How to Train a Dog to Find Shed AntlersPosted by on 02/12/2016 to Hunting
Training a dog to find sheds is a great way to cover more ground in search of those prized antlers. I trained my German shorthair to find sheds when she was a puppy, but training an older dog is achievable as long as they have the drive. There are many ways to teach a dog to find something, but here is how I did it. I started before I even had a dog by reading a book called “Game Dog” by Richard Wolters. It was written by a guy that has trained many dogs to retrieve, and while it doesn’t mention anything about your dog retrieving sheds, the basic principles apply. It’s also a great book for those of us that haven’t trained many dogs as it starts with the basics and progresses to advanced stages of retrieving.
One mistake I hear many people make is trying to train a dog that is so young it doesn’t even know its name yet. Also, talking to your dog like it understands English doesn’t work well either. Using short commands like “find bone” is much better than pointing towards the woods and saying “alright boy it’s time to go look for shed antlers, let’s get out there and find ’em!”
The first step to getting your dog to look for sheds is to get them excited about antlers. I began when my dog was a puppy just throwing a small shed antler around the yard. When the dog picked it up I would give her praise using treats. If you are having trouble getting your dog to pick up sheds, try using something they will easily pick up such as a tennis ball. The ball acts as a medium for them to easily grab onto. Stick a spike shed through the tennis ball and as the dog learns to retrieve the small antlered tennis ball, put a bigger shed through the tennis ball to help them transition from ball to shed. You can also try using antler dummies to help your dog get accustom to the shape of the object they are looking for.
Once “Cabela” was regularly retrieving sheds that I would throw in the yard, I switched to a blind retrieve. I used long grass to hide the shed from plain site and that forced her to use her nose to find the sheds. When I knew she was using her nose to locate sheds that I placed, I now needed to remove all the human scent from the antlers I put out. I did this by placing sheds on my woodpile and exposed them to sunlight for a week. I then picked them up using 2 dead sticks which allowed me to walk around the woods and drop them but still kept the human scent off them. I have heard of some guys using the dishwasher without soap to get the human scent off sheds but that seems like a bit of a hassle to me.
When she would find the sheds I placed, I would give her praise and play fetch with her using a tennis ball.
In the beginning I would play fetch with the shed she brought me but then I realized after she brought me a few fresh sheds that were chewed almost in half that I didn’t always want to play fetch with the same shed she just brought me. Also, I think she could smell her own slobber so if I threw the same shed out, she would just be looking for that shed and not a wild one that has no slobber. I now use the tennis ball because it’s an easy thing to carry in my pocket and have at a moment’s notice when a shed is brought to me.
The best tool for training your shed dog is a wild shed. If you find a shed while out in the woods, let your dog find it before you go over and pick it up. I realize that sheds are cool and amazing, but you can wait 1 more minute to gawk at it after your dog brings it to you. Don’t get discouraged if your dog runs past a shed. Some days dogs just can’t pick up enough scent to know that a shed is there, or maybe they ran on the upwind side and didn’t get any scent at all. Also try not to walk up and point to it because you really aren’t teaching them to find sheds on their own by doing that. Use these tips to help you and your dog get out there and “find bone!”