A gun-shy dog is a man-made problem. Well-balanced, healthy dogs don’t harbor inherent fears of inanimate objects–something has to cause the negative association to develop. Although preventing problems is always better than trying to correct them, if you screwed up your dog’s introduction to the shot, it might be possible to salvage her future. It’s an uphill battle that requires patience and attentiveness to your dog’s body language.
Step One: Develop Prey Drive
For her to overcome the fear, you must let her chase, catch, play with, and even kill prey. Don’t worry about bad habits; you can fix those later. (Besides, if you can’t correct the gun-shyness, they won’t matter.) Catching prey must be the dog’s overriding desire.
Step Two: Reintroduce Firearms
You must create a positive association between the shot and catching prey. Throw a bird or release a rabbit and let the dog chase it. As she begins to chase, have a buddy fire a .22-caliber blank, 12-gauge primer popper, or even a cap gun from a distance of 100 yards or more. With a high enough prey drive and a small enough bang from a great enough distance, the dog shouldn’t even notice, which is exactly what you want.
Slowly move the shooter closer, in 10-yard increments, until you can shoot near the dog without her reacting. If at any time the dog hesitates, shows more interest in the shooter than in the prey, or displays any fear, stop and try again a few days later from the last successful distance.
It could take days, or even weeks, before a dog fully overcomes the fear of even a small bang. Once you can shoot near her with the smallest possible blank, start the entire process over with a larger blank. Continue the progression until you can shoot near the dog with your hunting firearm.