have done everything properly to prepare your bird-dog for gunfire.
Among other exposures, you kept its accustomed to all kinds of
noises as a pup. It now takes loud sounds for granted or associates
them with something enjoyable.
Avoid taking your dog to the field for the first time when it is
between 11 and 13 weeks of age, between 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 months old,
or between 11 and 13 months of age. A negative experience in any of
these periods could result in serious consequences. These are three
of the five critical learning periods which researcher Dale Miller
identified decades ago and which I have modified to include more
behaviors and an age range to account for breed, personality,
upbringing, and other differences. These three time periods, in
particular, account for the ages at which owners have reported
gunshyness began in their dogs.
Moving to the Field
Once you are ready to start its pointing birds in the field, you
don’t want to take any chances that gunfire might startle its – at
any age -- especially if it were associated with gamebirds. If you
follow the procedure outlined here, you will leave little or no room
Your first objective should be to get your dog enthused about what
another experienced, confident dog is doing out in front of her. For
that, you will need a helper whose bird dog’s behavior around guns
and birds is steady and reliable.
* Go to a field with low cover where you can see clearly for at
least a hundred yards.
* Trim off the primary feathers on one wing of a live pigeon so it
can't fly far or well. Put it in your vest.
* About 100 yards out, set a mature pigeon in an electronic release
trap. Place it where you can still see the dogs. If you don't have
access to a trap, have a third person hide in cover with the bird.
You might want to give this job to a youngster whom you want to
introduce to bird hunting.
Ten Steps to Success
Release your buddy's dog first so your dog will pay attention and
want to follow him.
2. Hold your dog back so it will want to give full chase.
3. When the other dog is about 50 yards out -- but where your dog
can still see him -- tug your dog back slightly on the field collar.
Then release the dog. (This is like cocking and releasing a
slingshot.) This action will give any dog more initial forward
drive. (I've taught many field trialers this trick for a better
breakaway form their dogs.)
4. When the lead dog gets within what might be a normal flushing
range, launch the bird electronically, or signal your helper to
release the bird.
5. As soon as you are sure your dog sees the bird, fire the gun --
preferably a 22-blank -- from at least 50 yards behind your dog. Do
this whether your dog chases or honors.
6. Observe your dog's reaction. At the same time, your buddy should
either work the bird for his dog or collar the dog and lead it out
of the field.
7. If your dog chases and manages to catch the bird, allow this to
happen. And allow the dog to keep the bird. There should be no
harshness or force used at all. You can work on steadiness to wing
later on. However, if the dog shows even a slightly negative
reaction to the shot, immediately get its attention.
8. Call out "Hey, Hey, Hey" in a loud, excited, but friendly voice.
As you do, wave the clipped-winged bird around in the air so the dog
9. Once you have the dog’s attention, excitedly rush to some nearby
cover, reach into it then release the bird.
10. Your dog should be fired up at this time and will probably chase
the bird. If it does chase, fire another shot from at least 50 yards
away. Observe the dog’s reaction. It is likely to catch this bird
since its wings are clipped. Again, allow this at this stage of
training. If the dog showed no shyness to the shot, which is likely
to be the case, you are well on your way to having a good hunting
partner. Over several more sessions, release two to three birds per
session, gradually firing closer to the dog each time you release a
Troubles can plague an owner who tries to skip any of the steps in
such a program like this. Initially, everything may seem to be going
well. Then, out of nowhere, a problem will crop up. Almost without
fail, the problem, itself, will point to the part of the sequence
that was skipped. It will reveal the "hole" that was left in the
training. Indeed, if your dog seems to not be solid enough at any of
the steps, you would do well to repeat those steps until the dog
displays absolute confidence.
With proper care and attention, any dog should succeed with this
method – provided that it was pre-conditioned to loud noises before
the gun was introduced in the field.
Stephen Rafe is a noted authority on the behaviour and training
of sporting-breed dogs. He has more than 200 articles published and
his methods have been reported numerous times in other writers’
articles. He has been the About Dogs editor for Quail Unlimited
(U.S.) for seventeen years. His noiseshyness cure systems are
considered by owners, trainers, veterinarians, and behaviorists to
be the most effective available anywhere. His website is:
http://www.starfire-rapport.com His email address is: