Picking up the pieces
My six-month-old Labrador was coming along fine until I stupidly had a shot at a magpie at the front door when he was in his cage in the kitchen. When I came back inside, he was a nervous wreck. Now I just need to bring the gun out and he slinks away.
It may sound very obvious, but his behaviour is a normal response to fear and the object of fear
will always be the initial focus of the dog’s attention. You must deal with this by a combination of desensitisation and counter-conditioning.
Desensitisation involves a large number of neutral presentations of the stimulus, so that it ceases to produce a significant emotional effect.
This might require a friend to fire shots far away while you go about your daily business. If there is any response from the dog, your pal is too close.
Counter-conditioning is used to create a new and positive emotional response with the desensitised stimulus. Perhaps a friend might have a gun outwith the distance that it provokes fear and give food to your dog up until they go away. Your dog does not have to do anything to get this food. This can be repeated with the friend getting closer. When your dog looks at you when the gun appears, you know you are getting somewhere. It may then be worth investing in a cheap, old gun, removing the fore-end, and leaving it lying when your dog is being fed.
It’s crucial that every time the stimulus is experienced (gunshot or appearance of gun), there is an emotional swing towards a happy and relaxed dog. This will require considerable patience.
If you are struggling, there are some drug therapies that can help but you shouldn’t need them.
A combination of desensitisation and counter-conditioning will remove the dog’s gun fear