You can easily turn your trained retriever into a shed dog by incorporating a few simple drills into your dog’s training. Here, shed dog training drills recommended by renowned retriever / shed dog trainer Tom Dokken are discussed.
In this first drill, the goal is simply to make your dog excited about picking up sheds. Take the smallest shed you can find, remove any sharp tines, and toss it in your house or yard. Encourage your dog to pick up the antler, and treat your pet as if he or she is the smartest dog in the world when picking up the bone. The more excited you can make your dog, the better.
In shed hunting, you want your retriever to work independently from you when seeking out sheds. Your dog should use both nose and eyes while shed hunting. To develop your dog’s sight skills, create a large silhouette of a shed (such as a cardboard cutout in the rudimentary shape of antlers) and place it in the ground like a flag, with a shed antler next to it. Your dog will want to investigate the silhouette. When he or she runs over to the cut out, give a command such as “find the bone.” Your dog will associate the sight of the antlers with the reward of the retrieve, which will help develop the animal’s skills.
The next drill you can perform with your retriever relies on your dog’s nose. By nature, sheds do not have a lot of scent, but your dog’s highly sensitive nose will still be able to detect the subtle odor. You can apply scent, such as Rack Wax, to the base and tines of an antler to aid your dog in learning this distinct scent. Start with the same drill as above, where the scented antlers are placed near the silhouettes. Next, remove the silhouettes, but place the scented sheds in the same area as where the silhouettes once stood. Finally, when your dog is getting the hang of this drill hide the sheds in harder to find areas, such as tall grass, to force your pet to use its nose.
The final drills you should run before your dog is ready for a real shed hunt should simulate the scenarios your dog will encounter in the field. These can be incorporated into your dog’s training once he or she is reliably using sight and smell to find the hidden sheds. To begin, place heavily-scented antlers in difficult-to-find areas. Next, reduce the amount of wax you apply to the sheds, while also removing as much human odor as possible with deodorizing cleansers, and handling them with rubber gloves. Finally, increase the size of the sheds that you use in training so that your dog has practice handling large pieces of bone.
During these drills, never hesitate to return to and repeat an earlier drill if more reinforcement is necessary. Above all, keep training sessions short and fun, and always set up your dog for success.