Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dogs and Guns - It's All About the Training

Barkley is not the first dog I've owned but he will probably always be my favorite. He was also the least likely to do what I wanted him to, though he would mind with the right tone of voice.

With Partner In Grime and our friend Mr. B., he would mind promptly.  He  knews they're Alpha.  With me, I was sort of more "Mom", but for the most part he minded, though like an incorrigible, very smart three year old, he would sometimes see what he can get away with.

This photo was taken at a local park, the normally small creek was up due to recent rain and walking on the path next to it, Barkley just jumped right in.  Splash! He then starts paddling around as I teetered on the edge trying to hold on to the long lead and not fall in, giving me that look of "there's a problem?"

Still, he minded the important stuff, "go potty" spoken with a tone that drops with each 10 degrees of windchill, "sit", "stay" and "load up" (get in the truck and sit to be secured in his harness).  He couldn't shake, roll over or balance anything on his nose, but if you worked with him,  he would growl when you said "Nancy Pelosi".

Still, with the occasional show of rebellion, he was my best friend, and as much as I enjoy having Abby in the house, I miss him terribly..

But owning and training a Labrador Retriever, like owning and training with a firearm, has some basic rules that mirror one another.

Start young -
If the firearm is just something fun, to be used as a prop for a child to hold or fire for photos to show your friends, without a talk about gun safety or real knowledge of what it is they are doing, they are too young.  That's how I was raised, and how my child was raised.  So far we've managed not to shoot anything we didn't intend to.

For what's more important than teaching them to shoot a firearm, is first to teach them a healthy respect for them.  That can be learned from a very early age, years before they handle or fire a weapon under your supervision. Put their curiosity at rest early on, so that a firearm is not a forbidden, unmentioned (other than just "don't touch") object, something they may want to check out themselves when you are not around. Having an interest and having respect for something are two different things. Teach them what guns are for, what they can do, and how they can hurt and kill beyond anything Mommy or Daddy can fix.

Even at the earliest of ages you can work to instill in a youngster, that once that trigger is pulled, it's a done deal.  Whether intentionally or by accident, THIS IS NOT TV.  Injuries and death from a misplaced or unintended shot are permanent.  Even at a very young age, I knew that a real gun could cause death and I was shown that after Bambi and Bugs Bunny were shot, they did not get back up and wisecrack and run off for another episode. They were field dressed and put in the freezer or a pot.  When we got old enough to actually shoot (for us, around age 11 or 12) under a parents supervision, those lessons still resonated and with the always reviewed rules of firearm safety, we were ready

Socialize early -
When you're purchased a new firearm, don't let it sit in the box.  After making sure it is unloaded, get comfortable with the workings, taking it apart to clean (best the first time or two with someone that is familiar with that model to avoid the whole "I have extra parts" syndrome).  There's more information on the net about the merits or dangers of dry firing a weapon  but with the right firearm, it can be of benefit for people new to shooting and perhaps a little hesitant still.  Why? Because it gets rid of that negative training from the physical response to a shot going off, (you should not need a sports bra to go shooting).  People who are prone to flinch or jump can benefit as they gain confidence in their handling of the weapon and the feel of the trigger.

But I might caution against it with rimfire rifles and pistols, due to the design of rimfire chamber. When a rimfire firearm is dry fired, the striker hits the outside mouth of the chamber instead of the soft brass rim of the cartridge. Over time this could damage or destroy your firing pin, and peen the barrel face.  With extensive peening the ammo may not longer chamber.

Though dry firing may be acceptable in some weapons, especially with more modern metallurgy, you might wish to consider snap caps and various other designs of dummy ammunition that allow you to fire nearly any weapon without risk of damage to your firing pin or any other part of the firearm. They're cheap, great for dry firing and a good resource for malfunction drills. AS always, whether it's dry fire or snap cap, NEVER forget the rules of gun safety -  treat that gun as if it is fully loaded, touch and squeeze the tigger only when you are sure of your target and what is beyond it, being ready to destroy anything that you are aiming at.

Once you are comfortable, take the new firearm to the range with friends or with an instructor if you are new to shooting.  I have never, ever had folks at my local range, laugh, point or give harsh criticism when I was new to pistols or simply learning a new pistol.  You can learn a lot by watching others and there's always someone around to help you if you have a questions. 

