Shed Dog Training: What You Need to Know

Shed Dog Training Quick Tips:

  1. Keep it simple!  

Shed dog training is not complicated and we should do everything in our power to keep it that way.  The reality is that when it comes to training a dog to do something, whether it be shed hunting, retrieving birds or basic obedience, we are doing nothing more than forming habits.  Habits are always formed through repetition and consistency.  Another thing to keep in mind is that dogs are ALWAYS learning, so we as handlers have to be ALWAYS training.  This certainly doesn’t mean you should be dedicating hours and hours each day to training, instead you need to figure out how to incorporate your dogs learning into your daily routine.  When you do this, shed dog training takes NO extra time.  This training can be working towards reinforcing positive or desirable habits, but should also include avoiding the bad ones.  There is an old rule we follow closely that I learned a long time ago from our friends at Wildrose Kennels and that is “don’t train something into our dogs today that we will have to train out later”.

 

  1. Condition the shape first and make sure it is positive.  

Although most shed dogs may use their noses equal to or more likely greater than their eyes, I always start out by introducing my dogs to the shape of an antler.  I try to tap into their natural “predator/prey” instincts when it comes to making retrieves whether it an antler, a bird, or a tennis ball for that matter.  The biggest thing to keep in mind is that for many dogs, retrieving will come pretty natural and the retrieve itself will be the greatest reward for them.  This is where the idea of conditioning the antler shape comes in.  Like I said earlier, many shed hunting dogs retrieve naturally and we as handlers have to make it understood to our dogs that certain objects will get them that reward.

A duck dog doesn’t retrieve a duck because they like ducks.  I’ve listened to guys argue with me over this time and time again, “my dog is bird crazy, just loves birds more than anything!”  The picture I paint for them is an ice-covered marsh with freezing temps and high winds (an uncomfortable situation to say the least).  I ask them if their dog will retrieve a crippled duck that sails into the cattails across the pond.  Always the answer is, “of course, and that is proof that my dog love birds”.  My next question for them is, if I were to throw a stick over in the same place, would your dog retrieve it?  Of course the answer is yes, but by this time, they get it and see where I’m going.  The retrieve is what your dog loves, not necessarily the object they are retrieving.  But certain objects are trained to equal that reward and the shed shape needs to be one of them.

  1. What about the noses?  

A dog will rely on their nose as much as humans depend on their eyes; consequently you want to ensure that you train your dogs to use both their eyes and nose for locating sheds.  For most dogs, using their noses to find things is very natural, so it’s simply conditioning what a shed smells like and connecting that to the reward (for most, the reward is the retrieve).  So what does a shed antler smell like?  The answer to this is pretty easy, yet totally complicated.  An antler obviously smells, if you don’t believe me just put a few “fresh” sheds in a Tupperware tote with the lid on and keep it in the cab of your truck for a few hours on a sunny day. Take the lid off and grab a whiff, it will nearly knock you over.  That is because the scent is concentrated.

So what actually smell on an antler?  It will vary and no two are the same.

To list a few smells that are there always:

  • Bone smells, all bone is calcium and will produce scent; fresh dropped sheds as well as old chalk sheds.
  • Hair and blood.  Fresh sheds often times have these caked into the pedicle area.
  • Forehead gland scent.  A whitetail deer has no less than 7 scent glands, which serve multiple purposes.  The forehead gland is used when making rubs and for distributing scent to communicate with other deer.  Make no mistake, this scent is found on shed antlers as well and serve as a scent clue for your dog.
  • Speaking of forehead gland scent used when making rubs…have you ever seen evidence of a buck rubbing left caked into the antler?  Of course you have, and don’t you think that has scent?  A fresh rubbed cedar has a distinct scent, so is true with other varieties of tree species.  As this rubbing debris deteriorates, the scent will continuously change. These are all scent clues to your shed dog.  We train tracking or game recovery dogs to connect the scent created by a broken branch to act as a scent clue when trailing…same idea here with that scent found in a shed antler.
  • Coyote scents.  Coyotes are dogs.  Dog’s benefit from calcium, hence all the antler chews sold in pet stores today.  Coyotes will gather shed antlers in the wild and chew on them also. (take a close look at the tips of your sheds as they often times are chewed.  It is very easy to see the difference between a rodent chew (mice, squirrels, porcupine’s etc) and a coyote’s chewing.  When coyotes get to sheds first, and as soon as they do guess what? They have left their scent all over them.  Another thing a male coyote will do much like his cousin the domestic dog is “mark” territory.  I can’t tell you how often I have found yellow snow next to a shed in the woods.  This is a major scent clue that our dogs will investigate.  These are all scent clues for your dog if you prepare them accordingly.
  • Rodent scents.  We just talked about the impacts of those pesky chewers.  The rodents all have scent and the moment they come into contact with a shed…you got it.

 

All of these scent clues and more are what are found on sheds, both fresh and old drops.  And those scent clues are all important, but what might be more important than understanding what scents make up an antler is how your dog processes those scents. Dogs smell differently than we do, they smell in “layers”.  What I mean is they have the ability to process tens of thousands of scents simultaneously, but individually, unlike the way a human smells.

