Shed hunting is a fast growing sport that is not only rewarded with finding deer antlers but it is also great exercise. Training your dog to hunt sheds can increase your shed hunting coverage area tenfold and also provide you with a companion during those long hikes while looking for sheds. Training your dog to hunt sheds is relatively easy to do, in the following article, (part 1 of 3), I'll go over the first phase of shed hunting training.
The first phase of the training is to introduce the dog to the shape of the antler and introduce them to antler scent, while making it fun and rewarding for the dog. To begin, I started off with the Shed Hunting Antler Retriever Training Kit from Dog Bone. This kit has everything that you need to get started with training. The kit includes a rubber antler, antler training scent, and a training manual.
Why use the rubber antler? I recommend using the rubber antler at first because when first introducing your dog to antlers they are going to go in hard when retrieving. The last thing you want is for them to go in too hard and get poked in the mouth or face with a point of the antler, this could turn the dog off to antler hunting and possibly injure the dog. The rubber antler is also easy on their mouth and will hold up to repetitive throwing and retrieving.
Where to begin? I suggest beginning with simple retrieve training using the training antler as if it was a training bumper or dummy. Get your dog excited about the training antler then start with a small distance toss and have your dog retrieve the antler. Make sure to reward your dog with either praise or a treat depending on what works best as a motivator for your dog. Progress into further and further throws. This will get your dog use to seeing the outline and shape of the antler on the ground while being a fun game to them. The shed training antler dummy by Dog Bone comes with a nice throwing rope attached to the base of the antler that serves a twofold purpose. First it provides a mechanical advantage allowing you to increase your throw range to several dozen yards with ease. Second, it provides a clean way to grab the training antler once you introduce training scents. Holding onto the rope while applying training scent keeps your hands off of any areas that training scent was potentially applied to.
Introducing the Antler Training Scent
After getting the basic antler dummy retrieving done, it is time to add in the antler training scent. We have two options for scents, the Rack Wax by Dokken and the Shed Hunting Antler Scent by Dog Bone. Since the Shed Hunting Antler Scent was included in the training kit I chose to use it. Some friendly advice, be careful with this stuff it is pretty strong scent. Apply the training scent to the training antler; I started with a few drops onto the main beam and to all of the points. Make sure to hold onto the antler at the base while applying the scent and grab it by the throw rope the rest of the training session to avoid getting the scent on your hands.
Once the training scent is applied to the training antler, resume doing simple throw and retrieve training with the antler. The goal to this step is to get the dog to associate the antler scent to the antler, which will come in handy once the antler is no longer visible and they have to use their nose to find it.
The goals of phase 1 of training is to get your dog excited about shed hunting, recognize the shape and outline of an antler shed, and to get your dog to begin keening in on the antler scent. Once your dog has these skills mastered it is time to move onto phase 2 where we begin improving their ability to smell out antlers to enable finding them not only by sight but also smell. In the wild, antler can be hidden under leaves and downed branches or even between rocks out of sight, your dog having the ability to smell them will greatly increase your finds.