Training Antler Dogs
From an article in North American White Tail Magazine

Posted by: Roger, on 7/30/2007, in category "Training Antler Dogs"
Location: United States
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The training of an antler dog is a subject that easily could fill a book. For our purposes here, one of the most important considerations for achieving success is the dog itself. All the training and association in the world cannot substitute for a dog’s natural tendencies and instincts. Those hardwired abilities are the foundation for honing the skills needed to be a good antler dog.

When choosing an animal, it is critical to evaluate the dog as an individual. When a handler discovers what motivates the dog, he or she can then rely on the animal’s personality and drive to assist in the training process. This evaluation is simpler and more accurate when dealing with a young adult animal than it is when working with a puppy.

Some trainers like to get their hands on a dog at just a few weeks of age, claiming that they can create the necessary drives and enthusiasm in the animal and shape the dog to whatever configuration is needed. Perhaps. But if the trainer can determine the dog’s levels of natural tendencies and then capitalize on those behaviors to enhance what the dog is already prepared to do without training, the entire process is more productive for both the dog and the handler. With that said, there are five skills the dog must have that are all-important in order to achieve success in your training program.

 

NECESSARY SKILLS

1) The hunt drive: In other words, how long will the dog search for an object that has caught his attention? How much time and effort will he expend looking for that toy or ball — or antler — that he likes? Of course, the age of the dog enters into this aspect. The attention span of a puppy is much shorter that that of an older dog, but the animal must have a committed mind-set in this area.

2) The prey drive: Will he chase a moving object? Dogs are, in many ways, wolves that never quite grew up. As a pack-driven hunting predator, the need to chase and drag down prey is cellular in nature. What serves our purpose here is the dog that is almost possessed by the need to pursue. Even though shed antlers rarely get up and try to run away, the chase imperative is vital.

3) The play drive: Put simply, which one of you gives out first during playtime? If the dog will not quit when the two of you are playing fetch or chase, if he consistently outlasts your best efforts, and if he is always ready for the play/game interaction, then this is a dog that may well have adequate play drive.

4) Retrieve drive: Will he continue to bring it back to you long after you’re tired of throwing it? If the sight of that ball or dummy gets him so excited and motivated that he will retrieve it again and again for as long as you ask him to and not want to quit when the session is done, then the dog is well-suited in this skill area.

5) Leadership drive: Because dogs are pack animals, they have an inborn respect and desire for leadership. One of the reasons that dogs are, as a rule, more easily trained than cats is that they like to be told what to do. Will the dog submit to you? Will he look to you for instruction? Does he have a need to please you and earn your praise?

These five areas are critical in choosing an animal to train as an antler dog. It’s true that a small percentage of dogs may fall naturally into this skill, but those dogs are rare. For the most part, the old saying “practice makes perfect” applies. When you have a motivated animal, practice is fun. When practice is fun, training is a joyous exercise for both the dog and his handler. Look for a dog that gets 80 percent or higher marks in all five of these drive areas.

ACTUAL TRAINING

Once the evaluation process is completed, the actual training begins. The dog needs to be “nosey” without a doubt, but a wide range of breeds may be suitable to the task if they fill the requirements listed above. At the time of this writing, master dog trainer Roger Sigler, the dog trainer responsible for the information contained in this article, has a Labrador retriever, a German shepherd and a pit bull in his stable of trainees. Currently, the pit bull is at the top of the class.

In the early stages of training, the antler dog is worked much as if he were a bird dog. Roger uses a method that involves retrieving a ball that has been skewered with the tine of a deer antler. As training progresses, the ball is gradually reduced in size until only the antler is left. The dog’s play drive is then directed toward antlers.

In the beginning, the dog can be worked inside on a lead. As his ability and desire grow, the training sessions can be moved to the yard, a field, unfamiliar terrain, or even old outbuildings or barns. The change of location brings variety to the training experience and helps the dog’s ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand.

