Keep Your Dog from Becoming Gun Shy

Keep Your Dog from Becoming Gun Shy

All gun shy dogs are man-made. While some dogs may be more prone to becoming gunshy, it is not a genetic flaw. Some dogs are more sensitive and this can make them more "likely" to become gunshy. Even the boldest of pups can become gunshy if the introduction to the gun is not handled correctly.

The following method works fine with pointers, flushers, and retrievers. While I start all my pups using these techniques, this method will work with any age dog that needs conditioning to guns and gunfire.

There are several things that you should NEVER, EVER do to a young dog.

  • Never fire a gun around a dog to see IF he is gunshy
  • Never take a dog to a Shooting Range to introduce gunfire
  • Never take a dog "hunting" prior to the proper introduction to gunfire
  • Never take a young dog "hunting" with an older dog for some "on the job training" prior to the proper introduction to gunfire
  • Never fire a gun close to a young dog without proper introduction -- keep him away from any kind target practice or random shooting
  • Never allow your dog to be exposed to fireworks
  • Never fire a gun close to a dog while feeding him (many folks do this but it does not make the proper association)
  • Do your best to keep him indoors during major lightning and thunderstorms

Many young dogs become gunshy from things that are out of the owner's control or unknown to the owner. It's best to get started on gunfire and noise introduction as soon as possible. I start mine the day they get to my house.

Getting Started

It's great if your breeder has already started the introduction but you never want to assume that they have.

We always raised our litters in the laundry room. This starts their life with a series of doors opening and closing and washing machines and dryers running. We also always have a radio going in the background. This gives them exposure to many noises, voices, music and loud and blaring commercials. My dad always said the best dogs were raised on "Country and Western" music, but I'll leave that up to you.

I make as much "noise" around my young pups as possible. Start out slow and build up.

When I am around my pups, I clap my hands, clang food bowls, open and close my truck and dog box doors. Start out quiet and build up. Always watch your dog and see if or how he reacts. I prefer that the pup is moving around out in the open having fun. I want the noises to being part of his normal routine. I go out of my way to be as loud as I can over time.

I want him to be well adjusted to any sudden noise. The best way to do this is to have a regular series of noises going on. Again, start slow and build up. Never go too fast.

Seeing the Gun as a Positive Thing

Many dogs that become gun shy are not only afraid of the sound of the gun, they are also afraid of the sight of the gun. This happens when the first time a dog sees a gun is also the first time he hears one. He puts two and two together and makes a break for it the next time you take your shotgun out of its case.

I like for my young dogs to see guns on a regular basis as part of the routine. Feeding time is a great opportunity for this.

I have young kids so I don't like to leave my guns lying around. In place of a real shotgun, I use an old daisy "Pop" gun. It looks like a shotgun and it even makes a good pop noise when I cock and fire it. I carry one around on walks in the field and during feeding time.

This allows my pup to SEE a gun in a positive way and for it to become a normal part of his world.

If you live in a neighbourhood, you may want to let your neighbours know what you are doing -- there's nothing worse than being the crazy guy next door walking around in his back yard with what "looks" like a shotgun ;)

Introduction to Birds

See 3 min. video here.

Before we start with actual gunfire, we need to get started on birds. The best way to get a young dog going is to "seed" an open field with a few game birds. I prefer quail but pigeons or chukars will work.

Take your young dog out and let him find, bump, flush and chase these birds. Be sure to carry your pop gun or your shotgun (unloaded) on these romps. Your pup needs to see you with your gun while he is "hunting" and finding birds. This helps with the positive association.

After you have done this a few trips and your pup is now "hunting" for birds when you take him out, you can add gunfire. This gets him thinking birds and guns, guns and birds.

This is the correct association that we want. My dogs love guns and gunfire because they know they go with birds. It's the key.

Adding in the Gunfire

Once your pup is good and "bird" crazy, you can start adding gunfire. Don't worry about him pointing or flushing birds or any other advanced training. You need him to be as "bird crazy" as possible.

See 3 min. video here.

I prefer to start with a Blank .22 pistol with the very quiet "crimped" acorn blanks. They are the lowest volume of all the blanks we sell.

To do this right, you will need a helper. Put your helper in a spot where he will always be at least 100 to 150 feet away from your pup but can see all the action.

Plant your birds and take your pup out into your bird field and let him start hunting. When he finds your first planted bird, let the chase begin. As soon as the bird is in flight and the pup is in full chase, signal your helper to fire one shot. I lift my hat off my head and hold it high in the air.

Watch your pup for any reaction. As long as he keeps going full blast you can continue. If he stops and looks around don't make a big deal out of it. Keep on walking and find the next bird. Let him flush this one without any gunfire.

I also like to keep a bird on me so I can flush one from my vest if he needs a little distraction.

As long as he has no reaction to the gunfire, keep adding it in as he flushes birds. Slowly move the blank gun in closer and closer over time.

Keep moving the gun in until you are firing the gun at your side as he finds and bumps the birds. After you can do this, start over with the louder CCI Short crimps and the much louder Winchester .22 Short blanks. Same rules apply. Start at a distance and move in slowly.

