I found some training notes on how I started to introduce Quling to gunfire a couple of years ago and thought I’d share them with you. I wanted to do it earlier – much earlier – but he has been a bit sick and I noticed that he felt low, so I didn’t want to start doing something that might frighten him.
He has heard gunfire before and hasn’t been bothered by it. He just looked around a little but didn’t react more than that. A month ago, for the first time, he learned to connect gunfire with retrieving. I let him start to retrieve almost immediately when we began to fire shots and throw dummies, because I noticed a little touch of fear in that particular situation.
The same happened with my other dog Tassla – she was even more affected than Quling, but then she realized that gunfire lead to fun things. Since then she is absolutely cool with gunfire. She is, however, afraid of the sound of champagne corks, but luckily for her she doesn’t hear these so very often.?
The fact that gunfire leads to fun things is something that I really try to be careful about. As soon as Quling let go of his first hesitation, I didn’t let him retrieve in connection with gunfire. Already the second time we trained with gunfire, this time on a dog training course, he ran in four times when he should retrieve in connection with gunfire. Sometimes it is just TOO fun!
So now I might let him retrieve after about ten gunshots, and that is only if his feeling is perfect and I can see that his expectations to run is not too high.
Today I got somebody to help me with my training (that is absolutely necessary, especially in the beginning, to have someone that can shoot so that you can focus on your dog) and this time the training was really good.
Åsa, who is one of Quling’s favorite people, stood in one corner of the training field and fired shots (she fired blanks) in a direction away from us. In another corner, about 40 yards further away, I did a lot of training with Quling. I trained retrieving, played with him with a ball etc. Åsa fired a gunshot at the right time (we had made plans before) when he, for example, was on his way back to me with a dummy or just grabbed the ball etc. He was just as usual and did everything gladly and didn’t seem afraid and unhappy in any way.
After a while I asked Åsa to come closer to us, so then she stood about 15 yards away and there she tossed dummies and fired gunshots, but before the exercise began, I had thrown a couple dummies in the opposite direction. Quling had to watch her while doing this for a while, and then we turned around and I asked him to retrieve a dummy away from Åsa.
Quling is very good at retrieving to hand and he really showed that today. Even though he was very tense – almost like a rubber band – and wanted to run off towards the gunshot as soon as he heard it, he turned around nicely, didn’t care about the gunfire and did his job in a great way. I stood opposite from him so that Åsa stood on his right side and my dummies were on the other side. So, I sent him to the left, away from the gunshots.
After doing so a couple of times he sat there immovable, focused, and calm. He didn’t show any inclinations to run in or to solve the situation without listening to me first. In that moment I asked him to retrieve one of the dummies that were connected to Åsa’s gunshots.
After that we continued to train away from the gunshots.
Quling wasn’t totally destroyed afterwards, but I noticed that he was really tired. It was probably more difficult than I had thought. He seemed to recover quickly.
Now I will continue to train Quling in a way so that expectations don’t get too high and only let him retrieve in connection with gunfire once in a while. I will not let him work every time, but instead sit down and let him watch when the gun is fired, and dummies are thrown. Nothing more than that has to happen.
Some dogs might feel pressure when they have to sit and listen to gunshots, but he seemed calm. I even noticed that it seemed as if he got more focused and did the things, he was supposed to do better than he usually does. So, it was a good introduction to gunfire!