Here’s an example.  When I walk into the kitchen and my Mom is making vegetable soup, I smell vegetable soup.  When my dog walks in, they smell salt, pepper, water, carrots, dirt that may have been left on the carrots, celery, peas, etc.  See what I’m getting at, dogs don’t smell like we do so the sooner we understand that, the more effective we will be as trainers.

  1. But what about MY scent on the antler?  

We just got into the impacts of scent and how it relates to our shed dog training in pretty good depth.  Honestly, we didn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg.  But I did want to address the concerns with your human scent.  I can’t tell you how many people have been fooled into the fear of scent contamination when it comes to training a shed dog.  I’ve heard all about the idea of specially designed washes or even boiling your antlers, rubber gloves, etc…

The issue I come across with the ideas of washing antlers to eliminate scents and then to handle them with rubber gloves is although I do think that washing them can minimize some scent, that process is not discriminate in what scent(s) it does or does not effect. When you start washing antlers to clean them of scent, you begin to rid them of the stuff that you want as well as the stuff you don’t. As far as rubber gloves go, my nose is nowhere near as sensitive as our dogs but even I can smell a rubber glove. (I can’t detect human odor)

If you are using a rubber glove you may be minimizing human odor to some degree, but you are simply substituting another un-natural odor to the shed during training? My point is that if a handler spends the amount of time worrying about attempting to eliminate all un-natural scent for training purposes, the reality is they will not have time to train. They will be preparing for scent elimination (and even that is questionable) and once the dog makes a find they would have to repeat the process completely due to inevitable contamination. I first heard about the idea of washing sheds, rubber glove, etc a few years ago from a gun dog trainer…my question has always been, do they go through that process when they train their gun dogs? I’ve never heard of anyone washing, spraying down or handling with rubber gloves all their ducks, pheasants, bumpers, tennis balls, etc each time they train? In my mind that doesn’t make sense and I assume those dog trainers feel the same way? What difference would there be when it comes to training a dog to hunt sheds?

 

Next steps.

So what’s next for you as a trainer?  Remember that shed dog training doesn’t have to be complicated.  Continue to encourage your dog to form and build good habits through daily repetition and consistency.  From there, begin to work small, incremental training sessions into your day with our shed training system and you will be well on your way to having an excellent shed dog on your hands!

Dog Trainer: What Every Dog Owner Must Know!

As a professional dog trainer, I’ve been able to work with a large number of dogs over the years of various breeds, ranging from 7 week-old puppies to dogs as old as 10 years or more.  I strongly believe that one of the only ways to get better at anything, whether you’re talking dog training specifically or life in general, is to put in the work.  And more times than not, the whole “work” part is where things start to get hard!  Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to put that work in when it comes to the dogs and consequently, I know I have gotten a lot better as the years went by.  As I personally improved, the dogs mirrored that improvement as well.  Today, I can say with strong confidence that when I have a chance to work with a puppy or dog, I will be a positive influence on them and my hope is they are better off because of it as well.

 

But what about the people when it comes to being a dog trainer?  I think that one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to training, or as I prefer to say, “raising” dogs or pups, is the importance of what the dog trainer brings to the equation.  One of the most desirable traits all dogs possess is that they want to please and are naturally looking for a strong leader.  That is simply how they are wired.  On the opposite hand, one trait that they also have because of this wiring is if they don’t find a leader they will become the leader.  The great majority of training topics and articles I have written over the years and have read for that matter, revolved around the dogs in the field and how we prepare them for “the hunt”.  It’s the hunt that is the most fun to talk about.  It’s the hunt that is the most exciting.   And why not? I mean, the hunt is what so many of us have as the end goal right?  The hunt is the fun part, and in all reality the hunt is what comes the easiest for most dogs.  It’s been bred into them for centuries and is relatively natural.  As their dog trainer, our job is to simply bring it out.  It’s the other stuff, beyond or before the hunt that most struggle with and typically that is the reason things fall short.

 

Although the majority of what I have read and written about has focused on the hunt, what’s interesting to me is that the great majority of questions I receive by phone calls, texts, posts or direct messages on the various social platforms, and even when face to face at seminars and shows is centered around the basics.  It seems most struggles and headaches are not due to dogs that won’t handle well on challenging doubles and blind retrieves.  It’s rare that I am asked what to do when your dog stops to the whistle out beyond 100 yards but doesn’t want to face you in order to take a good hand signal.  (Recall the dog a step or two in order to square them up, stop them again and then cast…btw)  Instead, the questions that come up over and over are almost always related to their dog’s foundation, or more accurately their lack of foundation.

 

Now, I’m certain that the direction this article is taking following that last line will have some folks turning the page.  Nowhere, ever have I read about the idea of “foundation” being described as exciting, fun, easy, or the overall end goal.  But the truth is, most struggles are directly connected and the majority of dog trainer’s struggles are rooted there.  I also find that the reason most struggle with the foundation is because they just don’t know how or what to do in most situations.