When I was new to pistols, I still remember one of my gal friends standing at my 2 o'clock (probably getting pelted with brass) at the range going "20% tighter!" and taking photos and video with the point and shoot, so I could see after what was working and what was not.  You are never too old or too "expert" to learn.

photo taken at doggie day camp and sent home with me

Be the Top Dog -
A gun is a tool, like any other tool.  You need to have a firm grip and not let it push you around.  Smashed fingers are one thing, a accidental discharge through your femoral can ruin your whole day. 

Having control and a firm grip, especially on a semi-automatic handgun, is important for more than one reason. The most important of which is to avoid what's commonly called "Limp Wristing" the gun. When a shooter has a weak or loose grip on the semi-automatic handgun, it  often ends up with the not just the bullet not going where you want, but in the firearm not cycling properly, causing the firearm to jam.

"Limp Wristing" your bird dog in a friends farm field and you'll have those game birds  hitting the air like artillery while you are still adjusting your knickers after that last fence you climbed.  Limp wrist your weapon and you may end up with a misfeed or a bullet in the metal clip holding your target (always embarrassing).  Keep firm control of all the tools you use in the field and everyone will be happier and safer.

Recoil?  (Down boy!  Down!) when expected is manageable.  You're not going to set that bird dog loose after you've spent 3 hours tromping through the Iowa countryside after pheasants without him ever hearing a gun go off before.   Don't give a first time shooter a firearm to fire with a huge recoil.  Either action is a sure way of seeing only the fuzzy backside of your sporting companion running away (and it will take lots of time and treats to get them to trust you again).

Establish your stance, practice your grip. That firearm may be chambered in .45, .223 or simply some .22, but YOU are the Alpha Dog in the safe handling of your weapon..

They  love to stay active -
Get off the couch and get to the range!  Just as Labs love to be out and active, so does your firearm. The more you take it out, the more proficient you will be.

Like any tool, regular exercise, proper care and feeding will ensure your companion is around for a long time and ready to go whenever you are, without a hitch in their step.

If the firearm is not to be fired for a significant amount of time, it is best to do a very thorough cleaning before storage. Every six to eight months take it out and clean it and oil it again (too much oil is not a bad idea here). With plenty of lubrication and a good initial clean the gun should stay in good condition over time, though storing in a dry area is always beneficial, even with the oil. Clean and lubricate it again before you fire it.

Concentrate on calm behaviors -
Since Labrador Retrievers are strong, high energy dogs, owners must concentrate on teaching them “calm” behaviors.

If you've seen me with presented with a nifty firearm I've not tried, it's not much different than Barkley when he gets excited about something  "Oh Oh Oh, Shiny!  Can I play with it? please please, play now, can I have it, bacon bacon bacon!"  Apparently there is also some jumping up and down but that was only once and involved a Colt Python.

 Handling a firearm is serious business and always more risky than throwing that new ball. Take your time and relax.

Always remember the four rules.  Treat every gun as if it is loaded.  Keep your finger away from that trigger until you are ready to fire.  Don't rush, take a deep breath, make sure of your target and what is behind it, and squeeze only when your target is clearly identified.

Never go shooting when you are taking medication that may impair your abilities, even common over the counter cold and allergy medications can affect your reaction time and your judgement.  Alcohol, as well, is NEVER a good mix for firearms any more than it is safe for your canine.  Barkley got a teensy bit of spilled beer once before I could get mop it up and he spent the next hour happily farting and humping the ottoman, still a better outcome than if we'd mixed an evening of Rum and a Ruger.

If the gun doesn't fire when you squeeze the trigger, don't get all excited and keep pulling the trigger "bam! bam! bam!", like a bad Steven Seagal movie.  If the trigger is pulled and there is no boom, make sure you had a round in the chamber.  If you are absolutely, positively sure there is no round in the chamber (and if you are very new to shooting and not sure, this is a good time to ask your instructor or the range officer to take a look, no one will think less of you), then, and ONLY then do something about it.  The problem could be a cartridge malfunction or a mechanical malfunction.  But getting all worked up and rushing to "fix" it, can be very dangerous. If you are unsure as how to clear a malfunction, as a new shooter, ask for instruction, those around you will appreciate your attention to not just your safety, but theirs, and will not think less of you.

