Tom Dokken is one of the nation’s best-known trainers of shed-hunting dogs. These are his tips for turning your best friend into a bone-hunting machine.
Find a Fetcher
“A shed-hunting dog has to love to retrieve, regardless of breed.” Dokken says. If your dog aims to please and enjoys retrieving games, she might make a top-notch shed hunter.
Start Easy and Fun
“Make the antler a fun retrieving dummy,” says Dokken. If your dog lives in the house, hide a shed there and prompt the dog to find and retrieve it. Eventually, move outdoors and place sheds in more natural environments. As the dog’s skill level increases, so should the difficulty.
Eliminate Human Scent
As you begin expanding the search area, make sure the dog is keying on the antler and not a trail of human odors. Dokken uses rubber gloves and rubber boots when working with advanced dogs. He even sells a scent ($10; shed dogtrainer.com) that mimics the waxy substance left on a deer’s antler after it falls off the pedicle.
Up Your Odds
Being in the woods soon after deer begin losing their antlers makes it easier for the dog to pick up antler scent, but antlers that are dropped in December can still be found in April, says Dokken. He allows his dogs to work on their own, and says that their range will expand with experience, but that proper discipline is key in controlling that range.