If the dog loves to tug, tie the antler to a rope. This way, the antler can be swung overhead as a tease before being thrown. The play drive of the dog is rewarded, and the handler’s fingers are safely unavailable to the overly excited student.

As the dog grows in ability and as his enthusiasm increases, with encouragement the animal will begin to hunt for antlers in a given area. It is vital early on that the dog be allowed to find antlers often and that he receive high praise for his efforts. As time goes by, and as the animal increasingly identifies with his job, the search areas should be expanded.

Now comes what Roger believes to be the biggest obstacle in training an antler dog. Antlers rarely attempt to run away or escape. For this reason, Roger has developed what he calls his “antler trap.”

Radio-controlled and easily positioned in a search area prior to the dog’s arrival, the trap can remain passive, loaded with an antler, and ready to go. Just as a dog will pay more attention to a live bird than a dead one, an antler dog in training will be more excited about his job if he perceives that the antler might escape. As the dog nears the trap, his handler can, using the remote radio control, cause the trap to catapult the antler into the air and away from the dog. The animal’s play response is then thrust into high gear. The dog, now with an element of risk that the antler might get away, and a chance to satisfy his need to pursue, becomes even more emotionally involved in the training.

From experience, Roger believes that patience, spaced repetition, rewards and praise can combine to the training of an antler dog. He also believes the addition of a few remote-controlled antler traps can shorten the training period significantly and create a more focused, more enthusiastic animal. Five or six of the traps in a field, with only three or four of them loaded to make sure the dog keys on the antlers and not just the traps, is ideal.

This situation can be improved even more if someone other than the handler loads the traps as much as a day before the dog enters the field, and if the antlers are freshly washed to reduce the handler’s scent level.

Many other factors come into play in the training process. Finding the type of reward most important to the dog is very important. The time of year the training is being done is also very relevant. Temperature, humidity, pollen or mold count, whether you are in fresh fescue or old wheat stubble, whether the dog is rested or fatigued, and the severity of the terrain are but a few of the factors that affect the training. The variables are nearly endless and, to a large degree, are out of the handler’s control. That is why consistency in those things that are in the handler’s control is so vital.

Above all, the dog should enjoy his job. Boredom must be avoided. If the training process is fun for the handler and fun for the dog, it creates a partnership that can accomplish almost anything. When that type of relationship happens, everybody wins and antler dog training becomes very rewarding for both man and beast!

Editor’s Note:

If you would like more information on training techniques, if you are considering the purchase of a trained dog, or if you would like information on obtaining radio-controlled antler traps, contact Master Trainer Roger Sigler at 816-289-1154 or rsigler@kc.rr.com.

When you have a motivated animal, practice is fun. When practice is fun, training is a joyous exercise for both the dog and his handler.

