Photo: John Hafner
I know you can train your dog to find shed antlers because I’ve done it before. My old buddy Zeke became a pretty fair shed fetcher, though it required quite a bit of convincing to get him interested in such inanimate objects. All my dogs are bird-hunting fiends, interested in little else. So when we hit the field, they want feathers, not bone.
But it can work, and the interest among outdoorsmen to train their dogs to hunt sheds has been on the upswing. Tom Dokken, a well-respected dog trainer and owner of Dokken’s Dog Supply in Northfield, Minnesota, has developed a training program for teaching dogs to hunt sheds and has introduced a line of products for the purpose. He says pretty much anyone can teach their dogs the technique.
Here are the basics.
“You’ll want a dog with good retrieving instincts that will naturally want to pick something up and bring it back to you,” Dokken said. “Get a shed antler and start out with some fun tosses around the house. Make fetching a game. Work in some voice commands — words that don’t sound like other commands the dog may know. I just say, ‘Find the bone.’”
Keep training fun, positive and successful
“Giving the dog treats when it brings a shed to you will speed up the process,” Dokken said. “I don’t usually use treats in training hunting dogs, but here you can use an incentive. Sheds are hard. They aren’t warm and fuzzy. They don’t smell good like a bird. A treat will make it worth picking up.”
Training can progress to hiding the antler around the house, then taking it into the backyard, increasing the number of sheds to pick up.
“Up to now the dog will be finding the sheds mainly because of the scent from your hands,” Dokken said. “Eventually you need to eliminate that scent — using rubber gloves and boots when you put out the sheds.”
Work in basic obedience training
If the dog hasn’t had basic obedience training, progress logically and slowly from basic, universally commands to simulating real shed-hunting conditions. Keep it fairly easy for the dog, making sure it has plenty of success, which will encourage it and help it learn faster.
“And remember, when you’re out there hunting sheds and you spot one, don’t pick it up! Call the dog over to get it!” Dokken said.
Serious about training and need more information?
Dokken offers a line of products to assist in the process. He also has a series of training videos. You can find it all on his website, sheddogtrainer.com.