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How Do You Introduce Guns?

The Ryman Setters Forum Forums Training How Do You Introduce Guns?

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    • #97
      October Setters

        This question was originally raised by Robert Pelky as a comment on the “Rymans are Wild Bird Specialists”
        blog post.  I think it’s a great topic for discussion so I’m starting
        this thread hoping to get more people involved in sharing their approach
        for conditioning pups to gunfire.  I’ll address the questions Robert
        raised below but here’s a copy of what has been said so far:

        Robert Pelkey
        February 3, 2016 at 8:49 pm
        Great article and responses, the only question I have, is how do you guys when training your dogs, do an intro to guns and birds? Is this something you do in the woods, or do you get some quail for training?

        Firelight Setters
        February 4, 2016 at 8:35 am
        That’s a good question, Robert. I think another member is planning to write about training approaches. But my quick response here is that I personally wait until pup gets on birds – wild birds. Birds + natural environment + natural arousal (from scent&flush)=positive connection for gun shot and birds.

        Scott Gillis
        February 4, 2016 at 9:43 pm
        I believe and follow what Lynn Dee said about the birds and the gun. They are so focused on the bird that they do not hear the gun . Of course you dont want to muzzle blast a young dog and also make sure the bird is flying away. I believe that is the best way to introduce the gun.


        questions Robert.  This is something many people still do not
        understand.  You can easily ruin a pup if their first exposure to the
        gun is a negative experience for them.  This is a case where an ounce of
        prevention is invaluable.

        Let me tackle the easy question
        first.  Yes, we do use training birds for introducing the gun.  Training
        birds have their place but only on a limited basis.  We use them
        (pigeons and quail) for three things, teaching dogs not to chase at
        flush and not to break point (but ONLY after they have learned to handle
        wild birds); introducing the gun.  I want to stick to Robert’s question
        about introducing the gun so that’s all I’ll say here but proper use of
        training birds would be a good subject for another thread.

        Introducing the Gun

        our opinion the most important thing you do when introducing the gun is
        GRADUALLY getting them used to loud noises.  DO NOT, EVER, take a pup
        out and fire a shotgun over them without first conditioning them to loud
        noises.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  If you want to ruin your pup I
        can’t think of a better way than shooting a 12 gauge at the first bird
        they find on their first hunting trip.  You have to get them used to
        loud noises before you shoot birds over them or you risk making them gun

        Start making noise around them when they’re young and use
        whatever you have available.  Clap your hands or slap a rolled up
        newspaper against something and graduate to a blank pistol then actual
        gunfire.  It’s also important to make sure they are distracted by
        something fun or interesting when making loud noises, like food or
        birds.  They should always be excited or having fun.  At each stage
        (clapping, blank pistol, shotgun) start at a distance and make sure they
        are not bothered by the noise before moving closer.  If they act like
        they don’t like it back off until they are comfortable and ignore it. 
        There’s no hurry so take your time. 

        Our current approach, which
        is always subject to change if better ideas present themselves, goes
        like this.  We start by throwing pigeons over them in the yard and
        firing a blank pistol at a distance, moving closer if they ignore the
        shot.  Lisa throws the birds, I shoot the pistol.  We do this in a
        fenced yard but it isn’t necessary to do so.  This works well when we
        have multiple pups to start, which is often the case for us.  That way
        we can get multiple pups done in the same time it takes to do one (we’ve
        done as many as 8) and the group allows the pups to feed off each
        other’s excitement.  We also prefer to put the puppies out with older
        experienced dogs at first.  Having the older dogs present works great
        because they get excited and the pups key off their behavior, learning
        that something fun is happening. 

        When I can shoot the blank
        pistol right next to the pups and they all ignore it, I start shooting a
        shotgun from a distance of about 30 yards.  I stand behind a big tree
        trunk and point the gun straight up to muffle the first shots.  When
        they all ignore the gun we then take them out individually and shoot two
        or three training quail over them.  I don’t ever get to where I shoot
        the shotgun over their heads in the yard.  I keep the distance at about
        30 yards, which is about how far from them I expect to be when I shoot
        the training birds. 

