The deafening boom of a shotgun would startle anyone, let alone the sensitive ears of an unaccustomed dog. Whether you are training your hunting dog or want to go target shooting without your dog cowering, conditioning for loud noises is an important part of your dog’s education. Fireworks, backfiring cars, and thunderstorms are unavoidable parts of life.
The human ear is in a fixed position, whereas your dog’s ears not only lift and rotate but locate sounds independently of each other. Sound is measured in hertz (Hz). Humans are capable of hearing up to 20,000 Hz while a dog’s finer hearing reaches from 40,000 Hz as high as 100,000 Hz. Consider your sensitivity to loud noises when you have a migraine and perhaps you can just begin to understand the sensitivity of your dog’s hearing.
Starting young simplifies noise training. Make noise around your puppy. At feeding time, bang their dishes on the sink and shut cabinets noisily. Rather than softening everyday sounds such as closing doors, make a racket. Although this is not a guarantee of successful gun dog training, it will help.
Do not fire your gun when your dog is trying to eat or play with his favorite ball. You are risking a fear association between the report of the gun and participation in whatever activity is going on at the time.
Accustom your dog to your gun prior to firing it. Carry your unloaded shotgun or handgun during feeding time. Take your dog running in a field with your unloaded gun so they become used to seeing it. Let them see you handle guns without firing them yet. Even cleaning your guns in front of them helps them relax around firearms.
Once your dog is used to the sight of your gun, move on to gunfire. If you are able, use a .22 caliber blank pistol with .22 caliber crimped blanks, which are quieter than average blanks. Otherwise, begin your dog’s training with a .22 caliber handgun or rifle before moving on to larger caliber guns.
Take your dog to an open area where you know it is safe to fire live rounds. If you plan to simply fire into the air, remember, what goes up must come down, and although bullets don’t maintain the same lethal velocity as they fall back to earth they can still do serious damage. Using a helper, agree on a signal such as waving your hat over your head to alert them to fire a round. Your helper should start about 100 yards away, slowly moving closer, 10 yards at a time. Don’t rush; spend at least 3 or 4 sessions on this. Use treats to reward calm behavior during the gun’s report. Speak to your dog in your normal voice, neither excited nor overly soft. Your dog needs to perceive the crack of a gun as just another part of their day. If your dog shows fear, have your helper back off. Hunting dogs will quickly learn to associate the sight of your shotgun with the excitement of game birds.
Once you have closed the distance and your dog remains calm, you can try a larger caliber. If your dog is extra sensitive, start farther back again; otherwise, simply change calibers. Continue to reinforce good behavior with treats and kind words. Treats are not meant to be permanent, just used as a training aid in the beginning.
Finally, be positive you and those around you are well-versed in gun safety. A dog hit by a shotgun blast doesn’t survive, and neither will you, at least not with all your limbs intact. Remember these basic rules:
- Do not point your gun at anything you are not ready and willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target.
- All guns are always loaded, meaning never trust that someone else has cleared a gun.
- Know your target, know your backstop. Odds are you will somehow be involved in or nearby during an accidental discharge at some point.
If these rules are followed, the damage will be minimal, and you and your dog will be safe.