Dogs and Gun Shots

This is a discussion on Dogs and Gun Shots within the Home (And Away From Home) Defense Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; My pup (2 years end of Dec) is afraid of gunshots. I think this is normal for a lot of dogs. He's a german shepherd ...

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    VIP Member Array pittypat21's Avatar
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    Dogs and Gun Shots

    My pup (2 years end of Dec) is afraid of gunshots. I think this is normal for a lot of dogs. He's a german shepherd mix (presumably with St. Bernard and possibly something else) and is an excellent dog. He won't necessarily sit every time you ask, or roll over for a treat, but he loves my family and I, and he won't let a dang thing get close to our house without permission. He's friendly, he's cute, he's kind of an idiot sometimes, but he's defensive.

    Now, the only problem is that he's afraid of gun shots. I want him to get over this fear so that, should we ever be involved in a home defense situation, he won't run when the going gets tough. I'd like him to continue being aggressive after shots have been fired/exchanged.

    Does anybody know of a way to get a dog use to this? I know a lot of people use dogs for hunting, whether it's tree-ing 'coons or fetching birds, and they are used to the sound of gun fire, and don't run from it.

    Should I tie him up next to me while I'm shooting, and maybe give him a treat and praise every time I fire off a round? Should I just bring him out to the range every week and hang out with him while people are shooting? I don't want to give him prolonged exposure to too much noise and affect his hearing but I also have no idea how gun shots affect dogs vs. humans. I don't know the science between different species' hearing.

    Any ideas? Anybody with experience in this area?

    Thanks in advance.
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    Distinguished Member Array Arborigine's Avatar
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    I had a stray lab puppy adopt me. From day one he was terrrified of gunfire and popping sounds. A timing light or making a finger-gun would make him hide. Had him for 14 years, he never changed. In his youth he would bring me pheasants, squirrels, and rabbits, no gun needed. He was a great dog. I don't know if you can change him, nothing I tried worked.
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    VIP Member Array pittypat21's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arborigine View Post
    I had a stray lab puppy adopt me. From day one he was terrrified of gunfire and popping sounds. A timing light or making a finger-gun would make him hide. Had him for 14 years, he never changed. In his youth he would bring me pheasants, squirrels, and rabbits, no gun needed. He was a great dog. I don't know if you can change him, nothing I tried worked.
    I guess I will just have to find out, then! Glad to know he was a great dog for you for so long.
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    Distinguished Member Array technomonster's Avatar
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    my buddy had a huge chow mix that hated gun fire. he knows what a rifle looks like and would bark at us when we left the house to go shoot in the woods. he usually follows us around a bit but not when we have rifles in hand. they did not shoot pistols much so the dog did not have a problem with hand guns, but i'm sure he would of learned to hate pistols if he had seen one go off in front of him. he stayed this way till he died of old age but we never tried to train him.
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    VIP Member Array pittypat21's Avatar
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    Because threads about dogs are useless without pics...
    Here's a couple shots of him from back in July:
    20130727_203210.jpg

    20130727_203306.jpg

    And back in April:
    20130402_225001.jpg

    20130404_232741.jpg
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    "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."
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    VIP Member Array pittypat21's Avatar
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    And just for fun, a few pics of him growing up.

    Beginning Feb of 2012 when he was about 8 weeks old:
    0226122009.jpg

    April 17, 2012:
    0417120825.jpg

    April 25, 2012:
    0425121015.jpg

    May 24, 2012:
    0524121524.jpg

    June 03, 2012:
    0603121652.jpg

    And Dec 31, 2012:
    1231121507a_0001.jpg
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    VIP Member Array Ghost1958's Avatar
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    Ok old country boy here coon hounds beagles squirrell dogs bird dogs. Your at a bit of a disadvantage. All those dogs I just mentioned that do not mind gun fire normally never had a gun fired around them until they were either treed and allowed to have the first or second game animal they treed once it was shot out of the tree for themselves, running a rabbit and once the rabbit was shot the rabbit left there for the dog to find at the end of his trail. Bird dogs normally tied to the owner on a rope and once pointed and shots fired shown the birds they pointed.

