Gunshyness in Gun Dogs: Spaniels

David J. Jones

"Gunshyness," David said, "is a fear of loud noises, particularly gunshots. Heredity can be a large factor. I've found that dogs coming from certain lines are predisposed to this fault. I've also found that they can become excellent working spaniels if the owners take extra care in introducing them to gunfire."

But David feels that most cases of gunshyness are caused by environmental factors, especially in puppies and young dogs. Unexpected loud noises, like really bad thunderstorms and loud machinery, can seriously frighten a pup. Ditto for people shooting too close to a puppy's kennel.

"Every year I receive calls from people with gunshy dogs," he said. "The most common cause is that the owner has taken his dog hunting with no previous introduction to gunfire and the dog has run off at the first shot. Then, too, some owners have taken their pups to a skeet or trap range 'to see if he's gunshy' and almost always finds that he is. Small wonder!"

David said that nothing beats food and a blank pistol for introducing a puppy to gunfire.

He starts at a distance and moves the shot closer as the pup comes to associate it with food.

"I also like to run a puppy with older gun-proofed dogs." He said. "I fire a blank pistol when they're at a reasonable distance. The puppy's reaction usually mirrors the older dogs', very positive."

Next, David introduces the dummy launcher. He tethers the puppy about 50 yards from where he is working older dogs with this handy tool. This stimulates jealousy and eagerness to work in the pup. Then, if the youngster reacts properly, he has an assistant hold the puppy at a reasonable distance while he fires a dummy for the youngster to retrieve. David watches the puppy's reaction as he makes the retrieve.

"Tail down, nervous, possible flight," he said, "means go back a few steps and start over."

But with a happy retrieve, David gradually fires the dummy launcher closer to the puppy, always studying his reaction. And so on until he can fire it beside the youngster.

"Follow this program," he said, "and your dog should never have a problem with gunshyness."

More Tips

Don't miss part one of our story for your pointer here, and part two for your retriever, here.


However, if your dog ever shows signs of gunshyness, David recommends that you put him up immediately rather than let the problem get worse. He also recommends that, unless you're knowledgeable in curing gunshyness, you contact a competent pro trainer to guide you through the process, or perhaps to cure your dog himself.

In curing a gunshy dog, David uses basically the same slow and gentle approach that works so well for introducing the gun. However, he pointed out that not all gunshy dogs are curable.

"If your dog is not birdy," he said, "you probably won't be able to cure him. I recently failed to cure one that had no interest in birds at all. You just can't motivate such a dog."

Of course, who would want to hunt with a dog that has no interest in birds? In such a case, gunshyness might be a blessing because it helps the owner to decide he should start over with a better prospect instead of wasting more time and money on a dog that will never amount to much.

David's closing thought: "If you decide to take your gunshy dog to a pro, be completely honest with him about what the problem is and what probably caused it. You won't shock him, and this information will help him cure your dog more quickly (and cheaply)."

This tip is from David J. Jones of Strong Gundogs, 161 River-Ranch Road, Trivoli, TX 77990; (361) 575-3068; website; e-mail David has been training professionally for 42 years, starting in Wales as a youth. He trains all sporting breed and specializes in training them for hunting but also trains a few for field trials. He participates in and judges spaniel field trials. He breeds English springers plus a few pointers.

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