Hunting dogs should quiver with excitement, not fear, at the expectation of gunfire. Fortunately, gun-shyness is easy to correct. Unfortunately, it’s even easier to create. Just fire a 12-gauge over a young dog “to see if it’s gun-shy.” Or hunt your dog for the first time without some prior introduction to gunfire. Better yet, condition Duke to single shots, then go hunting with three buddies, and all of you fire at once.
Even some of the old conditioning and cure techniques can cause or exacerbate gun-shyness. The most popular is tying a dog outside the car at a clay bird range. That might help some dogs, but it will drive noise-sensitive dogs insane. Or if a dog bolts during gunfire, throw him out of a boat so he can’t run away; then shoot “until he accepts it.” Yeah, right.
It often does work to begin a cure by firing blanks or .22 shorts every time a hungry gun-shy dog tries to snatch a mouthful of warm, gravy-covered meat scraps. Trouble is, after a few aborted tries, most sensitive dogs shut down and fail to get a single mouthful that first day. You feel brutal withholding food until hunger overcomes fear the next day or the day after.
The real question is why so many amateurs and pros still accept risks, brutality and poor results when the simple, effective solution has existed since 1986. It’s a tape, now also a CD, that desensitizes dogs to gunfire. Based on a study suggesting that students learn better while listening to music with a beat that corresponds to their own heart rate, original music was written for dogs. Segment one is music only. In following segments, gunfire is added and gradually escalates from a few pops weaker than BB guns to many shotgun blasts as loud as the music. After that, the music diminishes with each segment until only the loud shooting remains. Throughout, the volume setting stays at a level that makes the gunfire in the final segments as loud as nearby shotgunning. I tested the original prototype on an otherwise incorrigibly gun-shy Lab who had been punished for noise sensitivity before coming to me. He found the music calming, accepted the gradually increasing gunfire as part of the music and by the end was desensitized into thinking shotguns are as soothing as music. It works.
Use the same recording for curing or conditioning. In the next issue: Neighboring gunfire.
Contact: Master’s Voice (800-520-8463; www.mastersvoice-dog.com).