 

One of the most commonly asked questions I get about our dogs is “how do you keep your dogs calm?” This question usually comes when I have multiple dogs ranging in age lying quietly at our feet on their “place” amongst a lot of distractions.  I am asked constantly how to handle pups that are just full of energy?  I hear about how their dogs must need to have more exercise than others but because of work, kids, school…the list goes on, all the reasons they just can’t seem to do enough to wear them out.   I’m asked how much time I spend running my dogs in order for them to always seem to be calm and under control.  The reality is, I wish I were able to run and exercise them more.  In fact, it’s likely that I might give the dogs I’m training less physical exercise than the dogs of those asking the question.  So, what’s the difference?  I think the difference lies greatly in the culture that the dog is being raised in.  Here is an easy idea to understand-  A dog’s body is no different than the human body when it comes to their athletic conditioning.  The more you exercise, the greater your endurance becomes.  The greater your endurance, the longer it takes you to tire or wear out.  Why would this be any different with your dog?  In an attempt to physically “wear them out”, they are actually conditioning them to simply be better athletes which will in turn take more to tire them.  It’s a snowball effect, in the wrong direction.

 

See maybe if this example sounds like something you can relate to:  You got to bed last night later than you had hoped because you stayed up to finish a project for work or school (or you had to finish your article for The Badger Sportsman Magazine…never-mind, that’s me!?!)  You hit the snooze button twice and now you are rushing to get the kids lunches made and ready for school or work.  In the midst of all of this you let the dog out of the kennel and then back in after the mornings food and water.  Off to work, then back in the evening only by rushing home to let the dog out of the kennel quickly before grabbing a dinner on the fly and then out the door again to basketball, soccer, baseball, football, gymnastics.  Day after day, your specific routines and reasons may vary some, but the pace is constant.  It’s FAST and HIGH ENERGY.  How can you expect your dog to slow down if that’s not the culture you are instilling in them?

 

Now your schedule doesn’t have to be exactly like that, but you get the idea.  The speed at which we move and the amount of things we take on these days is scary.  In a lot of ways, it’s great and with the help of technology we’re able to be much more efficient, get more done and pull it all off faster.  But, I have to remind you that dogs are not interested in technology helping them to become more efficient, and get more things done faster.  We, and our society have changed greatly over the last several hundred years, our dogs have not changed one bit.  They still learn by forming habits and habits are formed by repetition and consistency.  Their behavior is influenced greatly by the culture they are raised in.  That repetition, consistency and culture comes from us as their dog trainer.  When you think about it that way, it’s not a lot different than the process of raising a child.

 

I literally see people that are in such a big hurry with their lives schedule, they will jump on an ATV or UTV in order to get their dog’s walk in (which ends up being a sprint).  Look back on what happens before these runs.  The dogs go from zero to 100 miles per hour when they are in any kind of contact with us because they match our pace.  When we take dogs out in a hurry and have them run for miles behind an ATV with the idea that they need the exercise and that this will help “burn off energy”, I think the owners heart is in the right place, but unfortunately you’re trying to put out the fire by pouring gasoline on it.  The faster, harder and more you run your dog, the faster, harder and more your dog will be able to run.

 

So what can you do? I do think there are a few easy things we can do to work on by simply changing the culture.  But if you remember what I mentioned early on in this article “more times than not, the whole work part, that’s where things start to get hard!”  We need to take a good look at our lives and how we operate day to day.  Think about your schedule and instead of simply trying to figure out how to get more miles in, see how well your dog can focus while covering a 1/10 of the distance, but under great control while in the heel position.  Vary and set the pace in everything you do.  When your dog is part of the equation, slow that pace down. If your dog wants to go fast (and the “excitable” ones usually do) you need to slow down to counter that.  In training I often talk about the importance of balance.  This is another example of when it needs to be found.  You might break up the walk with 2-3 minutes of just sitting still.  Two or three minutes doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re used to a fast pace with everything you do all day long, stopping and standing still for that amount of time can feel like an eternity.  From that, add layers into the exercise that will challenge your dog to have to think about what they are doing instead of just mindless physical exercise.  Mentally stimulating our dogs within their routine of physical stimulation can be by far the most effective way to “wear them out”.  By simply doing a few things like this you begin to work towards building patience in both your dog as well as in yourself as a dog trainer.

 

The best way I have found to speed things up when it comes to raising dogs is very simple…just slow things down.

 

Best of luck to you in becoming a better dog trainer,

Jeremy Moore

 

 

Training Dogs: The Issue of Time

Training Dogs: The 4-Year Plan

 

Time is one thing that I don’t often feel like I have plenty of, and it always seems to feel like it’s running out.  I just never have enough of it and know I cannot simply go out and get more.  It seems that the more people I talk with and receive messages with questions about training, the more I realize that “

 

Now keep in mind while reading this article, my son just finished up with his second visit and tour of the UW Eau-Claire campus.  In preparation of deciding what college to attend next fall, one factor that seems to be a major decision maker for him is the answer to the question: “how far is campus from the farm?” As a dad, being asked a question like that and knowing the reasoning behind it gives me a true sense of satisfaction and leads me to believe we’ve done something right over the years.  And as I look back on it, the past 17 years have literally flown by and I cannot believe the conversations of a “4-year plan” is taking place under our roof. Where did that time go?  I know this is unrealistic for some of us, myself included, but just for a second imagine this: no deadlines, no limits on available time for you to complete any projects you have on your to-do list, no waiting in line for anything, no appointments or reservations necessary.  Can you imagine how nice it would be to know that nothing is being measured or scheduled based on time? Talk about a feeling of freedom!  After recent conversations with my Dad, I semi-jokingly and with complete envy told him, “that must be how it feels to be retired.”

