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Introducing the Gun in the Field
by Stephen C Rafe

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You 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.

A Caution

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 for mishaps.

The Set-up

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

1. 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 sees it.

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 bird.


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:  rapport@comcast.net

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