Whitetail Hunting photo
Lee Kjos

As the owner of Ventosa Kennel (ventosakennel.com) in Scotland Neck, N.C., Tracy Bowling specializes in prepping dogs for police work. And that happens to make him pretty well suited for training shed dogs, too. “Training for narcotics or bomb detection is different–but not different at all than for shed detection,” says Bowling. While there are plenty of decent shed dogs that have been trained casually in backyards, Bowling feels most amateurs take the wrong approach. Here’s how Bowling trains:

1. Pick the right pup.
You want a pup with high prey and hunt drives, such as a retriever (Labrador, golden) or a working breed (German shepherd, Malinois). But not every dog will do. Test a pup out by tossing some short retrieves (do not use a shed at this stage). Look for unbridled enthusiasm. You’ll also need to ensure the dog has enough drive. Throw the ball into thick cover and observe how long he’ll search and whether he’s using his nose.

2. Imprint the scent.
To get your dog excited about shed hunting, you need to get him excited about the scent of sheds. Take a tennis ball and rub it on a shed–the fresher the antler, the better. Or store the ball and the shed together. Then work with the dog on short retrieves. Eventually work your way up to tossing the ball into thick cover. Give a reward after good sessions.

3. Hide the shed.
Once the dog is accustomed to the scent of sheds, it’s time to break out the antlers for what Bowling calls odor recognition. The biggest mistake people make, says Bowling, is that they don’t think about the wind while training. At first, try some easy finds, and reward good effort. Then move to tougher tests. But always work the dog into the wind. Let him learn to use his nose.