What’s better than exercising all day by walking miles of beautiful country and finding a few shed antlers along the way? Answer: Doing all that with your favorite four-legged companion! No matter your dog’s age or breed, you can train it to be a shed-hunting machine. Keep reading to learn how to get started.
Training sessions with your dog shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes per day and three times per week. Short, frequent training sessions give your dog plenty of time to learn shed-antler skills while preventing the frustration of long, overworked sessions. You must have a positive attitude throughout the process. Accept that your dog won’t learn how to find antlers overnight, so learn to enjoy the training process. Train with excitement and reward your dog for proper behavior. It will reflect your attitude in its efforts.
First, your dog must know how to retrieve. Start with a ball, favorite toy or rolled-up towel, and play fetch. This game teaches your dog to find an object and bring it back to you. The more fetch you play, the more you reinforce the behavior. Reward retrieves with praise and treats, and your dog will soon bring back everything you throw.
Once your dog knows how to retrieve, introduce it to a soft shed antler. By starting with a soft replica, you’ll eliminate the possibility of your dog hurting itself by getting poked by a real antler. Deer antlers have recognizable shapes that easily differentiate them from other objects. By easily recognizing these shapes and the antler’s harmless nature, your dog will progress as a shed-antler hunter. Don’t take chances with real antlers just yet.
Start by playing fetch in a narrow hallway with the fake antler to get your dog excited. The hallway eliminates distractions and keeps your dog focused on the shed. Move this process outside eventually, and then start hiding the soft antler in your backyard or a dog park. Let your dog watch you hide the antler at first, but gradually make the process more difficult. When you send your dog to search, use the command, “Find the shed!” By consistently using this command, you help your dog understand what it’s seeking.
Introducing the Antler
Now it’s time for the real thing. Let your dog chew on a real antler for a few minutes, but no longer. The goal is to help the dog get a feel for real antlers, and learn that they’ll never be chew toys.
Don’t play fetch with real sheds. One bad bounce can poke the dog and make it fear sheds. Instead, hide the antler out of the dog’s sight, return to your dog, and give the command, “Find the shed!” You’ll soon notice a focus level your dog won’t display during normal play time. Finding the shed is all business. Reward your dog for successful recoveries, and you’ll soon have a well-schooled shed-hunting companion.
Follow the Nose
Your dog’s nose is its primary antler-finding asset. Sheds, especially those freshly dropped, have an odor your dog can detect long before it sees the prize. Teach your dog to identify the smell by using a bottle of antler scent bought from a local archery shop.
Wear rubber gloves to avoid contaminating the shed with human scent, and then coat the antler’s base in the artificial scent and hide it. Position your dog downwind of the hidden antler, and give the “Find the shed!” command. After a few successful finds, your dog will associate the smell with a shed. Your dog will also learn to search with the wind in its face, which is important when hunting sheds in thick bedding areas or dense CRP fields.
Put it Together
When your dog is ready for the ultimate test, head to your favorite hunting spot on a warm late-winter day after the snow begins thawing. Beat cabin fever with an afternoon in the woods. Few sights are more rewarding than seeing your dog pick up its first shed.