A couple years ago I received a phone call from a gentleman who was an avid deer hunter. He owned hundreds of acres of land in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota, and his question to me somewhat caught me off guard, but yet left me very intrigued. He asked, “Do you have any pups for sale that can find deer antlers?” Being a deer hunter myself I knew exactly what he meant!
Having read about dogs that were being trained to hunt for and find sheds, I knew the answer that I was going to give him. “Yep, we have pups coming up that would fit your exact needs.”
Now not exactly breeding this particular litter as “Shed Hunting Dogs,” I still knew that these upcoming pups will have the kind of drive and athleticism necessary for being top retrievers. This was the third litter from one of our top females, and all the previous pups have had an incredible amount of retrieving desire, which is what it takes for any retriever to make a strong hunting dog.
The challenge was then set, after this guy decided to purchase one of our upcoming pups, we set out to make it a dog that would find sheds!
The first thing we did was observed the litter of yellow Labs from day one. Since he wanted a female, we kept track of which pup was the most dominant with its litter mates. After whelping the puppies to seven weeks of age, we had the future owner come out and pick out his pup. We explained to him about the puppies characteristics throughout the weaning process, and advised him on the most dominant female in the litter.
We also suggested that after he makes his decision, that we would like to keep the dog for an extra week so that we can begin the retrieving process with the entire litter. We do this with our gundogs as well to bring out some competitive behavior with birds. However, with “Shooter,” the pup he picked out, we used small antlers, rather than bird wings. This really showed her true “alpha personality,” since she wanted to steal every shed from each dog in the litter.
Practice Retrieves With Sheds
When she went home we informed the owner to throw and play with nothing but antlers so the most important item in her life was sheds. While throwing retrieves for her, we told him to stop the game when he felt his dog wanted to continue. Meaning, if he felt the dog’s attention span was good for six retrieves, stop on number five. By doing so, the dog will continue to want more, and you can slowly increase this number. You can steadily get the dogs attention span to the point where you can throw retrieves until your arm falls off throughout the first five months with this technique.
The author says anyone who wants a finished shed hunter, should force fetch the dog.
After the dog has shown its desire to retrieve the sheds, I suggested hiding the sheds both in the house and out in the yard. When the dog would find one, give the dog a bunch of praise and throw it for her a few times. If your retrieving desire is set, the dog will actually start looking for (or hunt for) the shed so it gets rewarded with the retrieve. This beginning process is very similar to how we begin training on birds!
Of course, you also begin the control process the same as you would any dog. Begin commands like “sit,” “stay,” “heel,” and “come.” This can be done with positive reinforcement at first, but as the dog matures, start to add your choke chain and leash into the equation. As the dog reaches those “teen-age” years, around 8- to 12 months old, you should start to get more demanding with the commands and should start the remote collar conditioning to gain off leash recall.
One thing I would highly recommend to anyone who wants a finished shed hunter, is to make sure you force fetch the dog. What I mean is to train a structured retrieve that should include “fetch,” “hold” and “drop.” This element of training will ensure that when a dog finds a shed, he or she will realize that not only will they want to bring it back to the owner, they almost have to! Be sure to ask a professional about this before taking it on yourself. Force fetching is also best done around that 10- to 12-month age frame.
If everything is done in sequence, we should have a dog around a year old that is ready to go. Again, if done in the correct order, the dog should have the desire to retrieve and find the shed, and the control and regiment to understand certain conditions the go along with the actual hunt for antlers. Then it is up to you, the owner, to go out and an enjoy the spring hunt with your dog.
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Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels (http://www.cannonriverkennels.com/) In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. For more information on training your dog with Cannon River Kennels, call 507-663-6143 or visit (http://www.cannonriverkennels.com/) He provides dog training tips twice a month.