When both my dog Tassla and Elsa’s Golden Retriever Diesel were younger they showed a little gun shyness. When we talk to other people about this, we get the impression that it is quite usual that young dogs are a little shy of gunshots in the beginning of the training. Therefore we want to tell you how we did to tackle that problem.
Already in the beginning when Tassla was a tiny puppy she had the opportunity to hear gunshots. This because the two working dog clubs, where I trained her most of the time have shooting ranges close by, and one of them is also a military training ground. The first time Tassla heard shots from the shooting range she reacted a little and listened, and that is of course not very strange, but then she soon continued to play as if she didn’t care. I also threw treats in the grass when she heard the shots, and I walked in the area with both her and my other dog Totte, who doesn’t care about shots at all. In the beginning we were far away from the shooting range.
Once, when we were at the club that has a military training ground close by, they started a war – at lest it sounded like that. They used mortars and machine guns. It was crazy! But Tassla didn’t care at all; it could have been a really terrible experience for her, but it wasn’t. We could stay there despite the noise and train and play as usual.
So, this was really a very good start with all those shots at one time, and she didn’t care at all. It was like a sound carpet.
It was a little more difficult though when only a few shots were fired close to Tassla. I was so stupid that I let her listen to shots really close by for the first time at a water test, and at that time I think that many things made the whole experience very bad for her, so it wasn’t a good start. It was only a month before Tassla was going into heat again (I didn’t know that at the time, but I began to suspect that something was going on), and during this month I noticed that she was more sensitive than usual to different things in the environment. It would have been smart not to introduce such a major challenge to her when she had this sensitive period. Tassla also appeared to feel that the whole situation during the water test was a little scary, so this arrangement wasn’t good. She was clearly a little gun shy when the shots were fired, even when shots were fired for other dogs.
After that I went with Elsa to a working test and Tassla came along. There were shots to the right and left, and my plan was to let Tassla just be in the environment – but away from the shots, and there she could play a little, eat some treats, and just hang out. But, unfortunately, I did a stupid thing again. A couple of days before this Tassla had gotten a mysterious infection in her coat and therefore she was in pain and she had to take penicillin. Moreover, it was still right before she was going into heat again. So, she was feeling really bad in this environment and at first she tried to seek safety with me, but when that didn’t help, she started to show a really scary behavior, which meant that I couldn’t get in touch with her and that she became completely passive. I guess that this was her way to escape this unpleasant situation.
Of course, I interrupted this and took her quickly away from there, but felt like a lousy dog owner, yes, I just felt terrible. Thank God, after only ten minutes she was back to normal and ran around in the woods playing with Elsa’s other Golden Retriever Ludde, who is a very confident older dog.
After that, I went back to the working dog club again (a place Tassla loves, because it means that she will have the opportunity to train and she really likes that) and there I studied her reactions to the shots. And, unfortunately, she now started to listen to the shots, lowered her tail a little, and lost her focus. But as she had such positive feelings towards this place it didn’t take a long time for her to get back to being her usual self, when I played with her. So after this it hasn’t happened again.
Some time later, when she wasn’t on heat anymore, I let her retrieve a dummy without having to wait for my cue when she heard the shot – I did this twice. Elsa stood 100 yards from us behind a tree and used a dummy launcher. And only one second after the dummy launcher went off, another person threw a dummy and at the same time I said the cue: “Retrieve”. I let her do this tree times in a row, and that was when she understood it: Okay! A shot means that I can do the thing that I love more than anything else: Retrieve.
A few weeks later we did the same exercise again, but then I didn’t let her run off to retrieve a dummy without waiting for my cue. I just wanted her to understand that when she hears a shot there will also be a dummy – and you may retrieve it. We did this three times and she didn’t show any gun shyness. Then I walked away with Tassla while they shot two gunshots for another dog, but then I noticed that she was a little gun shy.
The other day she hunted for thirty minutes (with a couple of small breaks in between when Tassla saw other dogs retrieve), and at least eight shots went off. This time she couldn’t retrieve every time, but I rewarded her with very good treats every time she heard a shot, but she wasn’t allowed to retrieve. She didn’t show any gun shyness at all. It did take some time for her to relax afterwards, but that probably didn’t have anything to do with the shots – rather it was because of the whole situation. This time we really did a great job in our training – Tassla took many steeps forward.
Now she can be close to shots that have nothing to do with her. I feel confident, because I am sure that it won’t be any problems for her, if we just take it slowly. I want her to be enthusiastic, but not in a hysterical way.
In the next blog on getting used to shots Elsa will tell you how she trained her dog Diesel when she was young and showed gun shyness.