Introduction to gunshots - gun sensitivity training
Gun shyness is a pet peeve of mine and many dogs are ruined because they aren't introduced to gunfire properly. With training it's always best to set things up so the dog can't fail. Once the dog fails or makes a mistake it will take a lot of work to "undo" and retrain the dog properly.
In my case I bought a dog, a Deutsch Drahthaar, from a reputable breeder. If a DD is gun shy it's not allowed to breed. So that means my chances of getting a gun shy dog was greatly reduced. Tip number one is get a dog from hunting stock.
Now you have a pup on your hands and you want the pup to get used to noise. You actually want them to associate noise with fun and good times. You want noise to become rewarding. How do you do it? Food. At feeding time bang pots and pans together before you set down the food and continue to bang them while the pup is eating. Start softly and progress to louder banging over the course of a week. If it's too loud inside move outdoors and start over. Try not to surprise the pup and let them see you and the source of the noise. If the dog is afraid just tap them together and don't get any louder until the pup is comfortable with the sound level. Watch the dogs reaction to judge how loud you should be. You can't move faster than the pup will allow [that applies to all training].
The next stage is paper caps in a cap gun. You want the rolled paper caps because they aren't as loud as the molded plastic caps. It's basically the same drill. Start firing the cap gun while the pup eats. Over the course of a week or so you move closer and closer to the pup while they are eating. Soon you'll be standing over the pup and food bowl while snapping the trigger. My dog was already play retrieving at this stage so I started incorporating the cap gun into training. I'd snap the pup on a training lead and have him in a sit while I kept my foot on the lead so he couldn't move. I'd then toss the puppy bumper and fire a cap while the bumper was in the air. I'd then let the bumper land wait three or four seconds, move my foot off the lead and send the dog so he could retrieve. That method helps to establish a dog that won't break at the shot. The training lead also allows you to reel the pup back in on the retrieve. It will help to teach them that the retrieve means business and it's a job and time to go gallivanting or play "keep away". That will help an awful lot later as your training advances.
After the paper caps you can move up to .22 blanks. Just use the same methods you've been using during the previous weeks. I don't recommend using the blanks indoors. They are just too loud. Remember don't rush and let the dog control the pace. Watch your dog for shyness and learn to read your dog.
If your getting good results with the blanks you can move on to shotguns. I find shotgun blanks are often louder than real shotshells. I chose to use real shells while working in the field with birds and bumpers. I'd recommend finding a training partner who can stand away from you and the dog and fire the shotgun on cue. By now your dog will be older and the retrieves will be longer and most likely off lead.
I guess if I have to stress anything with the method is don't rush! The pup will set the pace. Give each level at least ten days of daily training before moving forward to something louder. I'd say around 12 weeks old is a good place to start with the training. By then you should have a routine feeding and training schedule established to work with. Keep the sessions short and interesting and give the pup frequent breaks. Let them be a puppy! Their attention span is short and often fleeting. Keep it fun and interesting. Training should be a learning experience and not torturous for the pup or the handler. As the dog matures they work into longer periods of concentration. Be patient. You'll eventually have a dog that isn't afraid of gunfire and will know it's time to work when they hear the shot.