One evening this past winter, Hank greeted us in the driveway with a large antler shed, tail wagging at 60 mph awaiting approval. We didn’t think much of it until the next day when the matching shed appeared on our back doorstep. Together, they were recognizable as a wide 8 pointer we had captured on camera and passed up during the previous deer season. We just might have a shed hunter on our hands! I started to research how to go about training Hank, and found many informational articles to reach our goal. The following combines some of the most common tips, tricks and suggestions that have worked for other shed hunters in training their companions.
Teaching your dog to retrieve sheds is comparable to most other obedience training regimens. Having basic commands mastered is extremely helpful at the beginning of this process. Patience and consistency is key! Turning the learning into a game, and providing rewards will yield the best results.
Start with a simple game of fetch in a somewhat confined space. Using a real, small shed with any sharp tines whittled down will encourage the dog or puppy to recognize the scent of what he will be searching for outdoors in the future. You may also consider using a product such as Rack Wax, from Tom Dokken, President of the North American Shed Hunting Dog Association. It enhances the natural scent from the base of a shed or cast antler. Toss the antler and have the dog bring it back to you repeatedly. Practice this game as often as possible for a few weeks, even if it’s only 10-15 minutes a day.
Once they have mastered fetching in the confined space, give it a try outside. Here you can introduce the command, ”Find the bone!” This wording can be used to differentiate between the shed and other objects that the dog may be used to playing with or hunting for. Try using a leash if the dog attempts to run off with the shed or gets distracted. Treats are essential throughout these first two steps, as you’ll want to keep the dog interested and excited to follow prompts.
Once these initial steps are completed, you can re-enact a real hunt. Hide a few sheds amongst bushes or tall grass, careful not to spread them out too far apart. You can use surveyor’s tape or rope to mark the area and give the dog a guideline in the beginning. Use the command, “Find the bone!” and let them loose. Gradually increase the difficulty of this game, and keep practicing for several weeks. Dokken suggests eliminating your scent from the antler when hiding it, so that the dog has to pick up on the antlers scent alone. You can wash the antler in a scent-eliminating soap, then avoid handling it with your bare hands. Wear rubber boots when walking to hide the shed and then repeatedly back track so that you don’t have a straight scent trail leading to the hiding spot. Once he’s got the commands and routine down pat, it’s time to move into deer territory and let him at it. When venturing into the woods or field, bring some sheds along with you. Hiding them along your route provides an opportunity to give the command and keep the dog focused in case you don’t come across anything else.
There are so many benefits to getting outside and enjoying this time with your best four-legged friend. Great exercise, a growing shed collection, and the excitement of sizing up the deer in your area are just a few. It’s also a great opportunity to bring the kids along and get them involved in hunting early. For more tips and information on this subject, check out some of the links below.
- North American Shed Hunting Dog Association
- Everything Shed Dog
- Tom Dokken's Oak Ridge Kennels
- Outdoor Life - Beginning Shed-Hunting Training
- Antler Dogs
Watch Hank in action!