Back in February, the family went to a medieval reenactment event down near Hampton, GA. (For you NASCAR fans, near Atlanta Motor Speedway. And, no, that is NOT the other name for I-285!) I was the event coordinator and showed up early Friday afternoon to get things setup, etc. Later that afternoon, I noticed a yellow Lab wandering about the camp.
The Lab would be very friendly with anyone who would pay him attention and I asked the camp caretaker who he belonged to. He told me that the dog was a stray. If nobody took him home that weekend, he went to the pound on Monday.
Friday evening my wife and four daughters showed up and settled in the staff cabin and went to bed. The next morning we all woke up and I went about the business of making sure the event went smoothly. My daughters, meanwhile, discovered the Lab and fell in love.
Charlie, as they started calling him, followed them everywhere, even into court. (Middle Ages reenactment, remember?) Other people fed him scraps and gave him water. Sunday morning, my wife and I had a long discussion about Charlie. The general conversation amongst everyone who had met him was that he was a sweetheart and should be rescued.
The clincher was my 6 year old (just turned 7 Monday!) daughter, Rosie. Rosie has always been scared of ALL dogs, including little ones. Charlie, on the other hand, is a 75lb. Labrador Retriever that Rosie just ADORES. We decided to take him home with us.
Well, Charlemagne (his full name) has integrated fairly well into the family. He spends most of his time with me when I'm home. I even got to the point where I considered teaching him to retrieve birds, so we could go hunting together.
Well, my bonus came in last Friday and I trotted off to the local gun store and bought the Remington 870 Wingmaster that I'd had my eye on for awhile. Took it home and showed it off to the wife and eldest daughter (16 years old). Wife had an errand to run that evening and I had NO kids other than the eldest to worry about. As Jerri (the oldest daughter) and I sat in the living room watching Stargate SG-1 with Charlie, I decided I'd go get the 870 and a silicone cloth and wipe it down and give it a good inspection. (It's a used gun.)
As soon as I racked the slide, Charlie panicked. We had to physically restrain him to keep him from running out of the room at full speed. Even then, he literally shook with fear. I put away the gun and we both talked soothingly and told him what a good boy he was and how much we loved him. He finally calmed down and I left the gun in its case in my closet.
Thinking back on his reaction and remembering his slight limp he's occasionally shown with his right front leg, as well as the small patch of fur that appeared to be shaved off on that leg, we came to a conclusion: Charlie had, at one time, been shot. Whomever owned him at the time took him to the vet to get the bullet/shot out of his leg, but must have decided they didn't want a gunshy dog and abandoned him.
Any ideas on helping Charlie overcome his fear of guns? I could really care less if he never hunts a single day with me, but it's really frustrating to have a dog you care about become absolutely petrified when all you're doing is cleaning the gun! (I took out the gun this evening to touch up the blue on the magazine tube and Charlie freaked out.) In this household, he needs to get over that particular fear, as there are just too many guns to scare the devil out of my poor hoplophobic dog.
So, my girl (my love, my life and my vioce of reason) works at a Vet hospital. She says you are in for a long process.
The first thing to do is leave a rifle in plain sight. With kids around, I will let you figure out how to do this safely. Let the dog see the gun on a regular basis. Use positive reenforcement when the dog even looks at it. Maybe leave a dog treat near the gun. Slowly the dog should become used to having it around. Also remember the dog has a past that you don't know about and he hasn't become comfortable with his new family. He will soon learn that you are not out to harm him. Once you have the full trust of the dog, let him see you hold the gun. Don't cycle it yet. The sound of a pump shotgun sounds WAY different to a dog than it does to you.( That sound scares humans too - especially burglars ) He can hear every piece of metal sliding and hitting eachother. This could take several months, but he should become used to seeing the gun in a room with people he trusts. He sees you hold it, and no harm is done. Once he is used to it, move the action on it slowely. Praise, praise,praise. Make the dog think every time he sees a gun, he will get a treat or praise.
Getting used to the BANG. That will take much longer. Use a drum or something else loud to get him used to loud noises.
Let the dog take his time, dont force it.
Use a search engine to find dog training sites, they are everywhere. Once you know how a dog thinks, it will be easy train him.
