A seminar at the Minnesota Deer Classic revealed some shed dog training secrets you probably didn't know.
A shed dog training expert gave the eager audience tips on how you should train your shed dog.
Shed dog training is very similar to training your dog for retrieving birds, with some subtle differences.
Best Dog Breeds
It should come as no surprise the best dog breeds for shed antler hunting are retrievers. These breeds have the best instincts for finding and bringing back the sheds you're after. Almost any dog breed can be taught to shed hunt, but others will take more effort and cause frustration.
Phase One: Start Off
When your shed dog is just a puppy, start with a very small antler, about three to four inches in size. Make it a game by playing with your puppy and getting it used to the feel of the antler. Practice multiple short retrieves in your living room.
Phase Two: Move Outside
It's time to move the game outside! First, cut a foot-long antler silhouette out of plywood and attach it to a stand. Place the silhouette in your lawn and drop an antler right at the base of it. This is primarily to get the antler profile deeply engrained in your dog's mind, and have the puppy begin to associate the shape with finding their favorite antler right below it. Once your shed dog pup consistently runs to the silhouette to find the shed, it's time for the next step.
Phase Three: Change it Up
Apply a little rack wax all over the shed to really get your dog used to the smell. Keep the silhouette in the same spot in your yard, but move the shed a couple feet away. Your dog will probably run to the silhouette, then see or smell its way to the shed.
Phase Four: Remove the Silhouette
Remove the silhouette, but keep the antler sheds in the same places they were. Your dog won't be able to rely strictly on sight from far away. It should remember where it found the antlers before. Once your dog is comfortable finding sheds in your open yard without the silhouette, it's time to move on.
Phase Five: Light Cover
Repeat the sequence above in some longer grass or light brush to get your dog through the process it recognizes. It won't be able to use sight this time and will rely on scent instead.
At this stage, it's a good idea to wash your antlers with scent-free soap and handle them with latex gloves only. Apply rack wax to the shed, which will wean them off of using your scent to find the shed.
Eventually, your shed dog will be comfortable finding sheds based on smell alone. Once it gets close, the antler profile will help locate it by sight as well.
If at any point your shed dog gets confused about how to find the shed, you might be moving too fast. Go back one step and take a little more time until it's comfortable.
Try not to use treats as a reward for retrieving a shed antler, as your shed dog will expect this in the field. Instead, rely on verbal and physical praise.
If your dog is also a bird dog, make sure you use a separate command from hunting season. For example, use "Find the bone," instead of "Hunt 'em up."
Now get outside and spend some time with your puppy!
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