 

Time is really nothing more than a quantity of measurement used to sequence and compare durations and intervals between events.  Or, it can be as simple as just what the clock reads.  Whatever way you look at it, there is a purpose and need for it in many aspects of our lives.  It’s in relation to our dog’s training plans that I believe most all of us could use taking a step back and determine just how relevant it is.

 

While thinking about writing this article, one point that I thought was necessary to make is that 99% of the time when I’m writing about training dogs, the target reader is not a professional trainer.  Instead, it’s written in hopes of helping those of every level, from the most amateur or average of dog owners and up, with their personal dogs and on their own personal training journeys. I train a limited number of dogs each year for clients, and I approach the training of those dogs no different than I would any of my own dogs from a planning and sequencing perspective. Inevitably though, it seems that there are almost always questions from those dog owners regarding the amount of time I will have their pup with me in training.  The concern is never on my end as I do not set time frames or time limits on the training. Instead it comes from the anxiousness and excitement of the owner to get the dog back home with them.  My answer is always the same.  I don’t know how long I will have the pup.  I might have one pup for 10-12 months and the next for 18-24 months before we even start thinking about them going back to their owners.  It all depends on the dogs and how they progress, and all dogs are different.  It works for me and the way we structure our training with clients because nothing is predicated by time when it comes to costs.  Whether I have the dog for 2 months or 2 years, the price is the same.

That business model and training structure is very different than most, if not all professional trainers that I know.  I put that out there, because I understand that this is not the way most people read about, hear about or understand training services from a professional.  Most are accustomed to the idea of “4-week programs”, “3-month programs”, “6-month programs”, etc.  Most, if not all are based on the duration of time for each “program” which dictates the price.  You know the old saying, “time is money” would apply here.  That is just not something I believe in nor have any interest in trying to do.  It’s just too much pressure on the dog, the owner and myself, and I believe it more often than not, sets everyone up for disappointment in the end.

 

All that being said, there is one place in my life that I realize the idea of not setting any limits on time and that is with our family’s personal dogs.  Our personal dogs are typically the ones that take a bit longer to fully develop into what I am ultimately after in the field.  They are also the ones that I find “turn out well” the most consistently.  It just takes a bit longer.  I almost always hunt them a season or sometimes two seasons later than what most folks aim for.  Right now I have two young dogs named Ellie and Spry who we have shared a lot of training with over the years on our @dogbonehunter Instagram, Facebook and YouTube pages and channels. Ellie will be 4 years old in September and this will be her second fall in the duck blind and flushing fields for pheasants and grouse.  I suspect she will really come into her own this fall as a gundog.  Spry is 2.5 years old and is just now wrapping up her handling (hand signals) which will allow her to first get into the field with us in a few months to get some early exposure this season.  She will also have the opportunity to make her first tracks recovering deer this fall.  There are a few reasons why I tend to wait this long I suppose.  One is because my client’s dogs take precedent when it comes to training time, and the second is, I just didn’t think they were ready until now.  The lack of preparation falls on both me because I just didn’t feel like I had them ready enough for what they might encounter, and also on them and their level of maturity to take that training in stride.  I live by a pretty simple saying, “Be patient, some things just take a little longer.” My dogs and I have adopted the “4-year” plan mentality when it comes to heightened expectations for them in the field.  If it happens sooner, it’s just a bonus.  That mentality really helps to alleviate the unnecessary pressures and frustrations that comes with it.

 

If you are a dog owner and are training your own dog, you and I are in the same boat on this.  One of the best parts is that you and I have no deadlines and are not up against any hard dates to complete our dog through any “programs” with a list of “things the dog will be doing” within that timeframe.  Embracing that mentality is what allows me to appreciate things so much more, and it’s one reason you too should truly enjoy the training process in its entirety rather than only its completion.

 

Best of luck in your training!

 

 

 

 

Deer Dog Training: Developing your Deer Dog

Over the years I’ve written a pretty good number of an articles on “developing deer dogs”.  More specifically a deer dog that helps me in pursuit of my big game and more often than not, that big game is the whitetail deer.  So, what is a “deer dog”?  This used to be a pretty common question, although in recent years the understanding is seemingly growing as much as the popularity.   My definition of a “deer dog” is one that will shed hunt in the spring and track or aid in game recovery in the fall.  Particularly this time of year, the game recovery dog is worth more than their weight in gold and the frequency that a game recovery dog is discussed is obviously magnified.

I wanted to point out that when it comes to game recovery, the dogs themselves have the majority of what is needed from a “nuts and bolts” aspect already inside of them.  We, as trainers and handlers, are simply trying to bring that out. I also hoped to make it very clear that training a game recovery dog is something that is not only effective and efficient, but also relatively simple or dare I even say “easy” to do?

