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Hunting Dog Training: Gun Shy Dogs

Updated on June 27, 2012
English pointers often make great quail hunting dogs.
English pointers often make great quail hunting dogs. | Source

Hunting in Georgia

Years ago, I was pretty involved with hunting dog training – especially bird dog training. Hunting in Georgia is a popular pastime, and my state has plenty of woods, fields, and lowlands that support a wide variety of wild game. Some of the more popular hunting in Georgia is for whitetail deer, wild boar, bear, raccoon, rabbit, and squirrel, but bird hunting is extremely popular, too. Geese, ducks, dove, woodcock, and marsh hens are all available, but quail hunting was always my favorite, although I also enjoyed dove hunting. We always kept several dogs on hand just for hunting, which is how I got into bird dog training. Unfortunately, I ran across a couple of dogs that were gun shy. If you’ve had the same experience, you might consider the hunting dog training tips provided here.

Bird hunting is a challenging sport.
Bird hunting is a challenging sport. | Source

Bird Hunting

Bird hunting can be very enjoyable, but it can also be extremely challenging. After all, birds have the gift of flight, and some employ erratic flying patterns that make them difficult to hit. No matter how good your gun dogs are, they can’t help you improve your aim. They can, however, help you locate live quail and retrieve downed quail and doves for you. They can do the same with ducks and geese, too, but I never really enjoyed those types of bird hunting. I’ve also never hunted pheasant. My bird hunting consisted mostly of quail hunting and dove hunting, with a sprinkling of duck hunting.

Quail hunting is my favorite type of hunting.
Quail hunting is my favorite type of hunting. | Source

Quail Hunting

In my opinion, quail hunting is the best of the best. I always loved trekking through the autumn woods and watching the dogs work. We used English pointers, English setters, and Brittany spaniels for quail hunting. And take it from me – seeing a well trained dog doing its job is a wonderful sight to behold! And, of course, there’s also the taste of fried Bobwhite involved, which is delicious.

If you’re not familiar with quail hunting, allow me to explain the role of the hunting dogs. Quail are capable of flight, but it’s usually in short bursts. The birds spend much of their time on the ground, often in groups called “coveys.” The dog’s job is to track and locate the birds. When the dog finds a bird or covey, it “points,” alerting the hunter. The hunter waits for the birds to “flush” – to fly. Sometimes the birds flush on their own, and sometimes the hunter stamps his foot near the location to make the birds take flight.

When a quail is downed, the hunter has to find it. This isn’t usually easy, as quail hunting might be done in some very thick brush. Most gun dogs will find the dead or wounded quail, but some pointing breeds aren’t natural retrievers. For example, English pointers aren’t usually natural retrievers. There are exceptions, however, and we owned one. Our liver pointer, Herman, was a great retriever, and we even used him on the dove field.

Quail Hunting Video:

Quail Hunting in Georgia:

Dove Hunting

Although I never enjoyed dove hunting as much as I did quail hunting, it’s still a great sport. In my neck of the woods, dove hunting is somewhat of a misnomer. We do more dove shooting than we do dove hunting. In other words, local farmers often host large dove shoots that include lots of shooters. On a good day, the birds come in by the droves, allowing hunters the opportunity to bring the birds down with shotguns.

With this type of hunting, the dogs don’t help hunters locate the birds that are targeted. Instead, the dog’s job is to retrieve dead and wounded doves and return them to their human master. A gun shy retriever does not a good hunting companion make. Numerous guns can be blazing away at the same time at a dove shoot, so you need a dog that’s totally immune to loud noises. In fact, our best retrievers actually liked to hear the guns roar. They’d get all excited because they knew it meant they’d get to do some retrieving.

The key word in gun dogs is "gun."
The key word in gun dogs is "gun." | Source

Gun Dog Training

The key word in gun dog training is “gun.” Gun dogs have to be used to hearing a gun fire, or else, they’re pretty useless as hunting dogs. Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, gun shy dogs are afraid of loud noises – especially of hearing a gunshot. To better understand this fear, you need to understand a little about dog behavior. Most creatures, including canines, are born with a fear of loud noises. Even human infants come into the world with this inherent mechanism firmly in place. Of course, some dogs are more sensitive to loud noises than others are. I’ve worked with some puppies who didn’t seem bothered much when they heard their first gunshot, while others were terrified.