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Comment posted by linda messec on Saturday, December 8, 2007 6:44 PM
Do you have a book on deer shed training for dogs I can order?
Comment posted by Terry Rial on Monday, December 24, 2007 9:38 PM
I believe I have the perfect dog, it is a blue lacy. Look it up on www.lacydog.com  I have the first regestered one in Iowa. I bought it for trailing wounded deer, but found it loves to drag antlers out of a building I have. It was born in May,2007. It has an excellent nose and loves too hunt, I've been working with it with deer liver since it has been 2 months old. I am going to try it out.
Comment posted by Jeromy Moore of missoula, montana on Monday, March 3, 2008 9:31 PM
  I have a 4 1/2 year old black and a 1 1/2 year old yellow lab. Mother and daughter. The mother, "abby", is very energetic and eager to please. I think that she likes waterfowl hunting more than me. My young one, "carmen", I have not trained for waterfowl or upland. Abby is a great hunter and I can only hope that carmen will be as good. Recently I found a fresh shed and took it out on a shed hunting trip with me. I think I worked too hard on getting carmen to heel because she won't leave my side. I threw the shed into the bushes when she wasn't looking and had my buddy hide it when she wasn't watching. when we would walk by the bush I would stop if she didn't see it or smell it first. If she smelled it she would start hunting for it and come out with the shed. Tomorrow I'm going to take them both out because abby is good at putting distance between me and her from pheasant hunting. Hopefully abby will teach her that it's ok to leave my side and find some sheds before I do.         I have heard of a couple guys putting butter on horns and hiding them for the dog and weaning them off the butter. What are your thoughts on this technique and what I have done so far?  Any suggestions or tips would be big help because I'm pretty much going into this blind.    Thanks for getting something out there on hunting horns with dogs It should boost my odds immensely.
Comment posted by Jerimmy Bendle on Wednesday, March 5, 2008 1:12 PM
I would l;ike to buy an antler dog for my son, but am wondering how much it'll cost me? Does the antler dog find any size antlers, because my son looks for elk antlers all of the time.
Comment posted by Randy Workman, Bloomington, Illinois on Sunday, March 9, 2008 6:03 PM
This is an interesting subject, I have never heard of using dogs to hunt sheds. Guess reading more magazines would be beneficial. I read about you and your dogs in my north american whitetail magazine and loved the artical. I was so excited I went to my garage and found an old antler and started hiding it around my house for my six year old black lab to find after letting him smell it once. He would find it every time. I am looking forward to working with him and was wondering if you had any advice on training an older dog ? He rates very well on the five points listed on this site.
Comment posted by Becky on Friday, March 28, 2008 7:43 PM
I found this article very interesting.  My husband loves to spend all of his spare time searching for shed antlers.  He does quite well, but I am not as sucessful as he is.  After learning about teaching a dog to antler hunt, I was immediately hooked.  I started working with my 2 year old lab and she is a go-getter.  I am sure it will take a while to teach her but after just 30 minutes, I had her retrieving her ball with the antler in it, bringing it back and sitting it at my feet and sitting herself down to wait for her treat.  I think this is great progress.  (I hope anyway)   Hopefully next spring... us two women can out horn hunt the hubby.  :-)  hahaha
Comment posted by Clint Lott on Wednesday, April 2, 2008 1:59 PM
I am getting a redline Airedale pup in 2 weeks. I want to know if you have worked with these dogs on sheds or know of someone who has? She will be used as a trapline dog, but I would also like to shed hunt her. If you have any information, please let me know. You have a great website, how about a book?
Comment posted by Rory on Friday, June 27, 2008 1:10 PM
I have recently purchased a chesapeake bay retriever from a guy at work. He produces pure bread chesapeake bay retrievers as a side job. I was wanting to use this dog as a bird dog and a antler retrieving dog. These dogs are well known for there hunting and drive abilities.What do you think. Im goin to pick him up sunday. I have a few questions. 1. Will this work trying to have multiple jobs for a dog. 2. If not then could he be a good antler breed. 3. There are not alot of people who train dogs for antler retrieval, would you be willing to answer questions as they arose for me? 4.Should i send the dog to obedience school or try doing it myself? =A0 I know this is a bit of questions but i havent been able to really find any= people to really help me.=20 =A0 Thank You Rory Picker
