Scenario 1: Joe and Mark couldn't wait to run Mark's new pup with Joe's accomplished German shorthairs. Mark wanted to see if his puppy, now 6 months old, could not only keep up with Joe's dogs, but get enthused about finding and pointing birds. They turned little Champ loose with Joe's dogs, and the trio began to course back and forth. Mark nearly burst with pride as Champ busted through thick cover without missing a step. Soon Joe's dogs went on point, and Champ joined them, instinctively pointing as well. Joe flushed the bird, and both he and Mark took two shots at the pheasant. Joe's dogs took off to retrieve. Champ headed back to the truck, and he could not be encouraged to return to the field.
Scenario 2: Diane and Vic took their Brittany to an AKC event called a hunt test. They figured they'd meet lots of people and were eager to do a couple of things: show off their puppy, and find a place to do some training. They walked the Brittany around and once the event started, put her back in her crate in their SUV. Diane and Vic enjoyed watching the dogs, handlers and gunners working in the field at the end of the course. When they returned to their vehicle, they were surprised to see that their Brittany had gotten sick in the crate, and seemed extremely anxious.
Scenario 3: Mike and Cheryl had their promising lab at a training session. The dog seemed upbeat, his rope of a tail lashing back and forth as they led him along, watching a more advanced dog work. When the other handlers switched from a blank gun to a shotgun, their lab began to show signs of nervousness crouching a bit in anticipation of the shot, tucking his tail. Whenever the dog acted like that, Cheryl picked him up and coddled him, trying to soothe him.
In each of the scenarios, the dog owners chose the wrong course of action. Let's start at the beginning and have them do things correctly.
Scenario 1: Joe encourages Mark to run all the dogs together. Mark says, Well, I haven't exposed Champ to gunfire so I'd rather run him by himself. If he points a bird and flushes it, great, I just don't think his introduction to gunfire should be with a shotgun at close range.
Scenario 2: Diane and Vic realize that there's going to be a lot of shooting at the event. Vic says, Hey, maybe we better park a lot farther away, so all the gun fire doesn't freak her out. Diane moves the car to a distant location, and she and Vic return to watching the event.
Scenario 3: When their lab showed the first signs of nervousness, Mike and Cheryl elected to take him back to the car. They didn't coddle him, or reward his submissive behavior. Mike simply told him to heel and took him out of the field. They decided to work with the blank gun for a longer period of time, and then advance to shotguns, beginning with a .410.
It can take just a few seconds to create a gun-shy dog. Try to anticipate problems before they start, and protect your dog from a poor introduction to gun fire.