Huey is currently just over 20 weeks old. On Sunday we took him on the shoot ?
Now there are lots of different opinions on when a dog should be introduced to a shoot/gunshot etc and it is often looked upon as early being bad.
Now I can fully imagine this can cause problems with some dogs. Every dog is different and every early experience is different.
Dogs go through two different fear stages where this type of exposure can create problems because the dog is sensitive and fearful to new experiences. In my cockers and the litters I have bred 8 to 9 weeks is the onset of the first fear stage and then again sometime between 7 to 11 months. The second fear stage can be ongoing for a few weeks or just be a few days.
Now when I got Huey he was actually very sensitive to noises and sounds and when we brought him home at 8 weeks he was quite overwhelmed. So I avoided noise, knowing he will be in his first fear stage and trying to fix it by exposure would actually create a problem.
Then from 10 weeks I have actively been working on habituation to noise.
I do this with my puppies from 4 weeks old, we play sounds, youtube is great, watch action movies, crash dog bowls on concrete and general just make a lot of noise. This is all done before the first fear stage which is ideal.
I attached noise with fun and play. Here is a video of Huey approaching noisy things at WaggaWuffins.
Huey has since been exposed to fireworks with play in the garden , in the dark and he has also been to Mike’s works in the yard and the workshop, exposed to drills, electric saws and other industrial equipment. So currently noise, lots of noise is just a normal part of his life and he is well habituated at this very moment.
So for me it is an ideal to time to add gunshot. You also have to consider that he is at an age where he copies and follows older dog’s behaviour and they know what’s safe and what isn’t from a puppies point of view. This is going to part of his daily life in the future.
Now I can spend months faffing about with party poppers, starting pistols and dummy launchers , none of which sound like actual gunshot and sometimes these can startle more than actual guns do.
So we got up Saturday morning, chucked a dog bowl on the concrete yard, he ran to it to investigate it, Then Mike banged the bowl on the metal table, he ran to that to see what it was. So we packed him in the car and off we went.
Now the set up is ideal. A nearby shoot starts before us so there was shot at a distance while everyone was getting organised and Huey was having fun meeting the experienced older dogs. He was surrounded by calm, confident and experienced adult dogs. An environment that he felt very safe in.
Huey did get told off for sniffing a lady Labradors butt, He didn’t squeal or yelp or snap back, he just apologised and went off doing something else, which was play with another cocker. As a dog from a multi dog household, he has previously overstepped the mark at home, he’s been told and learnt it’s not the end of the world, everyone is still your mate, just don’t do whatever you were doing again. As a boy dog he’s doing to make these kind of errors over the next few months. Interesting that this is something I have been criticised for, because I allow my older dogs to discipline puppies. I mix my puppies I breed myself with my pack from 4 weeks old. For me it builds communication resilience and confidence and my dogs are very nice about it.
So we worked the hedges on the first drive, well away from the guns. Huey was on lead with Mike while I worked Drift. He was on a 6ft lead so could safely mooch, sniff, offer behaviours he has learnt and get sausages off Mike and me, there was gunshot in the distance and we gradually moved closer.
He just took it all in his stride, saw some pheasants and deer and he watched the other dogs ignore them.
All my cockers at around 17 weeks have started to get their noses down and become interested in scent and Huey is, as predicted doing this, so exposure to the scents he will be working with was ideal. The grass and cover is high so he just got to indulge in scent with gunshot going on in the background.
Huey then crashed out in the car in his crate for the rest of the day, just coming out between drives.
Now there was always the risk he might have got worried and I would have taken him out of the situation. If I thought for a moment this would happen, he would not have gone.
So when it comes to socialisation and habituation, pet dog or working dog every dog is different.
Exposure should be tailor made to the dog, understanding development, previous experience, genetics and fear stages can help you make informed decisions about what is right for your dog.
Socialisation for my dogs involves two things:
‘Graded Exposure’ making sure experiences are emotionally positive so positive memories are formed
‘Startle and Recovery’ which is the ability to bounce back from something that might be stressful.
Most people are only advised to do the graded exposure, but things are going to happen in your dog’s life that will startle them. Just like things sometimes make us jump or frighten us because we don’t expect them. This builds confidence and resilience.
Huey had a fabulous day, but there was lots of consideration on if it was going to be right for himbeforee we took him.