    In essence the dog catches on quick that what he is after gets taken by whatever it is that is making that loud noise ie the gun. After a bit a good hunting dog looks forward to hearing that sound. I have missed a rabbit or two in my life and I could swear one old beagle I raised would give me a disgusted look as he went past to take the rabbit around for another circle LOL.

    Never put off firecrackers around a dog. That will guarantee a gun shy dog. If you can figure something you dog really likes to do and engage him in that while a shot or two is being fired and try to get him to associate whatever that is with the gun you might get him over it.

    Usually though once a dog is gun shy they will always be gun shy to some point.
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    VIP Member Array pittypat21's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ghost1958 View Post
    Ok old country boy here coon hounds beagles squirrell dogs bird dogs. Your at a bit of a disadvantage. All those dogs I just mentioned that do not mind gun fire normally never had a gun fired around them until they were either treed and allowed to have the first or second game animal they treed once it was shot out of the tree for themselves, running a rabbit and once the rabbit was shot the rabbit left there for the dog to find at the end of his trail. Bird dogs normally tied to the owner on a rope and once pointed and shots fired shown the birds they pointed.

    In essence the dog catches on quick that what he is after gets taken by whatever it is that is making that loud noise ie the gun. After a bit a good hunting dog looks forward to hearing that sound. I have missed a rabbit or two in my life and I could swear one old beagle I raised would give me a disgusted look as he went past to take the rabbit around for another circle LOL.

    Never put off firecrackers around a dog. That will guarantee a gun shy dog. If you can figure something you dog really likes to do and engage him in that while a shot or two is being fired and try to get him to associate whatever that is with the gun you might get him over it.

    Usually though once a dog is gun shy they will always be gun shy to some point.

    My dog has so far only seen (and consequently heard) me fire my ARs. I'm thinking I might be able to associate good things with my shotgun, and when I go to fire it around him (they aren't as loud, IMO anyway) he won't be so bad. What do you think?
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    VIP Member Array Ghost1958's Avatar
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    Its worth a shot no pun intended but I wouldnt bet the farm on it. Likely the AR firing is what got him gun shy in the first place. Sort of like the fire cracker thing.

    You need his attention fixed wholly on something hes totally interested in like a hunting dog is instinctively homed in on what he is after. They dont really notice the first shot they hear when what they are after falls in front of em.

    Granted your not hunting anything with him so its going to be harder to get him over it. Dogs once shy are really hard to get out of it. At worst they will run off for hours or hide. At best you can get one to where he just hunkers down in fear but doesnt run off. I managed to break exactly one gun shy beagle of the 25 or so i have had. It took two hunting seasons and running him with two other good dogs as a pack to do it. Good luck. Hope it works for you.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ghost1958 View Post
    Its worth a shot no pun intended but I wouldnt bet the farm on it. Likely the AR firing is what got him gun shy in the first place. Sort of like the fire cracker thing.

    You need his attention fixed wholly on something hes totally interested in like a hunting dog is instinctively homed in on what he is after. They dont really notice the first shot they hear when what they are after falls in front of em.
    You're a genius, Ghost.

    I'll see what I can do. I think I could take him up to the club sometime while people are shooting trap and just play with him on the lawn a bit a way from the fields. It won't be so loud, and him and I can just play instead. See how that works out.
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    Great question! I got lucky; my first hunting dog had no fear of gunfire. That said, some dogs are naturally timid and others unfortunately get terrorized by little boys with cap pistols or similar.

    Whatever you do, DO NOT do what you suggested, but rather get your dog used to hearing gun shots while in the middle of having FUN! For more details on what I'll summarize here, look for Bill Tarrant's book, Problem Gun Dogs. It's geared toward hunting dogs, but the principles are the same for what you want to accomplish. And as for all successful dog training, repetition, consistency, and patience are all required. It's ideal if you have a mature enough partner to help you with this, and even better, if your dog has played with another that you know for certain is not afraid of gun shots.

