Training Your Dog to Find Shed Antlers

Dog with shed

I've never found a decent shed antler. Ever. I've found just about everything else in the woods--arrowheads, old bottles, deer, and cattle bones--but never a good shed. Granted, I haven't spent a ton of time in the woods post deer season, but I do know some dog men who have gone as far as to train their pups to find sheds.

Captain Jamie Hough, a Charleston, S.C. fishing guide and hunter, worked with his dog, a redbone-treeing walker mix, from the day he brought it home. Jackson, (pictured above) spent his puppyhood chewing on antlers instead of rawhide, and quickly became adept at uncovering the racks wherever they were hidden. Nowadays, when Hough is out in the field in late winter Jackson is on a perpetual shed hunt. And he finds plenty. But training a shed dog, it seems, isn't always that easy--or cheap.

While there's not much literature out there on the proper way to train a shed dog, I did find a kennel that offers classes on the subject. For $7,500 you can purchase a fully-trained shed dog from Ventosa Kennel that will do just about everything but grow its own rack. The folks at Ventosa take their work seriously--they have the largest training facility for Police K9 dogs in the nation. If you'd rather use your own dog, Ventosa offers a 3-day seminar for $595.

The kennel does offer some advice for picking a good shed dog. It seems hunt drive and retrieving instincts are paramount, which means the retriever breeds--Labs, Goldens, Chesapeakes--are excellent candidates, but the working breeds do well, too.

For now, Pritch and I are too focused on preparing for the upcoming duck season to bother with any other type of training, but I'm curious how many of you shed hunters have trained your dog to help out. Or if you'd be willing to part with 7,500 smackers to have shed-finding machine?