This tip is from Maurice Lindley of Lindley's Kennel, 3332 West Georgia Road, Piedmont, SC 29673; (864) 243-3583; website www.lindleykennel.com; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Maurice has been training professionally for 30 years. He trains all pointing breeds for hunting, hunt tests, and field trials. He no longer judges but still runs dogs in a few field trials and hunt tests every year. He breeds Brittanys and pointers.
"The most common owner-caused problem I deal with," Maurice said, "is sensitivity to the gun. In most cases, the owner has started using the gun before his pup was ready, that is, before he was really fired up about birds. Unless this problem is addressed right away and cured, the dog will almost surely become seriously gunshy. That frequently leads to blinking birds to avoid hearing the sound of the gun."
To avoid this problem, Maurice recommends that before firing the first shot over his dog, the owner expose his youngster thoroughly to good, strong-flying birds. Before hearing his first shot, the dog should be chasing flushed birds vigorously, with his total focus on the bird, intent on trying to catch it. Even then, the owner should not fire the gun until the dog is quite some distance away and still chasing with reckless abandon.
Then, too, the owner should start with a "little" gun that doesn't make too much noise. A .22 blank pistol is ideal. After the dog ignores this little "pop" a few times, the owner can move up to a .410, then to a 28 or 20 gauge, and so on. If, at some point in this process, the youngster shows concern about the noise, the owner should go back a step or two and thereafter proceed more slowly and carefully.
"Once this problem has come up," Maurice said, "you must cure it before you can proceed with training with any hope of success. An inexperienced amateur would do well to consult a pro or experienced amateur for guidance in this process."
Don't miss part two of our story with tips for your spaniel, here., and tips for your retriever, here.
Maurice pointed out that the cure is the same for gun-sensitivity and full gunshyness, although the latter takes much longer than the former. In either situation, you need to awaken and build the dog's desire for birds. Maurice stressed proceeding slowly and carefully in this. Leave the gun completely out of the picture until the dog has really developed his drive toward birds, that is, until he is chasing them wildly and recklessly.
Don't rush through this stage or you'll probably be starting over again and again and again.
Only when the dog is insane to catch flushed birds should you shoot. Again start with the .22 blank pistol at a great distance, and stay with it for many training sessions. Ditto for each higher level of gun noise. If he shows any signs of sensitivity, go back a few steps, even leave the gun out of the picture for a few sessions. This slow process should cure the problem, whether it be gun-sensitivity or full gunshyness.