3 Easy Steps to GunBreaking Dawgs
by Richard Bielby ("RB")
     In my adventures with Catahoulas I have yet to see one that wasn't initially afraid of firearms. Over time I have developed a method of three simple steps that works very well, for me at least. The first is to desensitize a dog to the sudden noise.  The second is to develop an understanding of what that noise causes to happen far away. The third is to develop a reward system for chasing what has been shot. These three steps are however worthless if you haven't established a good bond with your dog and do not have its trust. 
     Do not be in a hurry, it will on occasion require extreme patience if you have a real problem child.  Being in a rush will not accomplish anything but anxiety for both you and the dog, the dog is scared enough as it is without you acting erratic and getting severely bent out of shape. This method is meant to be used for one dog at a time. Two dogs will "feed" off each other's fear causing a huge uphill battle.
     To start, take your dog to an open field or other area where you can shoot without terrorizing the folks near by. Somewhere familiar to both you and your dog. Find a place where the dog can be behind the line of fire, but yet where it can see both you and your gun. Semi- protected from the sound, I prefer to leave my dog in the front seat of my truck. This is a place where he likes to be and feels safe. After all it is his truck, he only lets me drive it on occasion. Be sure you have the dog's attention before you shoot. I prefer to call it's name, then tell it "Hey, I'm going to shoot!", then fire. 
     After about 15 minutes of doing this, take a little break and do something fun with the dog, like taking a short walk through the woods. When you get back, do the same thing again, except leave the vehicle door open. It's also a good idea to have the dog's blanket or bed out in case it runs off to hide from the noise elsewhere. I have yet to see a Catahoula not return to its favorite blanket after a night's rampage running deer. 
     Call the dog to sit behind you before you shoot and don't forget to tell it what you are going to do. If it runs away, do not coddle it, this only reinforces the idea that it is OK to run. Chances are that it will run back into the truck then sit and watch you. When the dog does stay behind you, then you can praise it to high heaven, and move on to the next step.  This may take more than one day, in my worst case it took three 2 hour total sessions in 15 minute intervals of shooting-vs-playing.
     To develop the dog's understanding that the gun isn't just a big stick that makes really loud noises when you say those words, take it to an area where it can sit and see both you and what you are shooting at. I prefer to place the dog behind me while I'm shooting downhill or across at the side of another. On one occasion the dog ran in between myself and the target, safely off to the side on another adjacent hill, sat down, then looked at me. When I told it I was going to shoot, it then turned its head as the round struck. I did this with a 20 round magazine and it had this look like "Hey that's kinda neat, dude!  Do it again!".  The dog had come to understand that something was causing a splash by the jug I was shooting at after I had fired, it proceeded to run over to investigate the spot, then went back to the same spot on the hill and waited for another shot. I was very elated because this dog was notorious for being very gun shy. So bad she would run off and hide for about 2 hours after the shooting stopped. Total days involved to get this one to this step, would you believe 3 consecutive days of going out for 2 hour sessions?
     The third step you may or may not want to do depending on how you want your dogs to react. I prefer they run out and get what I have shot. So after desensitization to noise and having developed an understanding that something comes out of the firestick, I like to take casual walks in the woods with a shotgun, crow hunting with the dog in question. Now a small problem may develop here with the dog chasing the wadding, but after you find the first few birds and give them to the dog to eat as a treat, they will learn eventually that it is what falls from the tree you want them to get...not what they see coming out of the shotgun. Unless of course you have a thing for saving used plugs and wadding. Don't pick up the bird, just point it out, praising the dog when it comes over to see what you are trying to show it flopping on the ground. Then pick it up, hold it from the dog but let it sniff the crow or other bird, then let the dog have the treat. 
     If you happen to come across a rabbit or armadillo (AKA: flip), all the better, do the same thing. After a couple more sessions you'll have a dog chasing any critter you shoot. Remember to always tell your dog that you are going to shoot, this eliminates the sudden surprise of the blast.

     Good Luck