Comment posted by Alison on Wednesday, November 26, 2008 7:20 PM
Hi, I see that the article says the pit bull is at the top of the class(of course:) I was wondering how he or she is doing with the training? I own a pit bull and I also shed hunt (I have yet to find any)...anyway, I think I am going to start training him...
Comment posted by Jordan Mattox on Monday, December 8, 2008 6:26 PM
Can anyone tell me what a trained antler dog would cost or what it would cost to send one off to be trained?
Comment posted by Andrew Marlinski on Friday, January 2, 2009 10:48 PM
hey uncle rodge its andrew
Comment posted by john wright on Thursday, January 22, 2009 8:01 PM
Do you think bloodhounds would be very good or not? And if not why.
Comment posted by Jonah on Friday, February 27, 2009 10:52 AM
okay, so i have a female Golden Retriever, who is used to going on the farm, and finding everything dealing with deer body's. however, she seems to have no interest in antlers. i have tried everything, and am more than "enthusiastic" when it comes to her just picking one up that i threw. i would appreciate some techniques very much..... Jonah from Chelsea Michigan.
Comment posted by matt reifsnyder on Sunday, March 8, 2009 11:39 AM
I think the method of catapulting a horn into the air with a raido transmitter is kind of crazy but could work. But is there another way to accompolish this theory without having to buy radios and a trap and finding a way to catapult the horns?
Comment posted by Sammy Prudhomme on Sunday, March 15, 2009 12:40 PM
Hello Roger, I have an 11 week old Black Lab (Champ. Hunter), picked her up at 8 weeks old. I read from another antler dog trainer that you should let a pup be a pup for at lease 6 months then start training them. After having her just a week I could not stand it I had to see what she would do with it. I took her out in the yard, let her smell it and tossed it about 25 yards. She ran after it and brought it back to me. I had to work with her a little, but I now have her fetching it as far as I can throw it. She returns with it, sets at my feet and is starting to drop it at my command. I work away from home and only have worked with her about 5 times for about 5 minuites each time. Not sure if I am starting her too early, but when I pull out her antler she starts jumping about and her ears go in the attention mode. She really loves it. I don't let her play with it or even see it until we are working. I really want to do this right. Could yoy please give me some direction with my new Lab pup (Libbey). Thanks, Sammy Prudhomme Eunice, Louisiana
Comment posted by scrapejuice on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 9:44 AM
I am getting ready to get my son a lab pup in the next few months.  I am interested in training it to hunt sheds.  I read somewhere you need to wash the antlers or the dog will key on the odor from your hands rather than the smell of the antlers.  Is this true, and if so, what can I do about it? thanks, Greg
Comment posted by mark dodson on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 12:00 AM
i have a bluetick coonhound and was wondering if he would make a good antler dog? he is about two years old and from great blood how much would it cost to have someone train him?
Comment posted by Mike Farnham on Monday, December 28, 2009 7:59 PM
I trained bird dogs 20 years ago and had good luck but after having kids i just didn't have the time to put into it and deer fill the freezer much faster.My life now is spending lots of time from march till dec. pruning apple trees building ponds and food plots on my 85 acres of land and deer hunting.Im doing everthing i can to help produce bigger deer.My oldest son is in college and my youngest son is 10 but the teachers at school have the kids brainwashed about killing animals.He is interested in getting a yellow lab and training it to find sheds.Im very excited and im looking for dogs.Other than hunting there is nothing more important to me than being able to hunt or just spend time in the woods with my boys.I hope it works.Im going to look for videos and books.Antler restrictions are finally making bigger bucks here in VT. and i know of someone that trained his own dog and had great success finding moose and deer antlers.Glad i found this article
Comment posted by blanko on Friday, January 1, 2010 9:30 PM
We bought our new female balck lab today january 1, 2010.  No better way to start the new year!  Her name is Buckley Buckhorn.  If that doens't tell the story nothing does.  I am an avid antler shed hunter and really look forward to teaching Buckley to find sheds.  I plan to continue my research in a quest to make her successful in finding antlers.
Comment posted by Jesse condley Hector Arkansas on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 11:18 PM
