Readers have problems with timid youngsters. What's the advice?

Q: I have bought a good-looking and well-bred German short-haired pointer puppy. It is fully registered and has 
all the papers to do with pedigree and health as well, but she is just four months old and 
I have noticed 
that she reacts by shivering when she hears a loud or sharp noise. I am worried that this may get worse and she may be gun-shy. Is there anything that can be done with puppies that don’t like noise?

A: The way to overcome any fear of noise is to gradually desensitise the puppy. The cause for this sensitivity may be hereditary, but more likely being reared in quiet surroundings has kept it isolated from any sounds associated with a busy environment. If you also live in very peaceful surroundings then this has extended this quiet life when she came to live with you.

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She needs now to be gradually exposed to as many new noises and experiences as possible. Begin by having a radio playing at all times, first on a low volume and then when she shows no signs of concern increase the volume gradually. Then use 
a sound desensitisation CD, first at feed times so she will learn to associate noise with food, and once desensitised she will have no concern even when on her own. Once this has been achieved then clay shoots and country fairs are the next step, but do not take her too close — let her gradually get used to the noise at a distance first. Done correctly, you should soon have 
a much bolder puppy that is not afraid of anything.

Starting pistol scare

Q: When I fired the starting pistol during training recently, my gundog ran back to my van and tried getting into it, presumably to get out of the way. Is she a lost cause and, if not, what do you advise to try and overcome this problem of a scared gundog?

A: Try and convert the scared gundog’s perception of loud noises and bangs from an unpleasant experience to a pleasant experience.

  • Gundogs enjoy feed times, so as she starts to eat, clap at the front of the kennel and watch her reaction.
  • If the dog leaves the food and retreats to her box, take her into the garden (a more open space) and once again encourage the dog to her food.
  • Increase the distance and clap again, assessing the reaction every time and reassuring her with lots of praise. Make the scared gundog aware that noise is not something to be frightened of.
  • Providing there is no sign of nervousness, work your way closer so you can eventually stand over her and clap without visible signs of fright.
  • Repeat this exercise with the starting pistol once again at a good distance to start with and then work your way closer, assessing her reaction at each stage.
  • If there is a reaction you are not happy with try again until you are sure the scared gundog is totally confident with the situation.
  • Now to take this exercise to the training pen.
  • Set the scared gundog off hunting and when she comes into contact with a rabbit fire the starting pistol, inside your game bag to start with, and watch for her reaction.
  • If she stops hunting and looks disturbed give her lots of reassurance and encouragement to carry on hunting and after a few minutes repeat this exercise.
  • Only reduce the distance from her if she doesn’t react to the loud noise or bang negatively.
  • As her confidence grows and she is hunting freely continue firing shots outside of the game bag and reintroduce the stop whistle and give her lots of praise and reassurance.

The end product will be a dog hunting freely with confidence and no concerns about shots and loud noises.

This will take time, lots of patience and understanding but will be well worth it in the end.