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Categories: Soft Dogs and Weak Nerves

Q. I've been training my dog in schutzhund, but she is terrified of the starter pistol noise. What would you suggest I do to turn this around?

I have a 3 year old dobie female that has incredible drive (ball, food, prey) and loves praise. She received her CGC, ATTS, 1st & 2nd leg in herding, going for her AD this year and maybe her BH. I built her confidence throughout the last year or more on the sleeve. When she first started out, she was very defensive and now we both work as a team and she loves it. Even though I still get a reminder how fast she is with her excitability and get it in the leg sometimes.

One the other hand, if she hears fireworks, gunshot, or a back fire, she is trying to climb me like no tomorrow!! At schutzhund training, my TD told me to go out there as she set of the starter pistol. We both didn't expect what she did. We had to have another handler out there with me with her on 2 leashes. She even tried biting me to get us to leave. It almost "killed" her out of bite work even weeks later. New Years eve she almost broke out of her crate. You get the point.

I've talked to a couple of trainers and wanted to get your idea. I've been told to chain her up extremely hungry and feed her as I set off a starter pistol. I've been told to correct the h*ll out of her until she stops so she is more worried about my correction than the noise itself. I've been told to crate her and set shots off until she is desensitized. I understand this, and will do it....but something inside me is telling me there has to be a better, more effective way.

Have you turned a dog around like this, or do you think I'm stuck with a nervy dog? How would you turn a situation around based on what I experienced?

Thank you for your time, much respected and appreciated! Take care and talk to you soon!

A. It looks like from your signature that you are a professional dog trainer? How would you handle this?

At 3 years old it will be a long road to desensitizing this dog (if it’s possible at all). If anyone I trained with advised me to chain my dog up and only feed her when I shoot the gun, correct her for being scared, or crate her and shoot the gun around her I’d run the other way. That’s awful.

Personally , I would find activities to do with this dog that don’t put her in situations that she is so scared. I don’t feel it’s fair to put this dog in that state of mind. The stress that she would have to go through wouldn’t be worth it in my opinion. Find a sport that fits the dog and her ability, drive and temperament.

If you want to desensitize her, I would do it from MILES away. A rough road to go and not at all practical.

I have witnessed trainers that want to pursue a specific sport with their dog, but the dog doesn’t really want to participate. You can actually make a dog sick by trying to work them in a sport that they are not really enjoying. My goal is to do something with my dog that they have an aptitude for. If I want to pursue Mondioring or schutzhund and my dog is afraid of loud noises, sticks or is reluctant to bite a tug or the sleeve, it’s time to find a new sport or get a dog with the proper nerves and temperament. Don’t put your goals in front of your principles. I think most people love their dogs, but may lose sight of that at times and put the dog in a position that is unfair

Find a sport you can do with your dog---rally obedience, agility, continue with herding, dock diving, etc…

Good luck with your dog.
Cindy Rhodes


Thank you so much. I very much had the same thoughts. I am a dog trainer by profession for over 10 years and have worked with many dogs with issues. But when a problem occurs that I question, I feel getting a third party's thoughts is better than being naive or pride full. I've seen many trainers mess up dogs or not give the dog or owner a chance because their pride gets in the way. Thank you very much for the advise, and will pursue activities SHE wants to do.
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