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I went squirrel hunting with a friend a couple of years ago. He has a nice looking, seven month old pup. The pup was friendly enough but was a little shy in the woods, around strangers and strange dogs. My friend said that his pup had only been out of his kennel a few times.  

Anyway, I turned my old dog loose and my friend’s pup followed us as we walked through the woods. My dog treed but the pup had no idea of what was going on and acted a little frightened when we got to the tree. My friend got real excited and started “patty-caking” on the tree, hissing and sicking and whooping & hollering “speak-to-um”.  I quietly stepped behind a tree so my friend would not see me laughing at his fancy dog training. He yelled at me! “Do you see the squirrel?” I replied-yes. He said, “Well shoot the sucker out so my pup can see what we are after”.  Folks, let me tell you, when I fired my ole “smoke pole” you would have thought that I shot that pup in the rear end because he tucked-tail and left there screaming! My buddy’s eyes got as big as saucers, he turned a little pale, sat down on a log and stared at me as though I had just killed his dog. He said, “Man! I did not know my pup was gun shy.” As he sat there staring at the ground and mumbling to himself, I slipped up behind him and fired that ole smoke pole in the air one more time. Why, my ole buddy flat footed about six foot into the air, his hat flew off his head and whirly-bird to the ground, he swallowed his chew and when he hit the ground, he was gagging and cursing. “What the heck! Have you gone plum crazy?” I said, “Man! I didn’t know you were gun shy!” 

To this day you cannot walk behind my buddy with a gun in your hand. I don’t believe he can ever be cured of gun shyness! I guess I will have to cull him.  

Folks, I made up this little story but I have seen several nice young tree dogs ruined before they ever got started almost exactly like this.  

In my humble opinion, pups are not born gun shy. Gun shyness is a man made fault. The pup in the story was not gun shy until I fired my gun. I added stress to an already stressful situation for the pup.  Most nervous breakdowns in humans are not caused by stress itself, but by stress added to stress. This pup was not properly socialized, he was not comfortable in the woods and he was afraid of strange dog. Plus his master was acting like a nut and poor ole pup had never heard a gunshot. The last thing in the world that this pup needed to hear was a twelve gauge shot gun exploding in his ear.  

It is not very hard to make a pup gun shy, especially a timid pup. Likewise, it is also not very hard to prevent a pup form becoming gun shy.  

We all get excited when we get a new pup. Most folks cannot wait for squirrel season to open and take their pup to the woods with his buddy’s broke dog and shoot some game out to the pup thinking he will get all fired-up and start treeing with the older dog. However, if you do not fool with your pup in the off season and introduce him to the gun properly, then more times than not, your pup will end up like the pup in the story. 

There are many methods folks use to try and prevent young  pups from becoming gun shy such as banging feed pans or shooting a cap gun while pup is eating, playing or in some kind of positive situation. This is formally called “desensitizing” your pup or making him insensitive or less sensitive to noise.  

Personally, I like to introduce my pups to the gun when they are bold and excited over game. One of dog’s keenest instincts is to chase.  When I am working a pup on released game and he is chasing and treeing released squirrels, I will shoot my .22 rifle. The pup will soon associate the gun fire with game. This is the ultimate positive association for a young pup.   

I am not going to discuss methods to cure a gun shy dog. I personally would not waste my time as it is almost impossible to cure “completely”. Just when you think pup is over the gun shyness, something weird will happen and you are right back where you started.  

A gun shy pup that leaves the country every time he sees a gun is obviously easy to detect. However, not all gun shy dogs react this way. Some dogs are what I call “soft to the gun”. This dog might hunt well but he trees very little game.  He started out like a “house on fire” hunting and treeing like an old pro. Gradually, he trees less and less and even starts leaving trees before you can get to him. You wonder what is up with my world beater. This dog might actually be blinking or avoiding game to avoid the gun shot. When he does tree, he will usually leave the tree or mill around in the vicinity of the tree. If you catch and tie him to shoot the game out, he will act scared, sit real still and, for sure, not bark.   

When this type of gun shy dog starts running deer and figures out that deer won’t climb and no gun will be shot, buddy you have got yourself a deer running fool. This type of dog will drive you crazy if you don’t know that he is gun shy. You will go through ever training tip available to mankind trying to break your tree dog from running deer and to stay put at the tree, none of which will normally work.  Note that I did say tree dog! 

So you see, it is more important to understand why dogs do certain things and not always what they do. In the above situation you are treating the symptoms and not the cause.  

Most pups never have any problems with the gun but why take a chance and ruin a good young tree dog.

 So, no matter how bold your pup might be, introduce him to the gun properly. A twelve gauge shot gun exploding in your ear un-expectantly can “get anybody’s milk. Just ask my buddy! 

Thanks for reading,

Charles Fasola