 

Far too often I hear concerns that training a dog for game recovery is “too complicated”, “too difficult” or can only be done by a “professional”.  My hope is to help convince you that you and your dog have what it takes to at least give it a try.  To start out, I thought it might help to eliminate a few excuses I hear all too often like “my dogs not bred for that”.  I truly believe that inherent traits impact and influence a dog’s ability to be a competent game finder or game recovery dog.  However, the nice part about that is the fact that I really don’t believe the specific breed matters.   In fact, as it relates to the actual ability for a dog to find or locate game that may otherwise be lost, I not only disregard the specific breed, but I believe that most dogs are capable, right down a “rescue” dog from the shelter that you may or may not know exactly what their genetic lineage even consists of.  The reason I say this is simply because a dogs actual ability to use their noses effectively is just so great, despite pedigrees or titles.   In researching a dog’s ability to smell, there are so many things that I’ve found interesting but a few things really stood out:

  • All dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses.  (Humans have about 6 million)
  • The part of a dog’s brain that is designated to analyze smell is, relatively speaking, 40 times greater than ours.
  • A dog’s sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, The ability for a dog to use their nose in relation to vision would look like this: what you and I can see at a 1/3 of a mile, your dog could see as well at more than 3,000 miles away.

I’m by no means discounting a nice pedigree.  I believe 100% in quality breeding is worth every penny and I will always put a great value on what I believe pedigrees’ offer in regards to health, trainability, disposition, confirmation, etc.  But I really don’t think that the pedigree itself limits any and all dogs abilities to smell.

So ask yourself:

  • Do you have a dog?
  • Does your dog seem to use its nose around the house or yard?
  • Does your dog show you signs of intelligence and a willingness to please you?
  • Do you have an interest using your dog to help in game recovery?

 

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, I would say you have what it takes to do it.  Now it’s putting it all together and executing the plan, keep reading!

 

Step 1.  Keep it simple and bring out their natural predator-prey instincts-

If you’re reading this and deer season is open, put out a message that you are looking for a fresh deer liver.  If you can’t get a hold of one, a beef liver will do.  Have a helper hold onto your dog.  Simply drag the liver quickly away from the dog and after you get a good head start have your partner let the dog go.  Almost instinctively, your dog will take off on the line for you.  When they finally get caught up to you and the liver, let them lick on it some and give them a ton of praise.  Repeat this a few more times (3-4) with each repetition allowing a little more distance.  Follow this session later on that week with one similar, except at one point with one of the repetitions, don’t let the dog watch.  Cover their eyes of keep them in the house or kennel until you’ve made the drag.

 

Step 2. Add in additional scent elements-

The liver has a very distinct, strong, appealing scent.  That will peak interest early on and help ensure success, but it will not allow introductions to other scent clues that may be found while on the track.  In this next step, I like to switch to using real deer hides and a scent that I make myself called “Blood Trail”.  Don’t be confused, our Blood Trail scent is not simply just blood.  Think about it, if there’s strong visible blood on a track, I don’t need the dog.  Instead, it’s when there is none or very little that I need the dog.  Repeat step one using the Real Hide and Blood Trail scent and continue to lay the trail without your dog watching you.  At this point, be sure to leave your dog something to find at the end.  My personal choice is a deer-hide wrapped canvas bumper.

 

Step 3. Wounded deer don’t always run straight-

So, we have to start to teach our deer dog to work turns, angles, backtracks, etc.  Once our deer dog is taking tracks confidently in straight lines, it is time to keep the honest and remind them to not outrun their noses.  By incorporating simple turns to start, then more turns and different scenarios of the line, our dogs will have to force themselves to slow down in order to continue to successfully follow the line.  You will be amazed at how naturally your dogs do this if you just set them up correctly and give them the chance.

 

Step 4.  Don’t pass on a real training opportunity-

The next time you harvest a deer (as long as you know the animal will be recovered) be sure to bring your student along and allow them to have that experience and success.  Don’t be critical or concerned if your dog struggles. The most necessary skill of any trainer is PATIENCE.  Use this as a great training opportunity and help your dog find success with the real thing.  You will be amazed what this king of experience will do for a dog and their handler’s confidence.

I challenge you to follow these four steps and see what happens.  Will that alone make you and your dog a great tracking team?  No, probably not “great”, but I would argue that it will undoubtedly increase your chances of finding a deer that otherwise may not be recovered.  In order to become truly great it will take time and experience.  But, if you try those simple steps and have some success I wouldn’t stop there. Instead, I would continue to work on other challenges and scenarios that you’re likely to encounter in the field.

 

For much more information on training and training products available for game recovery be sure to check out our website (www.dogbonehunter.com) and social media outlets @dogbonehunter.  Best of luck in the woods!

–Jeremy Moore

Shed Hunting Dog: Transitioning from Fall to Spring

Chances are, if you look outside this time of year you are going to see white, a lot of white.  In our home state of Wisconsin, deer seasons have come to an end for the most part and we are moving on to the next season of outdoor activities- most of which include ice and or snow.  These are also the kind of conditions that make most professional dog trainers load up their trailers and head south.  But for trainers and dog owners like myself, these are the conditions I look forward to during those hot, humid months of June, July and August. Shed hunting dog season is right around the corner.

 

I can’t wait for cold temperatures which allow me to exercise and actively work dogs on quartering and casting with little or no concern for overheating and exhaustion.  When I say quartering and casting, most think of their upland dogs working the CRP for roosters or the tag alders in hopes of flushing the King.   But much like deer season, the small game season has come and gone this time of year as well.