Like most dog training, it's best to start bird dog training early.
Like most dog training, it's best to start bird dog training early. | Source

Gun Shy Dogs

There are plenty of gun shy dogs in the world, but the thing is that most people don’t know or care if their furkid is gun shy or not, unless the dog is a hunting dog. In fact, most non-hunter dog owners will never even know whether or not their dog is gun shy, unless the fear of loud noises includes a fear of thunder, fireworks, and/or other booming sounds. For example, I just discovered last 4th of July that one of my Great Danes is terrified of fireworks. Hamlet was five years old at the time, but it was the first time he’d been subjected to really loud noises. Since Hammie isn’t a hunting dog, I don’t care that he’s noise shy. It just doesn’t matter. With a hunting dog, however, it’s a different story.

You have to be able to depend on hunting dogs to be around after a firearm discharges. It doesn’t matter how great a quail-tracking nose it has, or if he’s the best retriever on the planet. If the dog heads for the hills, so to speak, after hearing a gunshot, it’s pretty useless as a gun dog. With patience, some dog training tips, and some common sense, you have a good chance of turning gun shy dogs into hunting dogs that don’t mind the sound of a gun blast at all.

We used Brittanies for quail hunting and for dove hunting.
We used Brittanies for quail hunting and for dove hunting. | Source

Dog Training Tips

Dog training tips are often most effective with younger dogs and pups, and such is the case with gun shyness. An older dog that’s afraid of loud noises will be very difficult to train. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do so, but it’ll be tough. It’s much easier to start gun dogs out as pups, before they get “set in their ways.” It’s the “old dogs and new tricks” thing.

When my husband and I were training hunting dogs, we did a lot of work with the puppies before they ever set paw in a field or wooded area. Sound acclimation was an important part of our gun dog training. Since most puppies are naturally afraid of loud noises, we had to get the pups used to them gradually. We also had to give the dogs a reason to like loud noises by using typical dog behavior and association. In other words, the dogs needed to associate the loud noise with something good. Since dogs really like to eat, mealtime provides a great opportunity for desensitization to loud noises.

Begin once the puppy is used to you and its new home, and start with not-so-loud noises. Hand clapping works well. If the pup pays no attention to the clapping, gradually use louder noises. If you reach a decibel level that frightens the canine, go back to the loudest noise you used that didn’t bother the dog. Stick to that one for several days before moving on.

When the pup isn’t fazed by loud noises, begin firing a gun while the dog is eating. Don’t shoot right next to the dog. Instead, fire from a distance. Gradually shoot the firearm closer and closer to the dog, until you can fire right next to the dog without its even missing a mouthful of chow. With some dogs, you’ll be able to move pretty quickly through these steps, but with others, it might require a lot of patience on your part.

If you already have trained gun dogs, use them to help with your gun dog training. If the young dog has a bond with the older dog, the youngster will usually trust the mature dog and perhaps see it as a leader. When it notices that gunshots don’t bother its pal, the younger dog might figure gunshots are nothing to get frazzled about.

You can use this “team” approach with dog training in the field or woods, too. Use a tandem leash that connects the two dogs together – one with a center ring to which you can attach a long leash or cord. Take the dogs out for a stroll in the woods, and fire your gun. If you’ve gone through the noise-desensitization steps, the younger dog probably won’t be bothered. If it does try to shy away, don’t try to comfort it by petting it. The dog will think it’s being rewarded for such behavior. On the other hand, don't punish the dog for being alarmed when it hears a gunshot, as it might associate the punishment with the firing of the gun.

An important aspect of hunting dog training, or any dog training, for that matter, is trust. The dog should trust in you completely and see you as the pack leader. Once this trust is firmly established, gun dog training will be easier. Always reward good behavior, and don’t reward bad behavior. Be consistent in your methods, too, and be patient. Use a few “refresher courses” between hunting seasons to keep your hunting dogs “on their toes.” The time you put into hunting dog training will be rewarded in the long run.