Before i read this article i never even thought of traing a dog for antler hunting, but i bet i have a great dog for it. J.J's breed is whats typicaly known as a "mutt", 1/2 pit bull 1/2 mountain fiste. He seems to have all the qualities needed to do this task. I also live in the perfict location being that my backyard is the ozark national forest. So we r going to have a blast learning this trick. i'll keep yall posted on his progress.
Comment posted by Herm @ Medina,N.Y. on Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:26 AM
My lab pup is 16 weeks old. I want to start teaching her to find sheds, but I don't want her to be one dimensional. I don't want her to think about finding sheds all the time and do nothing else. Do you have this problem with your shed dogs. Would love some feedback on this subject.  Thanks, Herm.
Comment posted by unclebuck on Thursday, February 25, 2010 3:24 PM
I have been following all of the articles I can find about shed hunting with a dog, and by far i think that your articles are  the most informative, my dog is a phesant trained dog, and durring some of his training in the field, I noticed he was finding sheds on a regular basis, so I think I have half the battle won. I want to post some of his finds, and will, as soon as I fix a small problem on my computer. I would like to know if there is anything I can do to enhance his shed hunting skills?
Comment posted by Mike Taylor on Friday, March 5, 2010 8:43 AM
I am going to be getting a lab in a couple of weeks. I have my choice of yellow,black or chocolate and male or female. I was thinking chocolate but I just want the best one for antler hunting. Is there a difference? And is there any characteristic that I should look for in a 8 week old puppy that would be beneficial? Love your article.
Comment posted by Leo on Sunday, March 7, 2010 8:42 PM
I like the idea that you breed for the best dogs for shed hunting. I have a dog that I've used for sheds for 6 years but I always though her drive was a bit lazy. I bread her with a lab with great hunt drive hoping for a more agile dog but due to a hormone problem during spaying the pup I kept lost her hair permanently on the belly. No good for a shed dog and I got to leave her at home now. I wish you offered dogs back when I decided to breed her. It would have saved a ton of work and headache. I'll look you up in the futurewhen I'm ready. For now, two labs are plenty.
Comment posted by Nick on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 9:31 AM
Why did no one respond to all the questions asked here? I think all of us would like to read the answers to them.
Comment posted by roger on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 10:12 AM
Sorry I am going to respond.  I know I should have before but I just now figured out how to get to these comments.  Sorry - I am a dog trainer and just did take over maning this part of the business.  I will get to these one by one starting later today.  Thanks for your support.  I look forward to inacting with everyone.  Amy
Comment posted by Chase on Monday, March 29, 2010 11:04 PM
I am thinking about purchasing a trained shed hunter.  What do you charge?  And where are you located?  Thanks....Great article!
Comment posted by Nathan Pawlicke on Monday, April 5, 2010 11:59 AM
Ok I keep on trying to teech my lab to find wightail sheds but he won't lisson, I have found a few sheds myself.
Comment posted by Amy on Thursday, April 8, 2010 9:49 AM
There are a lot of variables when training a dog to find sheds.  And not all labs will neccessarily find them, however there are somethings you can look for as stated in the article above.  If you have specific questions feel free to blog or e-mail me - I will be happy to help anyway I can.  I am a trainer at Antler Ridge.
Comment posted by Quentin on Monday, August 23, 2010 6:27 PM
I have a 3 year old pittbull wonderfull dog.He loves to chew on deer antlers . he has did this for his hole life. I hunt deer and love antlers and would love to train my dog snoop to find antlers.I heard pits are verygood dogs for finding antlers.Is this true and can anyone give me some helpfull tips.  Thanks Quentin
Comment posted by Joe on Saturday, September 18, 2010 3:04 PM
Hi Rodger.  I just sent you an email and I hope I get a response yet this weekend.  As on monday I am going to go look at a blue tic pup.  Both parents are registered and so forth and the people use them as pointers for upland game birds here in Iowa and also they say they are very calm and well-behaved dogs in and out of the house.  But i can't find any info to go with what they say there dogs do.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  I want to get 1 of the pups I have my eyes on and want to train it to point upland game birds and be a well trained house dog and vehicle companion and also a deer shed hunter.  Please respond before monday when I go to look at the pup and let me know your opinion on this breed and there ability to do all this stuff.  I had a half blue tick/ half german short hair before and it was an excellent pointing dog and would never go past 30ft from me when hunting. thanks
