Not everyone likes or owns guns, but if you’re one of the millions of Americans who do, how can you train your dog not to be gun shy? Even if you don’t hunt or own a gun, you still want a dog that is not noise shy. Gun or noise-shy dogs panic and run away when they hear a loud noise. They’ll often dart into the street, often getting hit by a car. Or they may just blindly run away, getting lost just trying to get away from the noise. Training your dog to be confident and at ease around loud noises is just another part of raising a healthy dog.
The good news is, 99.9 % of dogs aren’t born gun or noise shy. Gun-shy dogs are created. They learn to fear noises because of how they learned to interpret or associate noise with their environment. A dog who is gun-shy, or afraid of loud noises like thunder, fireworks, loud machinery etc. has learned that behavior. Once learned, it’s very a difficult behavior to break. There’s a lot of incentive for training your dog to not flinch at any loud noise, whether it’s guns, fireworks, or backfiring cars, or crowds. If you don’t have a gun, just replace the word “gun” in this post with “loud noise.”
Gun training is just part of your pet’s overall training. You should also be socializing them, and making sure their foundational training (sit, stay, leave it, come, heel, etc.) is solid. You want a confident dog who respects boundaries and listens to you. When a dog is trained early and consistently, their confidence levels will increase as they grow, You should be able to see their confidence in their play and personality. It’s very rewarding to have a confident, self-assured dog. They’re easier to be around, live with, and train for other tasks. But it takes work, and an awareness of how your dog thinks and learns.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t immediately fire a gun or make a loud noise to “see if the dog is gun-shy.” If they weren’t before, they will be now. You do want to introduce your dog to noises, but you want to do it slowly. Begin training the day you bring them home, just like you start training them to sit, stay, come, and answer to their name. Introduce noise, like a radio, doors closing, the washing machine or dryer running, kids crying, into their lives early.
You don’t have to be noisy all the time, but don’t tiptoe around either. Try to expose your dog to new sounds and noises when you’re outside with them playing and having fun. Sounds like basketballs in the driveway, kids shouting or playing, skateboards on asphalt, car doors and trunks slamming, the television blaring, conversations with groups of people, or your family members are good. Make the normal noises we all make during everyday life and see how your dog responds. If they flinch or act fearful, back off and reduce the noise until they ignore it. Start quietly and then get louder as you see your dog becoming more and more comfortable with noise. Associate noise with good things – like clanging dog bowls with being fed, and so on.
Dogs are smart. That’s why they make the association with going for a walk with their leash, or getting in the car with going to the dog park.
- Play a radio in the background near their crate.
- An alarm that goes off when it’s time to go outside, or when you’ll be getting them out of their crate is another positive association of noise with a reward.
- Clap your hands when you’re playing with your dog, or when you enter a room.
- Clang dog bowls naturally – not beating on them, but letting them make normal noise as you prepare their meals.
- Put your dog’s crate in a noisy area of your home, like a kitchen, laundry room (where the washer/dryer makes noises) or anywhere people, noise, and distractions are common. If they act too fearful to that, move to a quieter area, but introduce more noise so they become used to it.
- The sound of cabinets closing as you get treats or dog food are good noises too, as long as you’re not slamming them. You want your dog to associate food, treats, good things with noise. But start off with small noises and get louder as you train. Do this on your dog’s agenda and timeframe, not yours. If it takes weeks (and it does) then it takes weeks.
When you see your dog showing confidence in normal tasks, especially when playing and being outside, it’s time to introduce gun shots – preferably with an air gun, or lower volume gun – not a shotgun or large caliber gun. Take your time introducing your dog to guns and noise. The confidence they feel around noises will last a lifetime if you do it right. If you do it wrong, your dog will be gun or noise-shy for life as well.
Introducing your dog to guns is best done with a buddy. Have your friend/buddy stand 100 yards away with the starting pistol or .22, or small caliber gun while you and your dog play with a “bumper toy.” When your friend fires the gun notice how your dog reacts. Did they ignore the sound, or stop and look towards it?
If they didn’t notice the sound have your friend move forward another 20 yards and fire again. Keep doing this until the dog notices and looks up or in the direction of the sound. Have your friend back off 20 yards. Continue playing and tossing the bumper toy without any gun shots for a time or two. Then shoot again. Notice your dog’s reaction. Keep repeating. Don’t try to train your dog to be comfortable with noise/guns in one day. This should take at least a week if not two weeks, even if your dog is feeling comfortable with the gunshot at close range.
Once your dog starts noticing the gun, then stop for the day. Continue to play with them, but without the gunfire. Repeat the training the next day, using the same starting distance of 100 yards. Eventually your dog will tolerate the small gun fired within a few feet of him/her. Then you can start all over, increasing the caliber and the sound of the gun each time. Ultimately you’ll be able to fire your shotgun, rifle, or pistol over your dog’s head without your dog flinching. Once that happens, and you’re a hunter, then you’re ready to start introducing them to birds, game, and water.
There are a few rules to training a dog to be used to guns:
- Never fire a gun around a dog to see IF he is gun shy. If he wasn’t before, he will be now.
- Keep your dog inside during thunderstorms prior to gun training. It’s not just guns that spook dogs – it’s any loud noises – like thunder, fireworks, heavy machinery, etc.
- Never allow your dog to be exposed to fireworks — this is especially important to tell your kids this as kids may shoot off fireworks around a pet without thinking and ruin them to noises.
- Never take a dog to a shooting range to introduce them to the sound of gunfire.
- No matter who else is going, or what other dogs are going, or how much your dog wants to go with you, never take a dog “hunting” prior to the proper introduction to gunfire.
- There are some things you want an older dog to teach a younger dog, but gun noises aren’t one of them. Never take a young dog “hunting” with an older dog for “experience” before you have properly introduced your dog to gunfire.
- Maybe you’re going outside to plink at some cans with an air gun or a BB gun and your dog wants to tag along. Don’t let them. Never fire any kind of gun close to a young dog without first properly introducing them to gunfire. Five minutes of seemingly innocent fun can ruin your dog and make them gun-shy for life. Resist the temptation to “see how they’ll react.” It’s not worth it.
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