If you’re interested in training a dog to pick up and retrieve shed antlers, then you’ll want to watch this video I shot of Tom Dokken working with a young dog named Tank. The appropriately named pooch belongs to Lee and Tiffany Lakosky from the Outdoor Channel’s “The Crush.”
Like all dog training, teaching a pup to pick up shed antlers begins simply — with easy and encouraging retrieves and games of search-and-find indoors. As Dokken notes in the video, food rewards are used in the beginning phases to add importance to the antler — there’s no way a bone can compete with the scent of feathers (or fur, if you were training a hound).
Before you can get to this point in training, however, you have to teach the dog that the shed antler is what you want him to focus on. Playing fetch to begin with and then moving to the dog picking up an easily visible antler on his own and delivering it are starting points. After the dog understands that finding a shed is the object of the game and he eagerly seeks them out, then you can progress to hiding them throughout the room — under pillows, behind doors, in a corner or up/down a couple of steps.
Watch (or rather, listen) to how Dokken encourages the dog to stick with picking up the antler and making the retrieve in the video. The antler is hidden behind some waders and the dog is a bit intimidated by swinging boots and is puzzling out exactly how best to pick up the antler.
Tank is only 9 months old in these videos and, like all puppy retrieves and introductions, lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement needs to be used. Listen to Dokken’s voice and how he keeps Tank digging for the shed.