Comment posted by Gavin Pehl on Monday, October 25, 2010 1:59 PM
My wife and i just picked up an 8 week old pure bread Fila Brazileiro. He has a great nose but short attention span as of yet.  I love shed hunting and thought it would be the greatest to have an antler dog. We didn't buy him for that purpose but he has some hound in him and I am thinking i want to try and train him up to hunt horns. have you ever heard of these dogs being used to hunt antlers? I know they were bread to hunt jaguars in Brazil so maybe thats something. I would love to hear your take on this breed as an antler dog.
Comment posted by katie yoder on Friday, November 26, 2010 4:09 PM
Hey, i just bought a mutt from the pound. hes pretty young right now, about twelve weeks. What can i do at this early stage that might spur on his antler hunting instincts for later training?
Comment posted by ken baldwin on Saturday, January 1, 2011 9:36 PM
I have some old sheds and was wondering if i should use some type of scent on them to help my dog. Thank you.
Comment posted by Francisco on Thursday, January 6, 2011 8:22 PM
I have a 2 year old yellow lab. And he seems reallt into this so far.
Comment posted by Dennis on Saturday, March 5, 2011 9:56 PM
I have a 6 month old German short hair and I am very interested in training her to shed hunt,she does very well fetching a shed and bringing it to me just after a few days of playing with her. What kind of training tips can you give me? Thanks
Comment posted by mango on Monday, March 7, 2011 8:29 PM
Hello Roger and Amy.  6 weeks ago, we bought a 10 week old pup.  Her name is "Mango" and her father is 100% blk labradour retriever and her mom is 100% Red-bone Coonhound!!!  I am very excited at this combo for an antler dog but would also like her to be an upland bird dog.  She is 16 weeks old now and is very rambuntious, fun loving, athletic, and loves to retrieve anything I throw for her-sticks, balls, toys, etc.  She has a great eye and can not be fooled by "fake throws".  (she knows if the object has left the hand or not, even at this young age).  When she retrieves, she runs at full speed and brings it back at full speed.  I am using a down-pointed finger (at my feet) and the word "come".  She'll make a bee-line for my feet and keep running right by me if I don't corral her.  I praise her and really love her up each time. I don't want to start too early but I feel I should start using an antler.  Her only weakness, now at 16 weeks, is fear of larger, loud barking dogs.  When the G shepard behind us comes out and barks, Mango runs for the door.  The dogs I socialize her with, she gradually warms up to and will play, sniff, and hang out.  She usually will take the larger dogs ball etc and run off with it selfishly. I think she shows great potential so far in her behaviors and I am very excited about her "nose" potential b/c of her parents breed combo.   If this combo works out well, should I hold off spaying her and try to breed her back to  either a pointing lab or a redbone or another sorce of the same combo but different parents?   The above question is actually secondary and futuristic.  The training questions are more important to me at her 16 week age now.  Thanks.  Kevin Miller
Comment posted by kstieg on Saturday, April 2, 2011 6:08 PM
What whould be the best dog to use? Yellow Lab?
Comment posted by austin on Saturday, December 3, 2011 11:19 PM
hi i have a black lad crossed with a golden retreiver, and since day one i have left an antler in his kentle for him to knaw on and then proceeded to start throwing it for him to play fetch with at this point i do not know what to go forth with next. Should i hide it somewhere and see if he finds it? and is the breed mix good?
Comment posted by Abby Erca on Saturday, December 17, 2011 6:00 PM
Hello, I bought your shed training cd. I have one question-how does one wash off the horn to eliminate human scent prior to laying the field. Oops- 2 questions-how to get a dog to alert you to a big elk antler.? My weimaraner will carry and return deer and small elk horn but will not even attempt to carry the really big elk horn.(the ones we really want) I have been training her to wait with the horn until I arrive to pick it up.Thank you, Abby Erca Denton, Texas
Comment posted by Robert Smith on Monday, July 16, 2012 9:29 PM
my dog max..a black lab..finds horns but only a few at a time, why does he not find horns everyday we go out??? can you help me with this....How do i make him find more horns??? he is now 3 years old and has found only 50 to 60 horns...i find 3 times as much as he does...why???? im stumped...thank you

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