        During the conditioning to noise described
        above we start planting quail for the pups (in a brushy area outside the
        yard, not in the fenced yard).  We give them two or three birds per
        session until they are confidently searching for, finding, and pointing
        them, but no more.  This introduction serves to bring out their pointing
        instinct and familiarizes them with training birds so they are excited
        when we later shoot over them.  We want as little of the experience to
        be new as possible when we fire the first shots over them.  During these
        sessions we also fire the blank pistol when birds flush.  Once they are
        excited about the planted birds and ignoring the shotgun fired in the
        yard, we shoot two or three training birds for them.  We make sure the
        pup is chasing the flying bird and is not too close to the gun for these
        first shots.  Seeing the bird drop at the shot seems to connect the gun
        with the dead bird for them.  They should not be bothered by the gun
        and are usually excited about the birds being shot. 

        They’re now
        ready to take hunting and have birds shot over them.  We’re still
        cautious for the first few shots in the field.  Try to make sure they
        see the birds you shoot at and don’t shoot right over their head at
        first.  Hunt them alone (just you and the pup) and try to limit shooting
        to one shot per flush until you are sure the pup is comfortable with
        the gun.  If you’ve taken your time and done all this right they should
        take it all in stride and be well on their way to a long and happy

        If at any time a pup acts like they are afraid or they become less excited/enthused after you shoot, back off.  Back off means stop shooting
        If something about a situation is bothering the pup the last thing you
        want to do is reinforce his fear by continuing to shoot.  Go back a step
        or two and work back up to shooting the gun.  If you think you have a
        problem with fear of the gun I’d recommend finding a good trainer and
        having the pup evaluated.  If necessary have the trainer correct the
        problem.  It’s usually not a big deal if caught early but making the
        mistake of continuing to shoot over the pup can exacerbate the problem
        and make it much more difficult to correct.

        Hopefully you’ll find some of this helpful.  We’re always looking for better ideas so please post your thoughts on the subject.


      • #150

          That is pretty close to what I do, I know some people only use wild birds, and has always made me curious on how they do an intro to birds and guns.
          I always start out with the clapping, and then I move it out to the garage, where while the pup is playing with his toys, I bang around with a hammer, while watching the pups reaction. Once pup is comfortable with that, we go to my friends farm, where I will through some quail for the pup. I let him chase them all he wants, once the light comes on that if he wants another bird, he has to come back to me. After about the third bird I will start firing the training pistol when he gets about 25 yards out, if no reaction I let go more birds for him. That will be all the training for that day. Next day I will have some quail in the field under some tip cages, I flag where the birds are at so I can kind of direct the pup towards them. Once he finds them and while he is on point, I tip the cage over and let the quail go, when the pup chases, I wait till he is out aways and then fire the pistol. I usually do between 6 and 8 quail. If the pup shows no sign of the noise, the next trip out I bring the 20 gauge and start the whole process over. I start just planting the birds without the cage once he is comfortable with the gun. My pup is usually ready to hunt at about 12 weeks old, now he will be far far from finished, but now he will be ready to find and train on wild birds.
          One more thing on this, I believe everyone should gun train there dogs, whether you hunt with them or not. I see and hear of so many traumatized dogs over the 4th of July, while my dogs have always sat by my side watching fireworks, and my sisters are shaking under the bed.
          Great topic, I would like to hear more from the people who only use wild birds, I have always liked the controlled environment for intros.

        • #152
          October Setters


            Your comments make me realize I need to clarify some of what I said in my previous post.  First I want to expand on your method of throwing quail for a pup.  We do essentially the same thing with pigeons, which have the advantage of not landing to temp the pup to catch them.  They make a short chase, at which time we can fire the blank pistol, then come back to get another bird.  They learn very quickly that the birds are coming from you and returning to you after the chase gets them another bird.  You could also do this walking along with a bird bag.  I like the idea of teaching pups that you are the source of the excitement.

            What you describe, shooting the blank pistol during one session, shotgun during the second, seems awfully quick to introduce the gun.  I’m sure you are shortening the process by using the hammer, etc. but I want to clarify that our method is much slower than that.  We show them pigeons and get them acquainted them birds before ever firing the pistol.  Then I start by firing the pistol from a distance of 30 yards or so.  I stay at that distance for the entire session, firing a blank about every other bird with a total of 8-10 birds thrown.  Next session I move a little closer, maybe five or ten yards and stay there for the entire session.  It probably takes us in the neighborhood of 12-15 sessions to get to the point where we fire right over their head.  Timing depends on how the pups respond.  I probably fire the shotgun for 6-8 additional sessions.  This whole process takes us a month or so to complete depending on our work schedules, weather, etc.  I want to stress taking your time on this.  Pushing it can cause serious problems but progressing slower than necessary will never hurt.