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    • dmstephenson profile image

      David M. Stephenson 

      5 years ago from Springfield, Ohio

      I think this will be a real help to first time gun dog owners. Two thumbs up.

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Exactly, Nicole! Thanks for stopping by!

    • Nicole S profile image

      Nicole S Hanson 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      This reflected exactly what our trainer told us as well. That you need to teach them that after a loud noise comes something good.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Holle, great article, getting a dog past the fear of a snap is a challenge. Clearly, the first commenter doesn't understand that many dogs are born with natural instincts of a number of different traits that involve hunting. I got two dogs that are dogs that have webbed feet, a trait that that enables them to swim at a better pace than other dogs and it seems that they have a better view of picking up the birds after they hit the water. I have a little dog that were dumped on a desert road to die by some moron. This little dog I named sidekick, because everywhere I go she goes short of being allowed into you know places in town. She could be a Jack Russell or rat terrier, and I suppose a Feist. The one the one certain thing is that, her appearance is similar to all. She is a talented little dog, a little yapping at times but she is most interesting to see her stick that nose straight up in the air and locate one of her favorite targets like a rabbit, she absolutely loves, routing one out of the bushes and the chase is on, if she can he circled it right back to me. Then there are the times she outsmarts one, and headed off at the pass, she grabs that bugger at the neck, and depending on the size of the rabbit, she may win, by slinging her head right and left in a fast motion, and you can hear that neck bone break. Then it's fried rabbit for lunch and she gets the liver and a few other edibles that I always cook because I'm against feeding my dogs raw meat. I've seen her care to big jackass rabbit in them thumpers have huge rear feet that will launch them on 20 foot jump while running amazing to see. It's hilarious to see one just kick the snot out of her. LOL

      She's Stubborn, and refuses to let go until she's so tired or her ribs are hurting and she finally let go. I did not teach her any of that, it's something that she just does. I started her training with a pellet rifle, the quietest thing in my arsenal. When we walked out a ways into the desert I just tell her with a higher pitched voice I think she perceives as anxious or excited as she perks up and runs out in front I will shoot the pellet gun and then toss and already dead bird out for her to find. So she's learned that even though she doesn't see it, when the pellet gun goes off she starts searching for a bird or rabbit.

      She's good to go, on a 22 rifle for small game.

      It really is a fun pastime that gets her worn down from her excited nature, so we can climb up into the recliner and take a nap. Otherwise she then the bunker runs around like a BBN a boxcar driving me in all of the dogs crazy.

      Anyway an interesting hub on a topic that I really love so you know I've loaded it up with upward votes.,



    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Sorry, but I'm a meat eater. We eat what we shoot. Hunting your own meat is much less cruel than raising animals in confinement and having them face the slaughterhouse.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Dogs are very faithful and obedient animal. People are teaching and making brutal and aggressive to them in brutal method . The most interesting thing is that they become proud and a class of people are going to appreciate such a dogs. It can not be a normal people's thought.

      Please keep a touch with such a people those who train dogs against their beautiful innocent nature. You will find them also brutal and aggressive. Bull fight in Spain is also a kind of brutality. God knows, when people going to protest against such a game. I have no word to say any more.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hunting is enorm deplorable. I can not comprehend that the people like killing game . When we can not give live, who gives us right to snatch life. It is a brutal act. When animals are going to be slaughtered, they do not want to die. They are fully in tense , feared, bodies are fully excited, high blood-presser and you can imagine the situation. Please assume that you are going to hung or shoot after five hours. You can not be normal. Your entire body will be in full of tension, feared and your condition will be abnormal. People those who eat these hunting or slaughtered animals. These animals(meats) enter in their body. People and Hunters perceive aggression from the tortured meat to eat. People become brutal, shameless , egoist, anger and very aggressive attitude in their behave.

      I will request the people to think the pain whom you are going to shoot . For the God sake , do not kill any live . Every thing has a right to live freely on this beautiful garden of God. Do not be fanatic and egoist. Your staying period is not to long on this earth. Amplify love, deluge love and perceive love.


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