 

So, what’s next on the list for our shed hunting dogs and I?  With the close of the deer season I immediately shift into the mode of shed hunting dog season.  My approach to preparing our dogs to pick up antlers will be picking up right where we left off during bird season.  In fact, one way I prepare my shed dogs for spring is no differently than working my dogs for birds.  I can take the quartering and casting drills we’ve been using to prepare our flushers and simply change from bumpers or birds to antler dummies and real antlers if the dog is ready.

 

For many like myself, shed season can be as much, or maybe even more exciting to look forward to than deer season.  It happens at a time of the year when we are limited as to what other “hunting” we could be doing and it’s a great way to spend time working my shed hunting dog.  I am asked often whether or not shed hunting with them will affect their bird hunting.  My answer- yes, I think it does…in a very positive way.

 

I look at my dogs likes they are my kids in many ways.  In fact, I know some dog owners that may prefer their dogs over kids!  One of the ways I look at my dogs like I would my kids is when it comes to their hunting being relative to kids playing sports.  I have always been a believer in the idea of kids that play multiple sports develop into better overall athletes.  I think this happens because different sports require different skill sets, different muscle development and use, different styles and types of coordination and different meanings and understandings of the concept of a “team”.  Better athletes will typically excel at sports, so by developing my dog into a better athlete/hunter, ultimately I am developing them to excel in sports/hunting.  A dog that I can use to hunt birds and track deer in the fall, hunt and find sheds in the spring and have with us on family trips to the lake in the summer is the perfect “athlete” for me.  Overall I think that all of these activities build off of and help strengthen each other.

So, what are some ways we can prepare now for that transition from fall to spring and how can you use the snow that is likely to be around to our advantage in training?   One easy and obvious way is by using color contrast for training.  The white of the snow is clearly going to cover and hide sheds visible to the eye.  It can also create issues with white training dummies and white antlers on the surface as they blend in and become “camouflaged” easily.  At times, this can be a struggle for us as trainers when setting our dogs up for success.  No different than when we start young bird dogs, we use the right tools to help us find that success.  Bright white bumpers with young retrievers are helpful to ensure our young dogs are able to find those early retrieves and develop confidence.  Later in training we may use feather-laced bumpers that not only add realistic scent, but also make these bumpers blend into cover using nature’s camouflage.   When working in snow conditions with my young or inexperienced shed dogs, I use a contrasting colored bumper, or in this case I use a brown training dummy that will surely stand out against the white snow.  Prior to snow being on the ground, when the woods and fields are predominantly brown and grey the bright white antler dummy stands out and makes for a great opportunity for our young dogs to find success visually.

 

Shed hunters know it’s not uncommon to find antlers varying in color from nearly chalk white to the richest dark browns.  Shed hunters dream of the dark chocolate color finds that North Country bucks are famous for.  And when they are down in the prairies of the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas, it’s not uncommon to find a fresh shed that appears to be nearly bleached white.  There is an old saying in sports that you need to “practice like you play”.  When it comes to training dogs, I think that saying is true as well.  By using a variety of colors in your shed training both with the antler dummies as well as with real sheds, you are able to control and prepare your dogs for success when it comes to the real thing in the field.  Keep this in mind when you’re preparing for the next few months of shed season and you will be much more likely to produce on your trips to the field whether there’s snow on the ground or not.

For much more information on training and training products available for game recovery be sure to check out our website (www.dogbonehunter.com) and social media outlets @dogbonehunter.  Best of luck in the woods!

–Jeremy Moore

Training Dogs: No Reason to Force Things

Training Dogs: No Reason to Force Things

 

When training dogs these days, it’s not difficult to find an answer to just about any question you could ever think of. If you have even the slightest level of tech understanding, the answer to everything is literally at your fingertips between your computer, tablet or phone coupled with Google, Wikipedia or Snopes.   Heck, these days you don’t even have to know how to use your fingertips to type or swipe, instead a simple conversation with Alexa or Siri can get the job done. On top of that, if you can’t find the answers there, you still have all of the various social platforms to pose your question. Trust me, if you want an answer just post a question out there to any open page or forum and you’re guaranteed to get a response  from all the “experts”out there!  

 

It’s for that reason alone, I tend to shy away from putting my thoughts and opinions out there on the public forum-type platforms.  It seems that in those arenas a simple question asked by someone looking for help inevitably turns into a heated debate of whose way is right or wrong.  Many times, the threads and comments take dramatic twists and turns and ultimately, the core question that started it all is completely lost. Don’t get me wrong though, I find a ton of value in using social media to share information and content, and we use our outlets as our primary means of doing just that (@dogbonehunter IG, FB and YouTube). It’s a tremendous way to share a lot of ideas and information quickly and easily.    

 

When it comes to raising and training dogs, I have long believed in the idea that there are many ways to do things.  And I am certainly not the one to say, nor do I believe one way or another is always going to be right or wrong. I do know that when you do something for a long period of time, it is almost without fail that you will also develop a level of confidence in whatever it is you are doing.  It’s just a matter of time and gaining that needed experience. I think this idea can be applied to any skill, trade, hobby or recreation. When you have the opportunity to experience something long enough, you begin to react to situations as a reflex and you just don’t have to think much about it any longer.  I think that’s when you know you’ve reached a point where you can and should be willing to offer guidance to others who are looking for help.  

