Introducing your new pup to gunfire is the one area that you have complete control over in the development of your gun dog. I will state that I believe that 99.9% of all cases of gunshy-ness are manmade. Animals are naturally afraid of loud noises and it is up to us from there very first day we bring the pup home to condition him to not be afraid of gunfire and to in fact, learn to love it.
From day one we can set pup up so that she learns to associate loud noise with pleasant things, things that she likes and does not fear so that as she gets older, gunfire will not faze her.
Here is what I suggest: First, it may be best to introduce your dog to gentle noises. Gradually increase the intensity by adding different elements. One way is to use a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans, often are considered calming. However if you had a high speed fan that made noise and caused distraction, this could help your dog. You can usually find a decent priced ceiling fans online. This method is of course less intense as others, but may be the perfect first step to introduce your pup to world of noises. This method works nicely whether the dog is to be kept in the house or in a run Buy a couple of good sized stainless steel pans to feed and water the dog from and then starting when the pup is first brought home, clang them together a few times a distance away from the pup, in the next room, for instance whenever it is feeding time. Make a racket and then immediately call the dog to eat so that it comes to associate the noise with feeding time, something she loves. Within a few weeks you should be able to start dropping the pans with the dog in the room at feeding time. At no time should you show any reaction to the noise in the dog's presence!
Gradually increase the amount of noise you are making with the pans until you are dropping together from head high. Again, call the dog immediately and feed her. Soon she will be running to you when she hears all the clatter. If the dogs are kept outside like mine. I start by making the racket around the corner to let the dog know it is feeding time and that I am coming. I gradually work closer until I am dropping the pans right outside the kennel and then actually tossing them together over the top of the pen onto the concrete inside. It sounds a bit like Buddy Rich falling into my run, drum set and all!!
Your dog will soon learn to love all of this commotion and this make our next step very easy. I am hoping that by the time the dog is about 20 weeks of age you would've begun to start your new pup on a bit of obedience work using the methods I have described or better yet, a book or video by someone who really know what they are doing. Once you are to the point where you can take pup somewhere out in the country where she can actually hunt a bit and encounter some birds (check your local game laws if you do this out of season or on state or federal property), obtain a .22 blank pistol and take pup out in the field for a run.
You will need to watch your dog very closely for this next part as it comes in several steps and you must know if the dog is ready to move on. As the dog is hunting ahead (hopefully ahead!!) of you watch for an opportunity when the dog has flushed up a bird or a bunny or even a bug and his giving good chase AWAY from you. With the dog in full run at least a couple hundred feet off, pop the blank pistol one time. The dog will likely look back at you upon hearing the report, or she may ignore you altogether. No matter what just keep walking along, SAY NOTHING to the dog and DO NOT react in any way to the shot. I would fire no more than TWICE on the first day just to be sure. If the dog is pointing and allowing you to flush her birds, be sure you allow her to chase the birds off quite a bit before you fire.
Once the dog seems cool with a blank pistol at distance, gradually fire the pistol at closer ranges, being very careful to watch for any signs of concern or discomfort on the part of the dog. If the dog shows any concern at any time, fire no more shots that day and increase the distance the next time out until he is virtually ignoring the sound of the pistol. Remember it is important to fire only when she is chasing something, having a good time, so that she will come to associate gunfire with excitement of game. This is what we want her to come to live for.
Once you get to the point where you can fire the pistol within about 10 yards of the dog with no trouble, repeat the whole process with a shotgun. I prefer a 20 ga. to start with but if you are very careful about keeping 100 yards out from the dog at first and use light loads, a 12 ga. works fine. Again, the dog should not get any cues from you, fire the gun, say nothing and just keep walking. As long as the dog has no reason to believe the sound will hurt her, she will just accept has part of what happens when she is hunting and will associate the sound with having fun. At this point you can incorporate this all very nicely as you start to work you new gun dog on her bird manners using liberated birds, which we will cover in depth in June issue.
If you do this right and take your time, when it comes time to shoot that first bird for your dog, there will be no problems or surprises and you will have a dog that is convinced that gunfire is one of the best things that there is.