need to get into a ton of birds, with no corrections no matter what they do around the birds, including catching and eating one. Any other issues created can be fixed later on....the gunshy stuff takes priority.

    Don't take a gunshy dog to the gun range. The goal has to be creating a positive association, and that means live birds and lots of 'em. Take a bag full of pigeons to the field and toss out one at a time and let the dog chase. I like to hold the bird by both wings and skip it low across the field to tempt the dog to chase. When the dog is really revved up about birds, introduce gunfire at a great distance, starting with a blank pistol and gradually moving closer as long as the dog doesn't pay any attention to the sound. Any hesitation on the part of the dog means you need to move further away. Make sure the dog is chasing a bird at every shot. When you can shot the blank pistol close to the dog when a bird is released, you're on the road to recovery. Back up again, and introduce a shotgun. Use a small gauge and low brass loads, and do the same drill with birds as before.

    This forms a positive association between guns and birds, and it gets stronger when the dog realizes your shooting makes the bird fallout of the sky (well, unless you shoot like I do )

    Fixing gunshyness takes time....don't rush it, and watch the dog carefully for any sign that the gun is distracting it from the bird.
    Sharon Potter

    www.redbranchkennels.net

    Chesapeake Bay Retrievers...too many to list.

    Team Huntsmith

  4. #4
    Senior Member Kevin Eskam's Avatar
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    I would not shoot the gun around the dog at all!!!! You are just going to re-enforce the behavior. this might take a couple years to fix! If it was my dog I would plant or get the dog on alot of birds as many as you can but just let them go or fly away,You are basicly getting the dog so hung up on birds that when you think it is safe to shot (soft shot at first) they will not notice!! Also I have found that the dog has to put alot of trust in the owner and it should come together!! This alot of times happens when a dog has a bad experience and hears the gunshot and associates the two together!! Kevin

  5. #5
    Junior Member Jonesy's Avatar
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    Sharon, very good post. What I do for the dogs that come here, I will take a 8 x 8 in piece of cardboard and attach it to a leg of the bird. If ya can I would let the dog root it up, or you could throw it for it. I wouldnt shoot for a couple birds......its already got prob with the gun, at this point it can overlay to the bird very easily. Let the dog catch some on teh ground an retrieve them back to you with out the shot, get it jacked up on getting the bird, thenlets say 5-6 birds later....as soon as the dog goes down to grab the bird off the ground, Fire......at this instant, there isnt athing on the dogs mind but that bird........also when I start, or fix the gun, I do in a big open feild.....and I wont shoot on cloudy day. It will work out in time, biggest thing in this situation, or stage of training is patience. Thanks Jonesy
    You are welcome to call or email, will help you out. 859-985-2918

    Jonesy's Gun Dogs
    I train, and or fix all breed bird dogs, and retrievers
    Berea, Ky
    jonesy68@alltel.net

  6. #6
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    I introduce gun fire pretty much the same way as Sharon and Jonesy and have never had a gunshy dog. I have started alot of pointing dogs for myself as well as a friend who is a pro bird dog trainer. I start out running the dogs in a big field and just let them run and hunt. I have several pigeons planted around the field. As they find them I let them do what ever they do. If they point I flush and let them chase. If they run them up thats fine too. After two or three chases I will shoot a blank pistol with the lightest crimps when the dog is on the chase and far away. Make sure you shoot at a time the dog is having fun chaseing not after the bird is gone and he is coming back. After a couple of days of this you can start shooting a little closer and so on until you can shoot when the bird comes up. Remember all dogs are different and watch the dog for any adverse reactions. Back up if you have to. This is not a one day fix.Take your time and let the dog have fun. One other advantage of doing this is your letting the dog learn to find birds and most of them will start pointing and holding until you get there after a few days. Good luck

  7. #7
    Senior Member Sharon Potter's Avatar
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    Toughest gunshy dog I've had to repair so far: A gorgeous English Setter, who came to me both gunshy and bird shy. If you showed him a bird, he'd urinate on himself while trying to crawl under something and hide. He was three years old when I got him in to work with, and had been hunting with good success up until the wreck.

    Wreck? Yep. He was pointing a woodcock in heavy cover, evidently right over the top of the bird, and as the owner moved in to flush, the bird went up, but not in sight of the owner until it cleared the brush. Owner shoots, bird drops, dog is bolting back to the truck, bleeding profusely from where the woodcock flushed, bill first, straight up his nose and into the sinus cavity. A freak accident for sure, but it scared the bejeebers out of the dog.

    Presto...instant gunshy/birdshy dog.

    The owner tried to work him through it and called me as a last resort before retiring the dog as a family pet. After evaluating the dog and seeing just how terrified he was, I figured there was only one thing I could try. I told the owner I thought the dog was salvageable, but it would be tough on the dog for a bit. Owner said go for it.

    So....I put the dog in one of my T.E. Scott kennels. And withheld dog food for a day, then put in a live quail. The dog sat in the back corner, scared to death of the bird. Three more days passed before survival instinct took over the fear, and the dog caught and ate the quail. For two weeks, this dog had a steady diet of pigeons and quail...no dog food, just birds... with gunfire reintroduced at the very end. Sixty days later, the owner came to pick him up, and the dog pointed, held beautifully, and retrieved birds to hand with no problems.

    Just as a caveat....had I thought at any time the dog was in danger, I'd have pulled the plug on the whole thing and sent it home to be a pet. He did drop a few pounds during the initial period, which we figured, but he came through it well after that.
    Sharon Potter

    www.redbranchkennels.net

    Chesapeake Bay Retrievers...too many to list.

    Team Huntsmith

  8. #8
    Senior Member 2Blackdogs!'s Avatar
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    One useful item in general when introducing to live birds is to get some of the Winchester AA "Low Noise Low Recoil" loads. I can only find them in 12ga 8 shot- works great on planted birds. These shells sound almost like a dud when they go off. Just introduced my pup over birds at 16 weeks of age and he was un-phased. I also use them all the time when training on preserves and at events. Could be part of your solution down the road.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Dogtrainer4God's Avatar
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    I don't know how much this will help but I found this on Dogs Afield. http://www.dogsafield.com/prodinfo.asp?number=R181-001
    Also, in thinking more about it. What would happen you recorded gunshots and played in in the house all the time. Just over and over and over, starting quietly and turning it up a little more as dog gets used to it.
    Just a thought........

    Abby
    HRCH UH Wolf Creek's Ebonstar Coach "Coach" MH
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    “Any woman who does not thoroughly enjoy tramping across the country on a clear, frosty morning with a good gun and a pair of dogs does not know how to enjoy life.” ~ Annie Oakley

    Do you listen to God as well as your dog listens to you? Can God run "Blinds" with you?

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  10. #10
    Senior Member Georgia.Belle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharon Potter
    Wreck? Yep. He was pointing a woodcock in heavy cover, evidently right over the top of the bird, and as the owner moved in to flush, the bird went up, but not in sight of the owner until it cleared the brush. Owner shoots, bird drops, dog is bolting back to the truck, bleeding profusely from where the woodcock flushed, bill first, straight up his nose and into the sinus cavity. A freak accident for sure, but it scared the bejeebers out of the dog.
    While it is not polite to laugh at someone's misfortune, I have to tell you that this made me giggle a little bit. Funny how weird sh#t happens.

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