Dogs are considered man's best friend for a number of reasons; they are loyal, loving, affectionate, and they can be trained to do amazing things. Police departments and law officials use them to locate narcotics, firearms, and explosives with their keen sense of smell. But did you know that dogs can help you find antler sheds as well? If you're interested in training your dog to find antlers, continue reading and I'll tell you how you can train them to become your new favorite shed hunting buddy.
Benefits of Using a Dog To Find Antlers
- A dog's sense of smell is far superior to that of a humans. Using their nose, they can sniff out and locate shed antlers that people like you and me wouldn't be able to find.
- Dogs are able to get into thick, dense brush to retrieve antlers.
- It's a heck of a lot more fun taking a dog with you to hunt for sheds than doing it alone!
My Antler-Hunting Dog
Let me first start off by saying that I'm not a professional dog trainer, and when I got my Golden Labrador Retriever, Jesse, I had no intentions on training her to become a shed hunting dog. In fact, I originally wasn't even aware people trained dogs to find antlers. Not long after getting her, though, one of my hunting buddies saw my dog and was telling me about how he had seen someone train their Lab to sniff out sheds in the woods. With this knowledge at hand, I thought I might as well try and train Jesse. After all, the only thing I had to lose was time, and I enjoyed spending time with Jesse.
After talking with some people who trained their dogs to find antlers, and scouring the internet for advice on training Labrador's, I had a good idea on how train her. What I didn't know, though, was just how quickly she would catch on. Jesse now goes on every antler hunt I go on and is almost certain to find more sheds than I do. Anytime I bring along buddies or guests on shed hunting trips, they are always amazed at her uncanny ability to find sheds.
Which Breeds are The Best Shed Hunters?
I've only trained my Lab, Jesse, to find sheds, so I really can't say what the best shed hunting breed is. I do know Labrador Retrievers are one of the most popular breeds for this because of their intelligence, sense of smell and ability to obey commands. I've also heard that Dachshunds can be trained to be effective shed hunters.
The most important thing, though, is making sure your dog will obey and follow your commands in the woods. Dogs that run off at the sight of a squirrel or any other animal creates a dangerous situation.
The Basics of Training
Before you start, you're going to need lots of treats (milk biscuits work well) and lots of antlers. You can either go out and try to find some sheds in the woods, or you can buy them online. Remember, only authentic antlers work, as fake ones don't carry the same scent and feel. Try to get ones that are fresh and not completely sun bleached or dried out. Old antlers are likely to have lost a significant portion of their scent, making it difficult for your dog to locate them by smell.
Step #1 - Introducing Deer Antlers
You'll want to give deer antlers to your dog as early as possible to get them used to the look, feel, and scent that they give off. This is one of the keys to successfully training your dog to find sheds in the wild. Try tossing some deer antler sheds out in the yard and say a command, such as "go get it" or "get the antlers." If your dog obeys your command and successfully retrieves the antlers, give them a treat followed by lots of petting and praise. Positive reinforcement goes a long ways when it comes to any form of dog training and/or obedience.
Don't worry if your dog wont immediately go after the antler. You may need to get them used to playing with it by putting it under their nose and almost teasing them with it. This shouldn't be difficult, as most dogs will grow fond of playing antlers pretty quickly. Dogs instinctively love to fetch items thrown by their owners, so toss it out in the yard and let them chase it. Once they bring it back, give them a treat.
Step #2 - Hide-And-Seek
Once your dog is accustomed to the scent of deer antlers, it's time to step up their training to the next level. Assuming you have access to some woods or a forest, hide a couple of them in moderately difficult areas. Place them underneath some leaves about 30 to 40 yards apart and give your dog the fetch command that you've previously trained them with.
If they don't immediately go after the antlers, which they probably won't on their first try, just walk over to the areas with the antlers and see if your dog can sense it. When they've found it, them a treat and lots of praise. Keep doing this once a day and you should see start to see improvements in how fast your dog is able to uncover the antlers.
Step #3 - The "Real" Thing
Once your dog has some training under their belt, it's time to take them out on a real antler hunt with you. Just go about your search as you normally would, walking down trails and scanning your surroundings. Hopefully, your dog will pick up on the scent of a nearby shed and follow it. Keep your dog in sight and call them back if they try to run off without you. Once they find an antler, continue with the rewarding and praise. Alternatively, if you see an antler that your dog doesn't, say the fetch command and let them uncover it.
That's really all there is to training your dog to find antlers. Just keep taking your dog out there on your hunts and give them the opprotunity to find the sheds. Keep rewarding your dog when they make a find and before you know it, your dog will be uncovering sheds left and right.
Tips For Training Your Dog To Find Antlers
- Always be positive and reward your dog with a treat and praise when they find an antler. If they don't find anything, don't punish or scold them.
- Keep your training sessions short. Typically, 20 to 30 minute sessions per day is more than enough needed to train.
- Let your dog play with antlers and use them as chew toys. Not only will this allow them to get used to the antlers, but antlers contain beneficial nutrients like calcium.
- Always keep your dog in sight, and if they run too far away, call them back. It's dangerous for dogs to chase after animals in the woods.
- If you haven't done so already, you'll want to train your dog basic commands, such as sit, stay and come. This will help make sure your dog is obedient and will obey your commands when you're out in the woods.