Train Your Dog to Hunt for Antlers

Throw your dogs a bone by teaching them to retrieve deer sheds in winter. Learn how they can hunt for antlers providing you with a nifty decoration.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Stephanie Frey

“Good girl, Molly, good girl.” I beamed with pride as my young chocolate Labrador retriever brought me a newly shed deer antler. Tail wagging, and charging hard, she couldn’t wait for my kisses and a hard scratch behind her ears. As Molly toppled me over, she dropped the antler near my head and began to lick my frozen face. I love it when she finds whitetail deer antlers, or “sheds.” Most deer cast their headgear sometime in late winter, making spring a wonderful season to pursue the shiny treasures. I also find that by the time spring rolls around, the dogs and I are both a bit pudgy, and require some much-needed fresh air and exercise.

Antlers adorn every corner of my house. Like my caveman ancestors, I’m fascinated by the bones that deer grow every year. In addition to my primal fascination with antlers, I love to train puppies, hunt with dogs, and build lasting relationships with man’s best friend. So I decided to combine my love for both dogs and antlers, and since then I’ve become a passionate shed hunter.

Photo by Jason Herbert

Basic Training

Most dogs are natural retrievers, but must be taught to retrieve antlers specifically. Here’s how I trained my dogs. The day we brought Molly home, instead of trying to fight her instinct to chew, I let her gnaw on a sacrificial antler. A deer antler is good for a puppy; it satisfies the urge to chew on shoes, remote controls, or the wooden trim around your door. Whenever we’d catch Molly chewing something she shouldn’t, we’d merely redirect her by replacing the contraband with her antler. We didn’t yell or spank; we simply redirected. Right out of the gate, Molly knew that antlers were fun.

Next, I taught Molly how to fetch. In a confined area of the house, such as a hallway or a large closet, I’d ball up old socks and we’d play tug of war as Molly chewed on them. Then, I’d throw the balled sock a few feet away, and eventually she’d grab it and bring it back because she wanted to play more. I’d praise her, and continue the game of fetch with these balled socks, throwing them farther and farther each time. I never once chased her, though, as I didn’t want to encourage her to play keep away.

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