Three: Condition your dog to the feel of real antlers. Called the “finishing antler,” this specimen should be very close to the dummy in size and shape to provide a smooth transition to the real deal. (Natural scent is found at an antler’s base, so don’t use a cut-off piece.) Enhance the specimen by adding a generous amount of antler scent.
Do familiar retrieving games, connecting the finishing antler with a positive activity. When you’re confident that your dog is comfortable with real antlers, place a few on the ground and in grass cover (just as they would be found in nature) and instruct her to find them.
From your back yard, move the game to a neighbor’s back yard or a park. Antlers cue her that it’s a retrieval party waiting to happen. However, resist the temptation to go big right away.
“Set your dog up for success. Don’t go from your back yard to a 40-acre field. Don’t overwhelm the dog with distractions,” Moore says.
As your dog’s training progress, widen the training environment. As Moore notes, “If the only place you train is your back yard, [your dog] will be very good finding shed only in the back yard.”
Finishing a shed dog combines exercising the body and engaging the mind. Mike Stewart takes the dogs he’s training out on acreage and walks in a zigzag pattern, cueing direction with his hands. Zigzagging covers more ground and provides dogs with a better chance for finds. If he sees that a dog is going flat and losing focus, he waits until she’s not looking and tosses out antlers he’s brought with him to renew her interest.
“Sooner or later, she has to find something, or she’s going to quit. Make finding shed special,” Stewart says. Pump your pup with success.