How do I deal with a 'spooked' dog.

I realise this is a very similar topic to the ‘Fearful dogs’ one started by Tinyplanet, but thought I’d start a new one seeing as mine was quite specific. I shall be keeping a close eye on the other post too though.

My 2 year old Border Collie is usually great when introduced to new things. Didn’t even seem to be bothered by a Steam Train pulling in at the station near to where I live (GWR Steam Trust). One thing which really seems to worry her (and me) though is shotgun fire. If she hears shots going off in the distance, all commands to stop, wait or come go out of the window. Sometimes she will just slow down enough to enable me to catch up, but mostly it’s a determined trot back to safety. A couple of weeks ago, this meant even crossing a semi busy road by herself.

So synopsis over… Does anybody have any suggestions as to the best course of action? A backfiring motorbike caused a similar reaction a few days ago. I have wondered about finding out whether there are any clay pigeon shooting places nearby to slowly introduce her to the noise and try to make her realise it’s not a threat. Is this the best idea? I found some shooting sound effects on the internet, but she didn’t seem to be bothered when I played them, so maybe the real thing will be a necessity.

Any suggestions appreciated


I noticed that you said you are bothered by shots as well. I find that my dog is more anxious on dark wet nights and I suspect that this may be due to a phobia of worms I have. I think dogs pick up very well on our own emotions. If we need to take her out in such conditions, my OH does it now and she seems better.
In terms of my dogs reactivity, I eventually began to adopt a calmer approach and walk more away from others. Straight away things got better and we were both more relaxed and able to deal with the odd scary dog, horse, car etc.
She hasn’t been to bad with shots but I did notice, if we heard one, she would look at me as if assessing if I looked worried by it. As I wasn’t, she happily carried on her way. I also try to be friendly when approaching someone with a dog and it generally makes her less likely to react.
Once the fear is already ingrained it is harder to deal with. Shots are difficult because you don’t know when they will happen. With dogs we have been able to gradually get closer and treat treat treat while she is still in her comfort zone until she starts to view the scary thing as something which gets her a treat.
The clay pigeon idea sounds good but maybe start from far away and gradually get closer when your dog is calm. Also I would keep him on the lead in case he panics. I tried pushing my dog to be around dogs initially and it just made things worse. If there is anyone else who can help with the training, this might be worth considering if you are nervous about the bangs too.

I have this problem with one of my dogs. Unfortunately there is a farm behind our home and the owner likes to shoot. It is a really loud gun and we never know when he is going to start. I give mine Bach Rescue Remedy and I tried Valerian Compound from Dorwest Herbs. I also put her in the darkened bedroom with the television on loud.

There is nothing much more that I can do although occasionally I take her for a run in the car and stop off for a walk somewhere. Wrapping her up firmly in a towel or a dog coat and holding her close has helped once or twice.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about the gunshot tapes but I suppose it might be worth trying although it sounds as if your dog is aware of the difference between it and live gunshot. You could try a clay pigeon shoot. Personally I wouldn’t but my dog is coming up to 13 years of age and I try to avoid stressing her.

1 Like

You have already had great answers so not much I can add. Certainly agree re. the Clay shoot that you would need to start a very good distance away, probably so you can barely hear it yourself, and arm yourself with loads of her top rewards. My boys LOVE sardines so make these up into soft treats with egg and flour (can be rice flour) or liver/liver cake. The distance you chose should be where she is aware of the shooting but not worried. The sound of the shot needs to be the predictor of the treat so Bang > mark > reward … Bang > mark > reward.

My biggest reservation re the shoot is that the shots might be too close to get that pattern. If the reward becomes attached to the next bang instead of the previous one the treat could become a predictor of the bang and she could become fearful of the treat. Have you got any friends with guns or a starting pistol? That way you would have more control. Arnie used to be petrified of guns and when we did some Working Trials training he got used to the starting pistol and now he is fine with guns generally. I always carry treats though and give them one when anything scary happens.

My older dog has decided he doesn’t like thunderstorms ever since my daughter was born. I have started doing training sessions with him during the storms so he begins to associate the storms with positive experiences. It is slow going, mainly because I can’t control the weather (If I could, I would add a lot more sunshine!) but we’ve seen significant progress this summer as there have been quite a few impressive storms this year.

The gun fire is even trickier I would think. Agandl has given some sound advice and made a good point with the shots potentially being too close and risking the treat becoming the predictor. Are their any military training grounds near you that do large artillery fire? I live in Dorset so Bovington, Lulworth and Hamworthy are all close by and their firing schedule sounds ideal for desensitization training.

1 Like

Hi Folks. Not been on for a while. Thanks for your suggestions

Sorry to have confused Tinyplanet, but when I said ‘and me’ I meant that I was worried about the shots for my dogs sake and not that I was worried about them personally. I think I’ll try desensitising by taking her to a shooting range or something. I might try finding some online shotgun sounds again. I’m sure there must be some for gun dog training.


dog training