If you want a dog that can find shed antlers, then eventually you have to move past indoor puppy games and advance to more challenging training exercises. In these two videos, Tom Dokken discusses the training of Tank, owned by Lee and Tiffany Lakosky, stars of “The Crush” on the Outdoor Channel.As you can see in the video, Tank is hunting outside in the snow. He didn’t, however, jump to this level of training overnight. It took time and started long before with much more simple drills.
What Tank is running in the video is an advanced pattern drill; very similar to teaching a dog to quarter in search of upland birds. Before a dog can make it to this level of training, however, you have to teach him that the shed antler is the object he should be searching out. This is done with puppy games of simple retrieves, easy hide-and-seek indoors, as in my last blog post, and eventually progresses to a simple pattern drill.
To start the pattern drill, you lay out sheds in the same simple pattern and teach the dog to seek these destinations out using their eyes and memory. Dokken has invented antler silhouettes to help speed the process (see photo above).
Using the silhouettes, you can pull a dog to the area of a hidden antler and from much greater distances. At first you would keep the antler close to the silhouette to ensure an easy find. As the dog begins to understand the game and uses his eyes to seek out the very visible silhouettes, you can begin to hide the shed antler further and further away — forcing him to use his nose and teaching him perserverance.
Dokken also uses multiple silhouettes in combination to break through barriers and different cover. The first silhouette would pull the dog to the general area and upon reaching the spot he would see the second silhouette that can pull him into thicker/higher cover in search of a shed.
The reason behind this is that dogs are funny when it comes to changes in cover. They will “bounce off” thicker/higher cover and hunt the edge unless you train them to break through. The silhouettes can help pull them past that barrier and get them hunting an area.
Check out the two videos of Tank hunting up some shed antlers in an advanced pattern drill and how he delivers them to Dokken and then returns to the field upon cue.