Steadiness to shot is taught in order to ensure that a dog will not run riot looking for a retrieve each time it hears a gun being discharged whether that shot has been fired by its owner at a bird it has just pointed or by someone else out of sight. And in the same way that steadiness to a thrown dummy is the first stage of making a dog steady to wing, the exercise we are about to do now is the first stage of teaching a dog to be steady to shot.
This can be taught in two separate stages. The first involves retrieving the dummy when a shot is fired, the dog working from alongside you. The second deals with shots being fired without any retrieving, while the dog is in the course of hunting.
stage one retrieving the dummy when a shot is fired
In doing this you are in fact, for the moment, going back to the retrieving exercise and the dog must be standing alongside; as a safeguard, the leash or line is trailing. As before this is simply to ensure, for the first few shots and throws, that the sound of the gun doesn’t excite him and tempt him to run in.
It is a good idea now to have a helper fire the pistol and throw the dummy. A member of your own family will be ideal, your wife for instance provided she isn’t gun-shy!
Have your helper stand with the dummy and blank pistol about twenty yards away, to one side and out ahead of you. Command the dog to “whoa.” By a prearranged hand signal (rather than a spoken one) the helper will first throw the dummy and then, as it is sailing through the air, fire one pistol shot. Have your foot on the leash in case the dog tries to go for it, though it’s very unlikely that he will. Pause for a short time, then send him to pick it up. For this session, repeat this exercise four or five times only. If he hasn’t attempted to break, the leash won’t be required again.
The next time you go out, allow him two or three retrieves, then have one or two dummies thrown which you or your helper will collect instead. The shot should still be fired each time a dummy is thrown. In addition, you should from time to time fire shots when no dummy is thrown at all. This will puzzle the dog as he will be looking for something to come down, but doing it is important because under normal hunting conditions he will hear shots fired by you or a companion at times when he can’t possibly see what has been shot at.
He must not go charging off looking for a retrieve just because he happened to hear a gun fired. Instead, he must stay where he is and await your orders, which subsequently will be either to search for a downed bird (”Fetch”) or to ignore matters altogether, before being cast off to hunt again. The command for the latter is the same one you have used when collecting the dummies yourself, i.e., “Gone away,” so use it from now on whenever a shot is fired and there is no retrieve. It simply conveys a message which switches his mind off retrieving.
Once you are satisfied that he will stand steady alongside you whenever shots are fired, whether or not retrieves are forthcoming.
second stage, takes place while he is hunting.
Return to the area where you taught him to hunt and quarter. Have only the pistol with you now and cast him off to hunt. You already know he will stop and stand to the “whoa” command while quartering, so you have already done most of the groundwork. All you are doing now is introducing the pistol into the scheme of things. This time, on giving him the usual command to “whoa” while he’s hunting out ahead of you, raise your right hand holding the pistol and fire a shot. Because of what you have already done with him close alongside you there should be no problem. But be sure to correct him in the time-honored way if there is don’t let him get away with anything!
Having fired the shot, before you give him the command to hunt on, i.e., “Get on,” remember to tell him “Gone away.”
When you have had two or three sessions of this using both the verbal command and the shot, try using the shot only. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by your dog’s reaction.
This second stage can also be used with dogs which do not, or will not be required to, retrieve. Up until now you will have done precisely the same with a dog of this type as has been done with one that will retrieve, with the exception of course of dummy work. He has been taught to hunt and quarter and to “whoa” on command, so all that is necessary now is to incorporate the use of the pistol with his quartering, in precisely the way I have described. At least with a non-retriever the temptation to run in has never been a problem.
Because of all the hard work you have done up to this point, you will be surprised how soon a dog will catch on to it.