    What does your dog love to do, leaving eating aside? Does he like fetching, or chasing balls, or running in a field? What you want to do is to introduce a gunshot-like noise at a distance while pup is in the midst of full-bore fun. Start with a cap gun, or at the most, .22 blanks but at a much farther distance. (Need I say you'll do this outdoors?) If he likes to retrieve, then throw the ball or dummy a few times, then one time when he's running away from you on the retrieve, while he's focused on the ball, fire your cap gun. The first few times you don't even want your dog close enough to the noise to interrupt his play. If he does, you're too close! Make this part of your daily or regular routine. Gradually get your dog in closer, but don't rush it. You're at 100 feet yesterday and maybe 80 feet today when the noise (I'll call it 'shot' from here on), but not 50 feet... the point is to gradually get him in closer to the shot without him being disturbed by it... that's why you're doing this during a play session. You also have to be keenly focused on pup during these sessions... if he flinches or shows any adverse reaction to the shot, STOP! Make him think the big bad noise was just an accident, and you're oh so sorry, while giving him lots of love. This is where the assistant comes in; by prearranged signals, your assistant fires the shot while pup is focused on you. That way pup sees you as having nothing to do with the shot, if he even hears it; hopefully, it's just background noise to him, like traffic. Don't over-do the length of any one session; 45 minutes is probably a good target duration, but be prepared to end it sooner if pup tires out or is unduly sensitive. Give praise and reward and always end the training session with something fun.

    If you were off doing this at a dog training school, you could probably achieve the results you want in 2 weeks or so, but that's with daily work. If you're like the rest of us with job and family demands, it's probably going to take a lot longer. Over time, you introduce louder sounds closer and closer to the dog. He may ultimately flinch at the shot, but he shouldn't go running away whimpering. Most bird dogs end up associating the sound of the gun with the idea that there's a bird to retrieve, and THAT'S the prize!

    If you do have a dog (or dogs) available that's used to gunfire, and he plays well with your dog, that'll go even quicker. Bill Tarrant uses the "chain gang" approach, using couplers so that three dogs are linked at their collars so they have to run as a group, with the gunshy or timid dog in the middle. You throw the ball or bumper and all three run off, and the shy one usually catches on pretty quickly that hey, this is a lot of fun! And if we're having fun and the other dogs don't mind that loud noise, then I guess it's nothing to be afraid of!

    Anyway, food for thought. I hope you get the idea... introduce the "objectionable" thing while the pup is having fun. Don't make a big deal of it, and concentrate on the fun part. And be patient!
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    Perhaps the best method is gently increased exposure. For example the light "pop" of a .22 at 30 yards and a reassuring treat or pat on the head to let him know everything is ok may be enough for him to handle at first. Gradually decrease the distance and if that goes well increase the caliber and repeat.

    Maybe look up horse gun "breaking" techniques. After all IMO a horse is naturally "spooked" much easier than a dog, yet they can be trained not to panic while mounted and firing shots a few feet from their head

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    Whatever the case please post if you've had any progress and method you approached him with. No one method will work on all dogs but now i'm curious to know what works!

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    One thing I can tell you for sure. If hes to the point he fears the sound of thunder, its a one in a million shot that youll ever break him. Gassmiity has some good points some that you probably can use, like starting out where the sound of gunfire is distant and not that often while you engage the dog.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gasmitty View Post
    Great question! I got lucky; my first hunting dog had no fear of gunfire. That said, some dogs are naturally timid and others unfortunately get terrorized by little boys with cap pistols or similar.

    Whatever you do, DO NOT do what you suggested, but rather get your dog used to hearing gun shots while in the middle of having FUN! For more details on what I'll summarize here, look for Bill Tarrant's book, Problem Gun Dogs. It's geared toward hunting dogs, but the principles are the same for what you want to accomplish. And as for all successful dog training, repetition, consistency, and patience are all required. It's ideal if you have a mature enough partner to help you with this, and even better, if your dog has played with another that you know for certain is not afraid of gun shots.

