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My parents have a golden retriever that was left out in a big thunderstorm/windstorm when she was probably 6-8 months old. She is now 3, and gets all weird and anxious anytime there are loud noises. She can hear the rumble of thunder coming long before we ever do, and starts to cower and find a place to hide. High winds make her anxious as well, as do the fireworks in July. We have taken her out hunting with us, both pheasant and grouse hunting. One or two shots will get her attention, but much more than that makes her run away with her tail between her legs. We have never really trained her to bird hunt, so she hasn't had any gun training. My mom has asked around at the pet stores, and looked online for info on the subject, and most non-hunting opinions say that once a golden gets anxiety about loud noises, there is no hope. They basically say not to coddle the dog, as this gives them reason to think the noise is something to be afraid of. I have asked around at gun stores and such, and one guy said he has seen guys tie up their gunshy dog at the shooting range and keep them exposed to the noises until they get accustomed to it. The other thing I have heard is to start with firing a .22, at some distance, and move closer gradually, until the dog is used to it. Then gradually progress the dog by moving to a .410, then a 28, 20 and finally a 12. Would this method work, or is it a lost cause? What are your thoughts or suggestions?
 

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Hi Chaser,

Dogs are all about associations, and I definitely wouldn't tie the dog up and expose her to loud noises because that could be a scary experience and make the problem worse.

The best approach is to form a positive association, and this can work quite well if the dog has lots of bird drive. Get her out on birds, lots of birds, and don't shoot initially. Use a tethered bird (tie a piece of cardboard about 12" x 6" to a pigeon, and that will allow the bird to flush but not go very far) or a clip wing. If she has good drive, this will be a great deal of fun and she will feel safe finding and flushing the birds. Once she has it down and is using her nose well, putting up the birds, and showing lots of enthusiasm -- fire off a blank from a starter pistol. They have them in different levels, and start low. This should be done at a time when the dog's focus is 100% on the bird, like right at flush. Watch her reaction carefully. If she seems spooked, lay of the pistol for a while.

Work into it in this manner, and if she has strong drive and loves finding the birds, an association will start to form between the fun of hunting and the loud noise. It's important to have patience here, going through the first few sessions of bird finding with no shots at all, and lots of praise for a job well done. The dog's reactions to the shots will tell you when to lay off. Once she shows signs of being scared, lay off and get back to the fun. Most field dogs will have a strong instinct to hunt, and gradually working in the starter pistol during these sessions without being too trigger happy is the only way I've seen it overcome.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I think the association thing is what got her in this predicament in the first place. When she got stuck out in that storm it was a particularly violent thunderstorm. She got soaked and was cold and shivering when my mom finally got to her. So I would assume that she has associated loud noises and wind with a soon to follow soaking wet, freezing cold few hours. Would it help to introduce her to the noises during something she loves to do like retrieving her ball? I have no way to get my hands on birds, as I have nowhere to keep them and it would be far too expensive to just let them go after each session.
 

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All dogs love to eat. Bring out the cap gun during chow time. When you feel the dog's ready, then move to retrieves.
 

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Simple,

BIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDS
BIRDSBIRDSBIRDSIBRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDS
BIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRS
BIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRDS
BIRDSBIRDSBIRDSBIRS.

Get my point? :D

You shot over her WAY to soon. You need to get her crazy for birds before you shoot over her or she'll just be crazy.

If he's got a birdy bone in her body, she'll take to them like a kid to candy. Then, after a while, when you start shooting the birds, she'll be so nutty about them the gun won't matter any more. IMPORTANT!!! If you fire a gun, be it blank gun or shot gun, make sure she GETS the bird no matter what. Don't let it fly off. The bird is her reward for standing through the shot. If that doesn't work to cure her from gunshyness, NOTHING will.

Good luck.
 

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ChaserOfAllBirds said:
I have no way to get my hands on birds, as I have nowhere to keep them and it would be far too expensive to just let them go after each session.
In my experience, much like Tex said, the birds are the only thing that will help a gun dog through this issue. Yeah, it will cost some money, but training a bird dog requires: BIRDS. Really no way around it. It doesn't have to be expensive, you can make a pen out of chicken wire with plans off the Internet, and then go down at night and net some pigeons from under your local overpass with a fishing net. I've also seen training pigeons advertised for around $3 each occasionally. Some commercial establishments will actually PAY YOU to come trap them from off their roof tops or at the very least let you toss a trap up there. Just like anything, training on live birds can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want to make it, but it will require time.

Because the hunting instinct is so strong and bred into sporting dogs, it's the one thing that stands a chance of overcoming an existing fear. In mild cases, I'm sure that yard play, ball fetching, food, etc. might be enough to help a dog past a minor problem. This sounds more significant, in which case those other things may actually worsen the fear.
 

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Tex said it I have a lab that will pee herself at the sound of thunder or fireworks but she will roust out all the roosters around with tons of shooting and not bat an eye.She loves the birds and only asotiates [sic] good things with guns.Also go slow birds,birds,birds,and more birds then guns start little and far off then move up also i think shotguns are liss painfull to dogs ears that even a 22 different pitch
 
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