By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
Gunfire should mean, "whoa," not "go!" And it's easy to teach a dog that gunfire has the same meaning as a "whoa" command.
First, let's talk about how to get the young dog started right.
Some people use the technique of firing a gun as the pup is chasing a bird. This method gets the pup, especially a sensitive one, used to the sound of gunfire by relying on the excitement of chasing a bird to override any unpleasantness associated with the loud noise.
But what does this teach the pup? It learns that when it hears gunfire, there's something to chase. This association can make it much harder later for that dog to learn to staunch. Indirectly, it's been trained to think: "Gunshot = time to chase something!"
There's another way to introduce gunfire to young dogs. Tie the pup with other dogs on a chain gang. Then work another dog on birds and gunfire where the chain gang can observe the action. The pup will pick up on the excitement of the other dogs around it and will have a positive association with the sound of gunfire.
Staunching the Dog on the Place Board
After the dog has been introduces to gunfire, you can teach it that the sound of a gun means the same as "whoa."
To begin, work the dog on a place board and teach it to remain on the board even when it sees a bird flighted and hears a gunshot. (Our May/June, 1993, Pointing Dog Journal column covered teaching the dog to stay on the place board.)
Gunfire Means "Whoa"
With the dog on a checkcord, walk toward a helper who is about 20 yards away. When you and the dog are about 10 yards from the helper, and the dog is looking at him, have your helper raise his arm above his head and fire a gun (even a cap pistol will work).
If the dog stops to the gunfire, flight a bird and let fly away. If the dog doesn't stop at the sound of the gun, use either your checkcord or your electronic collar to reinforce your "whoa" command.
The picture of your helper raising his arm above his head as he fires is a visual aid to the dog. Dogs learn new tasks more quickly when they are given a "picture." The visual aid helps the dog learn to stop much more quickly than just the sound on gunfire alone.
"Whoa" to Gunfire in the Field
Finally, fire a gun while the dog is running in the field on a checkcord. If the dog doesn't stop at the sound of your pistol, use either your checkcord or your electronic collar to reinforce your "whoa" command.
Dogs learn more quickly with this technique. It usually takes only a few sessions before the dog learns that the sound of gunfire means, "whoa," not "go."
Dobbs Training Center