    What does your dog love to do, leaving eating aside? Does he like fetching, or chasing balls, or running in a field? What you want to do is to introduce a gunshot-like noise at a distance while pup is in the midst of full-bore fun. Start with a cap gun, or at the most, .22 blanks but at a much farther distance. (Need I say you'll do this outdoors?) If he likes to retrieve, then throw the ball or dummy a few times, then one time when he's running away from you on the retrieve, while he's focused on the ball, fire your cap gun. The first few times you don't even want your dog close enough to the noise to interrupt his play. If he does, you're too close! Make this part of your daily or regular routine. Gradually get your dog in closer, but don't rush it. You're at 100 feet yesterday and maybe 80 feet today when the noise (I'll call it 'shot' from here on), but not 50 feet... the point is to gradually get him in closer to the shot without him being disturbed by it... that's why you're doing this during a play session. You also have to be keenly focused on pup during these sessions... if he flinches or shows any adverse reaction to the shot, STOP! Make him think the big bad noise was just an accident, and you're oh so sorry, while giving him lots of love. This is where the assistant comes in; by prearranged signals, your assistant fires the shot while pup is focused on you. That way pup sees you as having nothing to do with the shot, if he even hears it; hopefully, it's just background noise to him, like traffic. Don't over-do the length of any one session; 45 minutes is probably a good target duration, but be prepared to end it sooner if pup tires out or is unduly sensitive. Give praise and reward and always end the training session with something fun.

    If you were off doing this at a dog training school, you could probably achieve the results you want in 2 weeks or so, but that's with daily work. If you're like the rest of us with job and family demands, it's probably going to take a lot longer. Over time, you introduce louder sounds closer and closer to the dog. He may ultimately flinch at the shot, but he shouldn't go running away whimpering. Most bird dogs end up associating the sound of the gun with the idea that there's a bird to retrieve, and THAT'S the prize!

    If you do have a dog (or dogs) available that's used to gunfire, and he plays well with your dog, that'll go even quicker. Bill Tarrant uses the "chain gang" approach, using couplers so that three dogs are linked at their collars so they have to run as a group, with the gunshy or timid dog in the middle. You throw the ball or bumper and all three run off, and the shy one usually catches on pretty quickly that hey, this is a lot of fun! And if we're having fun and the other dogs don't mind that loud noise, then I guess it's nothing to be afraid of!

    Anyway, food for thought. I hope you get the idea... introduce the "objectionable" thing while the pup is having fun. Don't make a big deal of it, and concentrate on the fun part. And be patient!
    Excellent info, Gasmitty. Thank you. I think I'll give a go of playing with him at the club while other shooters are on the trap field, so we can be a bit a way but within ear shot, and I can just play with him.

    In the end, if it's all a no-go, no big deal. If, in the case of a home defense scenario, shots are fired, He's already done his job of alerting me anyway. I'd just been thinking that it'd be great if he wouldn't let up on a burglar/home invader, but rather add to the confusion that a BG will encounter upon attempting to enter my home. Me yelling, pointing/shooting a shotgun, my dog barking, kids screaming, and wife calling police while potentially providing additional gun-pointing would be quite the hell for someone to walk into in my home at 3am. But subtract dog barking from that, and I don't think it'll change the situation much.

    Not to mention that I'm not sure how my dog would react to a gun shot if he was still dealing with somebody being in my home.

    A few months ago, while my wife and I were in the hospital after our 3rd kid was born, we had a friend who was watching the other girls run to our house to pick up some spare clothes for the older girls. It took 20 minutes before Rocky calmed down enough to let him past the doorway. I wasn't there to let him know all was well, and he did not like a stranger coming in, even if he had a key. So, maybe a gun shot wouldn't distract him much, anyway. There's only one way to find out, and I'd rather not!

    I'll keep y'all posted on progress, and I'm still open to more suggestions!
    "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."
    -General James Mattis, USMC

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