INTRODUCTION TO THE GUN
There are many ways that people introduce their dog to the gun. Many people will bang pots and pans while feeding. Others will fire a gun while feeding and still others will take the dog to a gun range. WHILE I AGREE THAT THIS SOMETIMES WORKS, I DO NOT THINK IT IS THE BEST WAY TO INTRODUCE THE GUN.
Dogs are predisposed to a fear of loud noises. It is a genetic survival trait that every dog has in them, although, it will manifest itself in only some dogs. I do not know which dogs will develop the fear so I need to insure that it does not happen to our dogs. A fear of the gun is created by man. Therefore, we are going to use a bird to introduce the dog to the gun. We have spent all summer making the dog crazy for birds so why not use what it wants as an enticement?
We start the gun introduction when our puppy is AGGRESSIVELY chasing birds. This may mean that the puppy is chasing for 200 yards or it may mean that the puppy is chasing for 50 yards. The point is that it must be chasing aggressively. Some dogs will not chase a lot and that is fine, as long as they are showing that they really want the bird for the short time that they chase.
We use a clip-winged pigeon (one that will sail in the air but will not fly away) because I have never seen my training partners miss a bird. Actually, Frank has hit about 100 straight without a miss and we do not want to break his streak. Frank will stand approximately 100 yards away with a blank pistol that is shooting crimps. I will tease the puppy with the bird and throw it in the opposite direction from Frank. Just as the bird is about to hit the ground AND if the puppy is chasing it I will raise my hand and Frank will shoot the blank pistol.
The easiest thing is for Frank to stay where he is and for me to move closer. Depending on how the puppy is doing, I will generally move closer to Frank by about ten yards and repeat the process until I am standing next to Frank. While completing this process, I will mix in a bunch of throws with no shot from Frank so that I can assess how the puppy is doing.
That is essentially the process. When the puppy is comfortable with the blank gun, we can start the process over with a .410 then a 28-g and a 20-g. This is where we generally will stop the process. As a precaution, we hunt the young dogs with only a 20-g. and only a single shot for the entire first season. There is no NEED to do this, as you can also do the gun introduction with a 12-g. However, I am paranoid about the gun and do not ever want to have a gun issue with our dogs. Also, more dogs become gun-shy with a second and third shot as compared with the first shot so that is why we will hunt the entire first season with only one shell in the gun.
Do not trust your friends that they will only fire once because they will not. It is not that they are PURPOSELY trying to ruin your dog it is that they do not care about your dog. They want to shoot the bird and if they miss on the first shot, they will instinctively fire the second shot. This is why we use clip-winged pigeons to start because Frank cannot miss…the bird ALWAYS comes down. It is also why a dove shoot, duck blind or pheasant drive is so dangerous for a young dog. Repeated gun fire without the positive association is detrimental. If you err on the side of caution you will be fine.
Any reasonable person can train a spaniel. However, it takes a truly talented and skilled person to build and maintain a relationship with their spaniel. This relationship is developed through trust and your spaniel’s trust is not something you should take for granted. A relationship with your spaniel is developed over time through a combination of exposure to game birds, properly teaching an expectation, repeating the lessons and maintaining a high standard.
Todd has been training field bred spaniels since 1997. He participates in spaniel field trials and hunt tests in both the United States and Canada, has guided hunters for wild gamebirds, and is a professional dog trainer that firmly believes in the value of exposing hunting dogs to wild gamebirds.
Todd has won and placed in numerous spaniel field trials, including the 2018 National Open Championship and has won the 2017 National Open High Point Trophy. More importantly, he has developed numerous dogs and their owners that have won and placed in spaniel field trials, including the 2019 Canadian Amateur Championship.
Todd develops and sells started and finished English Springer spaniels and English Cocker spaniels for upland hunting out of Craney Hill Kennel in Mitchell, Georgia. He often has young field trial prospects in development throughout the year.