It is not right that dogs should be tested in competition away from the controlling influence of the handlers as other dogs may also be free in the vicinity. Dogs should be tested individually walking at heel free. A dog under test barking or interrupting its bee/work on the sound of gunshot other than merely to take note of its origin will be severely penalised. The most appropriate occasion for testing this exercise would be in open country after completion of the Tracking test.
At one time only PD dogs were tested for gunfire and that was done by the criminal firing at the dog as it came into the attack. This meant that PD dogs associated gunfire with attacking and the trial ground became pandemonium whenever the first gun went off. It also meant that many dogs associated a gun with attack and I have known dogs who would attack anyone who even flicked a cigarette lighter. Fortunately this state of affairs does not (or at least need not) exist today when dogs are expected to ignore gunfire.
I believe there are two types of gun-shyness — hereditary or acquired. Therefore, see that you don’t buy a puppy with the former and do not let it acquire the latter. There is no doubt at all that the sooner you start familiarizing your puppy to bangs and noises of all sorts the less likely he is to pay any attention to them. Puppies reared in kennels where there is more or less constant gunfire (eg near artillery ranges) never pay any attention to it.
Whatever you do, don’t take a puppy (or worse an adult dog) which is not accustomed to gunfire and fire a twelve-bore over its head to see what happens! Oh yes some people do that sort of thing and thousands of good dogs have been ruined by them. A cap pistol or starter’s .22 blank pistol can be used and neither needs a firearm certificate. Don’t forget that the crack of a cap pistol will worry some dogs a lot more than the softer though louder bang of a twelve-bore. Keep the dog with you and let someone else take the pistol at least fifty yards away.
Now occupy the dog’s mind by giving him something to do like playing with a ball or, if a puppy, having his dinner. When his mind is occupied get your assistant to fire the pistol away from the dog. If the dog pays no attention he can come close and fire again; and again; and again. The moment the dog reacts you should reassure him without making a drama of it. Your assistant should take a few steps away and, when the dog has settled, fire again. But don’t continue; finish the lesson with the dog relaxed and happy. Next day start the lesson about half way between the previous day’s starting and finishing points and see how near you can get without worrying him. Of course some dogs will allow the gunman to come right up and fire over them the very first time. But if your last dog was that sort do not assume that this one is too.
A dog accustomed to a wide variety of noises is less likely to be gun-shy than one brought up under quiet conditions. For instance one brought up since puppyhood in a house full of rowdy children with blaring transistors, etc., compared with one brought up by a quiet, elderly couple. When we have a puppy around we make a point of making as much noise as possible while he is playing about. We have a big rattle (football supporter’s type, also used by Mounted Police) which can be used to make a loud’ rattling noise or clicked one cog at a time to make bangs just as loud as a cap pistol. A dustbin lid dropped on a concrete path can also make a surprisingly loud noise.
Hereditary gun-shyness I believe is often due to hypersensitive hearing. So sensitive in fact that any kind of explosive noise causes severe pain to the dog. I may be wrong on that theory but that is how it seems to me. What really matters is that there seems to be no cure for real gun-shyness, however caused. Once gun-shy always gun-shy; and the tendency is to get worse as the dog gets older. It is therefore, worth going to a great deal of trouble to prevent it. A dog slightly apprehensive of bangs can often be gradually accustomed to them. But any ‘kill or cure’ efforts are almost certain to end in ‘kill’.
Don’t give the dog the impression that anything out of the ordinary is happening. He should regard noise as something which just happens for no reason. If he does associate it with anything it should be with something pleasant. Some gundog trainers ‘call’ their puppies to feed by firing a gun. With an unsure youngster this is always worth a try.
If you have a gun-sure dog don’t assume that he cannot acquire gun-shyness. Several excellent guide dogs have developed gun-shyness by having fireworks thrown at them around 5 November. Some which had done several years of good work were rendered quite useless by these acts of folly.