 

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have had the chance to work with and observe a lot of really good dog trainers.  Each of them may have their own style, but they also all do some things very similar and other things quite differently. My personal strategy has always been to try and peel off from each of them what works for me and the stuff that doesn’t, I just discard.  In the end, I manage to create a style of my own that has and will likely continue to evolve for as long as I keep doing this. In my early years of working with dogs, I was lucky enough to witness what I think can be referred to as a “softer” style or approach to training.  I knew right off, that was the way I wanted to adopt. I believed that way of training dogs would allow me to get the most out of my dog’s potential. I made a particular point and effort to seek out and gather as much information as I could from those using that style. At that time, there was no option to just Google, YouTube, or like and follow social pages.  I really had to go out of my way to witness this kind of training, but I was convinced and determined to figure it out. My other option was to learn and use a style of training I didn’t believe in, didn’t feel comfortable with and didn’t think would get the most out of the dogs I was working with.  

The alternative style that seems to be so prevalent in the retriever world was and is one that requires a significant amount of force.  In fact, the word “forced” is a commonly used adjective with several drills and activities. So, in thinking about and writing this article, I became interested in the meaning behind the words themselves.  I looked up the definition of the word force.  

 

Force used as a noun: coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of violence.

synonyms:  strained, unnatural, affected, coercion, compulsion, constraint, duress, oppression,harassment, intimidation.  

Force used as a verb: make (someone) do something against their will. 

synonyms: compel, coerce, make, constrain, oblige, impel, drive, pressurize, pressure, press, push, bully, dragon, bludgeon. 

 

After reading those definitions, I’m again reminded why I just don’t feel comfortable training that way.  It both looks and sounds like something I’m not interested in doing or being a part of. In recent years I know there has been some conversation and debate about whether or not the use of such force is truly necessary in order to get the results we may be looking for as handlers.  I have started hearing some folks call what used to be referred to as “force fetching” or “forced fetch” now call it a “trained retrieve.” The shock collar is now the E-collar, almost making it sound like some kind of tech product. I think the reason for these changes is that it just sounds better, and to be honest, does it really sound a lot better?  The companies that make them are huge and have large marketing budgets with heavy influence, spending a lot of marketing dollars. The problem is what or how you say something doesn’t matter nearly as much as what or how you do it. Kind of like the old saying “actions speak a lot louder than words”. 

 

It wasn’t that long ago that I was pretty careful about what I talked or wrote about in seminars and articles.  When it came to things like shock collars and force fetch and the question came up whether or not I used them, I would always let the group know that I did not, but then moved on pretty quickly from there.  Several years back, I gave a seminar that turned into almost an hour-long grilling from two guys in the back row that were clearly “traditional” gun dog trainers. They badgered me pretty steady, questioning how I could possibly train a good gun dog without the use of a collar.  After having an answer to everything they could throw at me, the rest of the crowd seemed to enjoy and support the idea of me standing my ground with reasoning why I just didn’t think a shock collar was a necessary tool, and that it would likely create more problems for me than it could fix.  I mean, it really did end up becoming a pretty heated conversation. When I packed up afterwards, I thought there might be a good chance those fellas were going to be waiting on me in the parking lot. 

 

That day marked the beginning for me to take a different approach to addressing some of these things.  It was the point where I decided I was confident enough in what I was doing to have answers for those that did it other ways.  It was also the point that I realized that when I asked someone why they thought they needed to use that style of training, I simply did not like their answers.  The answer I almost always got was “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” To me, that just wasn’t a good reason. This was also the point where I realized that although there are a lot of trainers using what I felt was unnecessary force because, “that’s the way they always did it,” there were maybe even more out there that would prefer not to, but just didn’t know it was possible to do it any other way.   

 

I believe that dogs possess inherent traits, one of which is biddability or a willingness to please.  This is something that has long been developed and bred into domesticated dogs, in addition to a lot of other natural tendencies.  Biddability or that wiliness to please is one of the biggest reasons I believe the use of force is not necessary. A “retrieving breed” in my opinion should by no means need to be trained to retrieve by “force” or if you use the formal definition: “with the use or threat of violence” or “to make (someone) do something against their will.”  It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would I want to connect something that I believe the dog already has inside of them and in the end is something I want them to like, with a negative?  My style of training, speaking and writing is not to tell you what not to do, but instead I try to focus on what I have used and know has worked well for me for many years. But I also have realized that I need to be clear and let others know that “because that’s the way they always did it” isn’t necessarily a good answer or the only way. 

 

I find that those who believe they need to use heavy force are often times concerned with speeding things up.  We’re a push button society and we like to get things the quickest, easiest way. Having a bunch of professional trainers endorse the use of a push button fix is marketing genius.  But my answer to that is we need to stop worrying about the finish line and instead start enjoying the process equal to, and even more so. The process itself is where these things are gained and that takes time.  Unfortunately, there is no way to “speed train” a retriever. When we push young dogs further and faster than what they are ready for, that’s what brings things to a halt as far as progress is concerned. I think that unnecessary, heavy pressure does one of two things: 

  1. It will shut a dog down or at best, get the bare minimum out of them.  By breaking a dog’s spirit and having them work out of fear, you will not maximize their potential.  That kind of avoidance training is just not the philosophy I believe in. 
  2. It will create a hard minded, independent thinker.  

