Wondering how to train your gun-shy Labrador retriever?
Well, if you’re introducing a dog to gunfire, Labrador retrievers make an excellent choice since they are obedient, follow commands well, and have tons of energy. In fact, you can check out the fantastic qualities that make them one of the most adorable dog breeds here.
However, when it comes to gun training and hunting, no dog is a natural hunter. That is why you need to prepare them and consistently train them.
Below are some tips on how you can get your pet ready for Labrador gun dog training.
1. Start with Labrador Retriever Obedience Training.
Before you think about how to train your gun-shy Labrador, check first how they are around gunfire and how they hunt so you can start with the basics. That means that you should also never skip basic obedience training.
Obedience training is a crucial foundation for every dog. You want them to listen to you despite hearing and seeing distractions like gunfire or wild animals.
Train your Lab puppy to learn how to do basic tricks like sit, stay, and heel for a few months before you introduce them to gun training. It will help them learn how to control themselves and listen to you, which will make Labrador gun dog training easier.
2. Assess Your Labrador Retriever’s Level of Confidence with Gunfire.
You should never assume that your dog will be comfortable with hearing gunfire off the bat. Neither should you try to test if your Labrador puppy is gun-shy by firing a gun near them. Doing so can traumatize your pet, and they may panic whenever they hear gunfire in the future.
Instead, you can start by assessing first how confident your Labrador is. When they retrieve something, try to determine if they are confident by observing whether their ears and tail are high. If their tail is behind their legs, and your lab puppy looks sulky, they may not be confident and may feel shy.
You should not force them to get used to the sound of gunfire right away by shooting or bringing them to a shooting range at a young age. You may also want to keep them away from fireworks. Try to keep your Lab pup inside during big thunder storms, too.
3. Familiarize Your Lab with Other Loud Noises.
You want your dog to build a slow tolerance to loud noises. That is why you should never shock them with loud sounds like gunfire and fireworks right away. It is more efficient and safer for your dog to slowly warm up to loud noises.
For instance, you can keep your Labrador puppy in the laundry room with you while the laundry machine is being used. The noise from the laundry machine will help them learn how to slowly tolerate loud noises.
You can also slowly raise the volume levels in your home. Keeping a radio or TV playing in the background while you talk to people can help get your little Labrador retriever used to multiple sounds at once. Remember to introduce more sounds slowly as well. Otherwise, your Lab may become anxious.
If you are looking for ways on how to start training your Lab to do field work, you can also check out our suggestions on what you can do here.
4. Introduce the Gun as a Positive Item.
Most dogs feel scared whenever they see guns. This may be because the first time they see a gun is also when they hear it, which triggers a traumatic response in their brains. Because of this, you should never fire a gun when you show it to your Labrador for the first time.
You can introduce the gun to your Lab as a positive item. For instance, you can show the gun to your Labrador puppy before and after feeding them. Since most dogs love to eat, they will also think the sight of a gun is good.
You could also get a toy gun that makes a noise when you cock and fire it. It will help them understand that guns make noise when they are being used.
5. Slowly Introduce Your Labrador to Targets.
Before you let your Lab hear gunfire, you can start by showing them the targets. It will help them understand what the objective is. For instance, you can show them dead birds when they are 3-9 months old.
When you show the birds to your Lab, you can encourage your pup to fetch and retrieve it. It will help your dog positively associate hunting with fun, which will help them slowly get ready for gun training.
However, not all Labrador puppies will be excited when they first see a dead bird. Let them slowly warm up to the idea of retrieving birds and reward them each time when they do so.
6. Introduce Wing-Clipped Birds.
If your dog looks confident and has fun when they play with dead birds, then it is time for the next level. Get a wing-clipped bird and let your dog have fun chasing it around.
You can simply extend a bird’s wing then clip the ends of the big feathers extending on the back of their wings. These feathers are called their longer flight feathers. You can do this on one or both wings.
When you want your Labrador to chase the bird, throw it. Doing so will help kick start your Lab puppy’s hunting instincts. Just make sure that your dog can see you with the gun (without firing it) so that your pup can associate it positively with chasing the bird.
Do this for a few days until your dog looks extremely confident and really enjoys chasing the birds. Then you can slowly introduce them to gunfire.
7. Introduce Your Lab to Gunfire.
Now that you have assessed your Labrador retriever’s ability for gun dog training, you can start introducing your gun-shy dog to gunfire.
For this step, you have to make sure first that your Labrador positively associates your gun with fun and enjoys being out chasing birds. Next, get a gun with the lowest possible firing volume. This way, you will be able to ease your Lab into the sound of firing guns.
You may need another person to help you for this step on how to train your gun-shy Labrador. Plant the birds then let your puppy start hunting. Once your little Lab starts chasing the bird, tell the other person to fire a shot from at least 100-150 feet away.
If your Lab pup does not react to the gunshot and keeps chasing the bird instead, you can continue. However, if he pauses to look around, then that is fine. Just move onto the next bird, but do not use your gun. You can keep treats or other dead birds with you as a distraction if needed.
Keep adding gunfire if your Labrador has no visible reaction to the sound that it makes and keeps chasing the birds. Move the gunshots slowly closer to him to make sure that he is able to tolerate the noise.
Eventually, you can fire your gun near your dog. Just make sure that your Labrador does not react each time you get closer with your gunshots.
You can repeat the whole process on your next trip with a slightly louder gun. Make sure to slowly increase the volume levels for each trip to get them acquainted with the sound.
All in All
Preparing your Lab puppy for gun dog training takes time. And contrary to popular belief, gun dog training is not just about training your gun-shy Labrador to sit and stay. If you’re planning to train your gun-shy Lab, you can follow the tips that we have outlined above to get them ready for Labrador gun training.