Hunting for sheds or cast antlers is simply looking for and collecting antlers that have been shed during the winter months. The difference between a person who happens to stumble upon the odd antler shed and those who have shelves full of them, is more often than not a good dog.
To get started, it helps to have a young enthusiastic pup. This doesn’t mean that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks. In fact, many good shed dogs have been trained as mature dogs, but it’s easier if you can start with a young recruit. The way to get a dog started on shed collecting is to convince it that antlers are desirable. Dogs naturally want to please you. If you are pleased when your dog brings you an antler, he will want to repeat it. Most pet supply places now sell small antlers as toys for dogs. Purchase a size that is easily managed by the dog you wish to train and start using it as a training dummy. Praise him when he brings it to you.
Once he’s consistently retrieving, start hiding it, say in another room, and have him search for it. Make a game of it. Remember, dogs attention spans vary. Be sure to keep training sessions short and fun, particularly with young dogs. After training in a controlled area is mastered, move the game outside.
The Right Stuff
Any breed of dog that has a strong desire to please and will bring items to its owner is capable of making a great shed dog. That said, retriever breeds are the most likely to possess the traits that make for a good shed collector.
Once your dog knows that you want antlers, it is ready to take into the field and start hunting and gathering. Ultimately, whether you go home with a shed or empty-handed, the joy and rewards of being in the field and forests again is just what the doctor ordered for those looking to shake off the winter rust.
First published in the March 2014 issue of Ontario OUT OF DOORS.