Cleaning up after  -
If it's not your own personal range, please pick up your brass. No one else wants to step on it.

Training -
Just as training for your Lab is key to a well behaved dog (which, around other people and traffic, is a safer dog) so is training for you and your firearm.  If you expect your firearm to help you overcome a threat to your very life, you need to train in varying conditions and be trained in defensive techniques. Plinking at a stationary target on a no-wind, sunny day is fine but it doesNOT hone all the skills you'll need to deal with that guy on drugs, intent on hurting you, that confronts you in a isolated parking lot or your dark living room. 

Spaying and Neutering -
May be required for firearms in Massachusetts and California.  Please check your State laws.

Responsible Ownership -
If you can not afford, or have the time, to properly care for a dog, be it exercise, medical care, proper food and attention - do not get one.  If you do not have the skills or the mindset to use a firearm with lethel force for self defense, do not get one.  Being a pet owner is more than having a couple plastic dog bowls on the kitchen floor.  Self defense is more than carrying a gun or target shooting with it once or twice a year. It involves total awareness of potentially dangerous situations that you may encounter and using the tools that you have to stop different but appropriate threats.  Just as you can't expect a Chihuahua to know how to retrieve a game bird, you can't expect your firearm to keep you safe if you don't know how to use it.

You also need to know what constitutes a legitimate threat. Some jackass having a loud party next door after midnight is NOT recourse for firing a load of birdshot at their property (that's what the trebuchet with the flaming sheep is for).  Know what an imminent threat is, learn to recognize it, and learn to respond to it in a controlled and legal manner, with removing yourself from the threat, your first line of thought if not in a close situation..

Just as you get to know the care and feeding of your Labrador Retriever through reading, training and talking to your vet, get to know the safe handling and care of your firearm as well as the responsibilities and consequences of using it for sport, provision or protection..  That's not just common sense, it's a vital part of being a "good guy".

Because the bad guys don't obey "Sit" and Stay".


  1. Well written piece. You could also add that you should not get a gun if you cannot afford cleaning supplies, decent ammo and a secure place to park-your-piece. Obviously, a secure place will vary depending upon the likelihood of children/teenagers being in the house.

    "trebuchet"...I thought that was just a font type.

    1. Look it up - it's similar to a catapult & much fun to shoot! :)

  2. If parents would take time with their children to respect a firearm we would have a much safer country, my father took time to teach me to shoot, clean and respect a firearm, I in turn took time to teach my son,when he was fourteen I ask him to go get me a book out of a drawer in my bedroom, he came back without the book and said I can not get the book because the revolver is on the book. He learned his lesson real good. He is now forty one years old still loves to shoot I am seventy five years old still love to shoot and neither one of has ever killed or injured any one. thank what the USA would be today if every father hat their children

  3. All true. The beginning groups from yesterday's range trip showed just how long it was since practice. And no winter excuses, it is an indoor range with adequate heat.

    And no, I have neither a trebuchet nor sheep. (and shouldn't the application of flame to sheep be on a smaller scale and after their demise) But I did build an air powered mortar that would send a water balloon multiple hundreds of feet. The wife never approved the fire mission plan of launching through the skylight to make the neighbors noisy party more interesting.

    Another wonderful post. Thank you.

    John in Philly

  4. Thank you Brigid for this very instructional post. I have a long standing "date" with The Big Guy to teach me the rudiments of firearms if I ever get my arse in JAX one day. My interest in firearms is more sport (aiming skills) than protection.

  5. When my kids got to the "curious" age I took them down to the lake and fired several different calibers into the clay. The resulting cavities impressed them; especially when I told them to imagine a hole that size thru their tummy. Those visuals left a STRONG message that they did not forget later when they started hunting and also shooting handgun competition.

  6. I am indignant at the concept of launching a flaming sheep at your neighbor's party.
    A waste of mutton.
    You have a dog.
    You have a yard.
    You have trebuchet ammunition.

  7. Excellent post. I have neither a gun nor dog, but I want both.


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