by John Lawton

Over the past few months I have had a few enquiries on the best way to train a dog to gunshot.  I will try to describe a few methods that have worked for me and proved successful.  Before I start there are a few things to consider.  When you fire a gun, you are behind it and firing forward.  The dog is normally in front of you or at your side, and consequently he is in the noise cone.  The noise he hears is about five times louder than you hear it.  Your dog may also be interested in what is going on around him, and may not realise that you are going to discharge the gun.  Put yourself in his position - how would you react?

Initially, when introducing the dog to the gun, consider the dog at all times.  Forget about shooting that duck or rabbit in front of him.  Training must concentrate on him and him alone.

Begin with the dog in the backyard.  The most common time is at mealtime.  One of the better methods is to make him sit and stay.  Step backward about ten feet from him with his food bowl and drop a steel rubbish tin lid on the ground.  Call his name and offer his food with plenty of encouragement and fuss.  Never drop the lid behind the dog when he is eating - always attract his attention before making any sudden noise.

If you have a cap gun, you can try the same method.  The next step is to get him to sit at a distance, with you in front of the dog but to his left. Try throwing a dummy and calling to him to watch.  Fire the cap gun and send him for the retrieve.  When he picks it up and returns to you give him plenty of praise.  Let him smell the cap gun - once again with plenty of encouragement.

Take him down to the nearest gun club and ask permission to bring him in.  If permission is granted, start off in the car park and check his reaction.  If he is taking no notice, slowly bring him up into the shooting area so that he can watch the clays being thrown.  After a short while he will probably curl up and go to sleep wondering what all the fuss is about!

The next stage is out in the field.  Remember that you are training - not out shooting rabbits.  It would be best to go with another person.  You can then handle the dog while your friend out in front fires the gun.  When he reaches the stage of being unfussed by the noise, you can relax and in future it should be enjoyable hunting.

Another method is to attend our Retrieving Trials.  At these trials the gallery (spectators) are normally in close proximity to the competitor working his dog.  Bring your dog to the Trial.  He will see the bird being cast, the competitor firing the gun and his dog being sent for the retrieve.  With all this action taking place, your dog will be that hyped up, he will wait and watch for the gun to go off.  He will be shaking with excitement at your side.

By encouraging your dog, he will know the gun shot means a retrieve of an item of game.  He then associates the noise with pleasure.

Basic rules for introducing your dog to the gun;

    • Always attract his attention before firing.
    • Associate the noise with something pleasurable.
    • Make out you are excited when the gun goes off.
    • If he flinches don't console him, but sound inquisitive - "What was that?" The dog will realise that if it is pleasurable for you, it must be okay.
    • Take your time and don't force your dog - it will come.

    Age?  This depends on you.  If done slowly you won't have problems at any age.