Tips on Training Your Shed Dog

Training your bird dog to find sheds is easy, as there is a lot of overlap between the two skills.  Here, secrets from Tom Dokken – longtime shed dog and retriever trainer – will be discussed.

Make Training Fun

Shed dog training is simple, and like all conditioned behaviors is reliant on your pet’s enthusiasm and motivation for work.  Dogs with inherent retrieving instincts thrive while performing this job, because retrieving comes natural to them.  However, it is important that you treat shed antler training with as much enthusiasm and positivity as you did when starting your dog with marks in the field.

Begin Indoors

Remember when you started your puppy with drills in the hallway?  No matter the age of your shed-dog-in-training, start small and simple.  File down the sharp tips from a shed antler for use as a dummy, or purchase a soft antler replica for the initial training.  Then, toss the dummy down the hallway and encourage your dog to bring it back.  

Move Outdoors

After your dog has shown proficiency indoors, make the shed retrieves more difficult by moving to a distracting location, such as your backyard.  Here you can work on longer shed retrieves.  If your dog has a tendency to walk away with the antler in his or her mouth, use a check cord to help your pet with recall.

Overlay Commands

Until now, the shed antler exercises have not been much different than when your dog was being taught to retrieve game.  When your dog has mastered the retrieval of shed antlers at longer distances, it is time to introduce a command to distinguish antler tracking from bird retrieval.  “Find the bone” is common, but any simple command will work.

Teach Tracking Skills

When searching for shed antlers, your dog will have to rely on his or her nose.  After your dog is reliably returning sheds, it is time to teach your pet to search for them.  Use a scent product, such as Dokken Rack Wax, to cover the shed antler dummy with scent. Start with simple hiding places and ask your dog to “find the bone.”  Over time, increase the difficulty of these drills.

Finishing Touches

The final test for your dog is to find the bone without the help of any human scent.  Remove all human odors from the antler by washing it with deodorizing soap and handling it with rubber gloves.  Don’t forget to start small here, and to provide plenty of positive praise when your dog succeeds.