After you can fire the gun yourself when the pup is close to you chasing his birds, you can move up to a small gauge shotgun. I prefer to start back a little further than I did with the blank pistol, say 200 to 250 feet just to be on the safe side. Use either a .410, 28 or a 20 gauge gun with light loads, the smaller the gauge the better. Hold off on the 12 gauge for now.

Same rules apply again. Move-in slowly. Before long you'll have the right association (Bird and Guns - Guns and Birds) and you will be ready to start killing birds over your pup and making him steady.

The important part of all this is that you take your time. Never, never ever get in a hurry. Build your pup's confidence and the proper association of "Bird and Guns - Guns and Birds."
- by Steve Snell

How to Cure the Gun Shy Hunting Dog

It’s easier to methodically condition a dog to gunfire than to cure a case of gun shyness. But if you have patience, there is hope for the gun-shy dog - By Chad Hines

We call them hunting dogs, bird dogs, and ‘gun’ dogs interchangeably. Whatever you call them, the dog you take hunting needs to be comfortable with the sound of gunfire. The best dogs get excited when they hear the report of the gun, and it makes them hunt harder, concentrate more, look to you for instructions.

But what if your hunting dog develops a fear of gunfire? I’ve seen potentially good hunting dogs with such a fear of loud noises that they would shake like a leaf and hide under the couch in a thunderstorm.

Gun shyness is sad to see because it’s normally preventable. But there will always be those who just take their dogs out hunting, and the first gunshot they hear is in the heat of a hunt, and at that point, it’s a matter of luck as to whether the dog reacts favourably.
There are many people who believe that once a dog is gun shy, it’s a lost cause, a condition that can never be reversed. It certainly takes a lot of work, and it will always be simpler to prevent gun shyness than fix it.
There are things you can try but bring your patience.



Let’s say your dog is already fearful of gunfire. The first thing to try––prepare yourself to have patience––is the same progression you should have used before the puppy was ever exposed to gunfire. But now, expect the process to take a long time, and make sure the gun-shy dog is completely comfortable before advancing.
Start by making a fairly loud noise, such as clapping your hands, and immediately following up with something good. A treat, for instance. Progress to louder and louder noises, always followed by something good.

When you think the dog is ready to hear the sound of a gunshot, start with a ‘starters pistol,’ which shoots blanks. Fire the first shots at a distance, and make sure something good follows the shot (treats or praise are good choices). Gradually move closer until you can shoot standing right next to the dog. If you notice any signs of fear, back off and try a quieter noise for a few sessions. It helps to have an assistant fire the gun at a distance, so you can instantly give the reward when the dog hears the bang.

Once you’re sure the dog has accepted the sound of the starter's pistol, progress to the louder sound of a shotgun. Again, begin further away, and have your helper move closer, until the gunshot can come while the shooter is standing next to the dog.


Now, you’re ready to associate the gunfire with live birds. Your gun-shy dog must already have been introduced to birds, and be excited about them. Let a pigeon or pheasant go and let your dog chase the bird. When the dog is about 50 yards away and concentrating on the bird, shoot the blank pistol. If your dog shows no signs of being intimidated by the gun, throw another bird and shoot when the dog is about 40 yards away and concentrating on the bird.

Continue with the progression, shooting when the dog is closer and closer to you until you can fire the gun when the dog is within five yards of you. After you get to that stage, try teasing the dog with the bird, firing the gun, and throwing the bird for him. (You may want to let him have this bird to retrieve, by clipping some feathers on one wing so the bird cannot fly away.)
When you get all the way through this progression with the blank pistol, start the process over again, substituting the louder report of a shotgun. With a dog that’s shy of gunfire, it’s better to take more steps than to have to go back to the drawing board.

If all goes well, the dog eventually hears the gun and looks for a bird to come down. At that point, your work on the association is complete.
The most important thing to remember is this: If your dog shows any fear of the gunfire, switch to a quieter noise and try the progression again. If your dog is showing fear, you are moving too fast.


Some cases of gun shyness are worse than others. If you try the first program and it doesn’t work, there are some other things you can try.


  • Do not feed or water your dog for a day, then give him food and water, and clap your hands. Then, do the other steps in the progression only when it’s feeding time. At this point, you are reintroducing the association of loud noises with something good––food and water.  If your dog won’t eat after the noise, leave him alone with his food and water. Give him enough food so he remains healthy, but keep him hungry so you can continue to introduce at least a fairly loud noise before feeding him each time.
  • If the ‘feeding routine’ doesn’t work well with your dog, find something else he really likes and begin it by clapping your hands. Things your dog enjoys might be coming out of the kennel, going for a ride in the truck, or playing a fun game of fetch. Just make sure you make the noise first, and follow it immediately with the thing your dog likes. Progress to louder noises until you can, for example, to shoot the gun, then let him out of the kennel. Something good always comes after the noise.
  • Also, when you’re working out a case of gun shyness, try letting your dog out to run with other dogs. Your dog should feel comfortable in that type of setting. At some point when they’re all concentrating on playing with each other, fire off the gun. When the noise doesn’t bother the other dogs, your dog may pick up on that. I’ve seen it work
No matter what route you take to cure the gun-shy dog, start small and work your way up to a gradually closer and louder noise. And remember: don’t shoot around birds if your dog has not been properly introduced to them. If you do, and the dog develops a case of gun shyness, the dog is likely to associate the loud, bad noise with birds––and birds can also become ‘bad’ to them.