Hope this may help a little
Great pics, John. Looks like he's fitting right into the family. I can't add anything to what rglbegl has said, but I will emphasize that patience is key. And keep pouring on the love, as your family is obviously doing.
My Second protects your First
"I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man,
but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand." - Susan B Anthony
As rglbegl said it is a loooooong process. It may resolve itself, somewhat, as the dog becomes more comfortable with his new surroundings, but there is no guarantee. It may take several months before he will stand in the vicinity of a shotgun while the action is cycled. Getting Charlie to tolerate gunfire is another whole process that may be more trouble than it's worth.
After he becomes comfortable with the gun, you start him off with very gentle sounds--at a distance. A popgun at 50 paces, while he eats, may seem a little foolish but going too fast and trying to accelerate the process will only make matters worse.
Eventually you want to move up to BB gun, cap gun, starter pistol, etc. Each time you introduce the new sound, you want to start off at a distance from the dog and slowly move in as he gains confidence. Charlie may never have been shot. Dogs don't generally learn from one event. He may have been improperly trained to the gun and been MADE gunshy by his former owner. If he was shot, it may have been out of frustration by his early MIS-trainer. Some dimwits think that peppering a dog with birdshot will break him of running. NOT!!!!!
Personally, I wouldn't take on the project of trying to make a gundog out of Charlie. It may take all your love, patience and free time before you get Charlie to the point where he won't bolt into traffic when someone snaps open their Zippo lighter. Only time will tell. I'd be inclined to keep Charlie as a beloved pet and get myself into a started pup from known stock. That can be frustrating enough, without the agita induced by trying to work with a dog who starts out with a serious deficit. Actually, I'd get rid of Charlie, but you exist in a house full of females where the general rule is: One Man = No Vote.
I had a pup that would cower under the bed for hours when I turned on the stove and she heard the "snap-snap-snap" of the piezo-electric ignitor. If you opened a step ladder in her vicinity, used an electric drill, or used a flash camera: she'd require pharmacuticals. I said "Never again!" YMMV.
i like the 1st reply you got! (from
i used to raise labs & they are fiercely loyal & good protectors of the family, so ~ IMHO ~ KEEP HIM! i believe that as you build your bond w/ this dog (he's still fairly new to the family) you'll work thru these issues! keep in mind tho, not all labs are gonna make a good gun dog, but IMHO all labs make EXCELLENT protection. labs are VERY intelligent & loyal, your kids need that. & if this dog is good for your youngest child, then there is NO reason to get rid of him. have you had him to a vet?? it would be a good idea to get him checked out, labs can develop hip dysplasia. (so dont let him get too fat! ) build your relationship w/ this dog 1st, then go from there! good luck!!
One other item - if you have a friend with a non-gunshy dog, you might try letting them hang out while you do the "slow approach with the cap gun" technique. They really learn from each other. Especially if the non-gun shy dog gets praise for standing fast and Charlie observes this.
Note - pour on the praise, but really work it when the dog shows little to no reaction versus praising when they cower but don't run.
Charlie doesn't seem to react badly to non-gun loud sounds, only to gun sounds and the smell of gun oil. (He cowered away from me until I washed the gun oil smell off my hands.)
Like I mentioned before, I'm not looking to make Charlie a hunting companion anymore. I just want to help him overcome this phobia of the sounds and smells of a gun. If he never overcomes the fear of actual gunfire, I'll be okay with that. It's the fear of a shotgun slide being cycled and of gun oil that I care about.
Either way, I'll not get rid of Charlie. As you mentioned, I've got FIVE females to veto a decision like that. (Jerri(16), Katie(9), Rosie(7), Sara(4) and their mother, Stephannie) Not to mention, I care too much for the dog myself to even contemplate the decision.
Thanks to everyone for your advice. I really do appreciate it. Hopefully, I can help this sweetheart of a dog overcome his fears and be able to at least clean my guns in peace without him freaking out!
I agree with what is said here. I leave guns around the house all the time and my boy Jack is used to seeing them. It is such that right now when I get to loading up the guns in the truck, he knows we're going out to have fun. When I start shooting them, he'll lay there and go to sleep. Don't bother him a bit. Been handling guns since he was 6 weeks old. I hope you follow the advice here and show him how much fun it can be. Good luck@