What's the right age to introduce a puppy to the noise of a shotgun?

Q: I have a nice springer spaniel puppy that I would like to introduce to gunfire and train her to drop to shot. How old does she need to be for this lesson and what reaction should I aim for: does she have to lie flat on hearing the gun, or is it okay for her to sit or simply stand? What do you recommend?

Timing to introduce a puppy to gunfire

A: There are no hard and fast rules as to what age you should start accustoming your puppy to gunfire, and dropping to shot.

However everything depends on how sensitive the pup might be.

English springer puppy

Everything depends on how sensitive the puppy is

Don’t rush things

With a bold gundog puppy you should be able to start at about 7-8 months of age, whereas a very timid puppy might be best left until it is perhaps one year old, or a little over. If in any doubt you need to find a professional gundog trainer locally who will evaluate your pup and advise accordingly.

Different trainers follow various methods to introduce a puppy to the noise of a gun, but one thing they ALWAYS do is take their time and make the introduction gradually. There is no rush. You have plenty of time to do it, and it’s very important that you do so.

You can start the process by dropping metal food bowls close by, clapping and generally making a lot of background noise. It will help to desensitise the puppy.

  • Have good obedience commands in place before introducing the sound of shot.
  • A pup should walk to heel and obey the stop whistle before you even think of firing a gun in the vicinity.
  • What’s the right age? This depends on the character of the dog but trainers usually wait until it has turned eight months, because by then its hearing will have developed properly.
springer spaniel in training

Take things slowly

Dropping to shot

A method used by trainers involves using an old airgun, firing it without pellets at a distance to create a realistic ‘crack’ and over a period of weeks moving closer to the pup.

If the youngster associates the sound with something pleasurable – such as being walked or fed – then so much the better, she’s unlikely to show a fearful reaction.

Eventually you can work up to introducing the sound of a shotgun, again starting at a distance with maybe a starting pistol, then a .410 with short cartridges.

However, before then, stick with the air rifle to start the ‘drop to shot’ training. Make the pup sit just as the unloaded rifle is fired. Some puppies will lay flat at the combined shot/command while others just sit.

As long as you get the desired effect of the dog dropping to shot it doesn’t matter whether it lies or sits.

gundog puppy training

Training a puppy to the gun

All dogs should learn the social graces that make them acceptable in human company, but a gundog’s upbringing needs special…

Summary

  • Don’t rush the introduction to shot
  • Don’t fire a gun near or close to a puppy to gauge its reaction to sudden noise
  • Do things gradually
  • Don’t introduce puppy to gunfire at least seven months old
  • If the puppy shows any nervousness, back off
  • Get the puppy used to the sound of metal feed bowls being rattled at meal times, doors banging and shouts of children playing
  • Firing an unloaded airgun, first from a distance while the puppy is having a feed and then, over a period of days, move a little closer
  • Help a puppy to accept the sight of a gun by carrying an un-cocked air rifle over your arm during training lessons so that when the time does come to fire it without a pellet – at a distance – he probably won’t show the slightest alarm