            Another difference is age of the pup.  We usually start blank pistol drills at 3-5 months of age.  That makes them five months or more when we plant quail for them.  Yes many (most?) will point them much earlier but they don’t have nearly the attention span or awareness of their surroundings they will two months later and I think this is important at this stage. 

            Which raises another point.  We feel training quail should be used at the bare minimum required to get the job done.  Too much exposure to hapless pen raised birds is detrimental to a pups development.  They quickly figure out they can catch them easily and that makes them less likely to want to point.  Some will eventually stop pointing and just try to catch them.  The pup that really wants to point is also a problem, learning they can get very close, even to the point where they want to see the bird before pointing.  Too much of this can cause real problems when you switch to real (wild) birds.  Been there, done that, so buyer beware.  Keep exposure to training quail to a minimum.  We use them just enough so the pup is finding and pointing them, then shoot a couple.  For most pups this is 4-6 sessions with 2-3 contacts per session after which they may never see another training bird the rest of their life.

            As for introducing the gun on wild birds we’ve done it both ways but we much prefer the controlled situation created with training birds.  We’ve carried a blank pistol on early hunts, firing when birds are flushed and gradually getting closer but it can take quite a few hunts to get the job done, especially if bird numbers are down.  Getting them conditioned to the gun in the yard, before actually hunting, is more efficient and has the advantage of getting pups ready to have birds they find shot for them from the very first hunt.  This way they learn about birds being shot from their first few contacts on, which can be a big advantage.  I’ve seen a few dogs that didn’t recognize woodcock as something we were after.  Firing the blank pistol didn’t convince them woodcock were our quarry but shooting them did immediately. 

          • #153

            Glad to see a good discussion about this important topic.  One thing I have found is that although everyone does gun introduction in basically the same manner, sometimes from others we learn a little different step or technique to add to our own.  

            I thought that I might share an experience I had with a young gun shy dog that I was able to turn around, but I hope the story might help to prevent someone else from making the mistakes made that led to him being gun shy in the first place.  He was a young dog that I had bred and sold to very nice folks who had owned rymans for many years.  In his puppy months they sent me dandy photos of him pointing naturalized quail around their southern winter home and said he was doing great.  But the next spring they called with a different story.  They said that one day they shot a shotgun over him when he was pointing the quail – just shot the gun into the air (it was not open season) and no other gun intro had been done.  They did that a second time and noticed that he had flinched and left point.  They recognized a problem developing and a friend of theirs recommended sending him to a trainer they knew.  Just a couple weeks after being at the trainer they got the call to come pick up their pup, that he was hopelessly gun shy.  

            That was when they called me.  Pretty sheepish that they had not consulted with me earlier.  I said I needed to see him so he came and spent a couple of months with me.  When I first tested him I thought it was hopeless, he was that damaged.   But during his time with me he went from being fearful of even the sight of a gun or checkcord and blinking birds to pointing solidly and chasing at the flush with shotgun being fired over him.  That fall and ever since they had a successful hunting season with him.  I won’t hijack this thread by going into my long and detailed process.  I have to admit that I was a bit nervous when they headed into hunting season as I’m sure his owners were as well, but there was/is a happy ending and they have their hunting dog back.  

            The mistakes I want to point out for this discussion were: 1) firing a shotgun over him without other gun intro and maybe more importantly, 2) taking him to a trainer who may be a pro and terrific with other dogs but was obviously a poor match for a young ryman, and 3) not contacting their breeder at the first sign of a problem.  

          • #154

              Great story Lynn Dee,
              I am a firm believer in the perfect start- perfect finish dvd. In that dvd you will see him take a very timid setter and get her to be a great gundog. I think the most important thing I took from the dvd was how to read your dog, once those people saw a negative result with there pup, they needed to stop and get help. I have not started breeding yet, but when I do, I plan on having a pamphlet with every pup, telling people steps from when they bring the pup home, to intro to gun, birds, and collar. After reading your story, I will make sure to put in bold letters to contact me with any problems or questions. I love puppies and really enjoy getting them ready to be good bird dogs, they are like taking a young child bird hunting for the first time, both are happy and excited:) The main thing with puppies is to keep your training short and make sure they are having fun. Here I go rambling again:)

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