 

This is the slippery slope.  As the dog gets harder, so does the trainer.  And quite frankly, it’s the lack of patience that most trainers suffer from that makes things get ugly.  Pinched ears and toes with burn marks from collars are the results of a trainer’s lack of patience and understanding of what makes these dogs tick.   

 

Instead, try slowing down and determine how to bring out what they likely already have inside them.  The amount of trust you will gain in your dog as well as your dog’s trust in you over the long run will far outweigh any amount of time you might save by accelerating your training in the short term.  Trust me, when things get tough out there in the field and distractions or other outside influences become part of the equation, a dog that trusts you completely will likely be the one to figure things out.  A dog that lacks confidence and is working out of fear? Those are the ones that are likely to shut down and fail.   

I wrote this article knowing that there will likely be some that read it and completely disagree.  I’ll certainly upset many of the traditionalists and most definitely the shock collar companies. They will defend their style of training no different than those before them. And that’s fine, my hopes are certainly not to convince someone that is set in their ways.  Instead, I hope to offer the idea to those who are interested in not using methods of excessive force in order to turn out a nice dog. Just because that’s the way others have always done it, doesn’t mean you have to as well.  

 

As I continue to write these Dog’s Eye View articles you will see more and more ways of applying this training style.   Hopefully then you will have another option and technique to decide whether or not is a good fit for you and your dog.  

Until then, best of luck in your training.  

New Dog or Puppy… Where Do I Start?

New Dog or Puppy…Where Do I Start?

The answer is easy, in the beginning.  Not only is it the best place, it is the only place to start when talking about training a dog.  It makes logical sense, yet the question “where do I start” is often one of the most common I receive.  The nice part about that question is I already know the answer, and it doesn’t vary; you have to start in the beginning.  

Before we get into where the beginning is, what it looks like and where it leads us, let’s talk about why.  You may have noticed I used both the word “dog” and “puppy” in the title of this article. More often than not, there is a reason for just about everything, and this is no exception.  I think there is a lot of confusion when it comes to what the difference is between a puppy and a dog. That confusion is then compounded when new owners start to map out where to begin with their training.  If someone brings home a seven week old puppy it’s usually pretty easy to understand, you have a puppy. But what about someone who just adopted the seven month old coonhound mix that already weighs 55 lbs? Or maybe you just brought in a year old black lab that’s tipping the scales at 110 lbs and looks like he still might have some room to grow into those oversized paws?  Although each of these examples vary greatly in both age and size, they all may have one thing in common- very little or no understanding of basic obedience.  

So, how do you know where do you start with each of those scenarios?  

To clear things up right out of the gate, I called all three examples noted in that last paragraph puppies, even though two out of the three certainly look more like a “dog” than a “puppy”.  I think there is a big misunderstanding when it comes to what makes a puppy a puppy, or a dog a dog. And I don’t think it’s always completely black and white. Something I see very often is that there are a lot of folks out there that think they have “dogs” because they look like grown dogs physically, but mentally (which we can’t see and often times don’t truly understand) they are still very much so puppies.  However, because they look like a dog we often times think we need to take a different approach to training them or as I prefer to call it, raising them. I think an important thing to understand is that just because they look like a dog and appear physically mature, we need to be aware that mentally they are likely still quite immature.  

It takes a lot longer for pups to “grow up” mentally than physically and at times, they will give us reminders of that.  You know, those moments when their coordination and agility, or more accurately their lack of, shines through. There are those times when their feet just don’t line up with what they are trying to do in their mind, and they can be downright clumsy!  We see this same thing more often than not with kids, particularly in sports. Just because a 15 year old kid is 6’ 7” tall and weighs 220 lbs, that doesn’t mean he plays the game of basketball with the same level of understanding and decision making that a similar sized 28 year old, 10 year NBA veteran would.  We all know that just because that 15 year old kid looks like a man, to expect him to make all the other life decisions with matching maturity is also not realistic. It takes time for both dogs and people to truly “grow up”. Our patience and understanding is usually there when it comes to humans but greatly overlooked with K-9’s. You will hear me refer to any dogs under the age of 2 years old typically as puppies.  Now that’s not to say that somehow they magically reach maturity after their second birthday, but as a general rule that is around the point where I start to see them really make the turn when it comes to “growing up”.  

The Foundation

Foundation is where everything starts.  If you have aspirations to build anything that will perform well and last you will need to be sure you put in a solid foundation. Whether you’re looking to build a business, a sports franchise or team, a 20 story high-rise, or a raise a well-mannered dog…without a solid foundation it is impossible.  

When it comes to the dogs, the nice part is that the foundation you will need is relatively simple.  In fact, I feel comfortable going so far as saying it’s very simple.  Does simple mean easy? Not necessarily. When I say simple I mean it’s not complex.  Regardless of your aspirations both in the field as well as in the home, you will need to start at the same point.  Heel, Sit, Stay and Here or Recall. That’s it, it is that simple. In order to do any kind of complicated drills or lessons in an attempt to develop a fine sporting dog in the field you will need a few things to be there without fail.  That is where those aforementioned foundation skills come into play.  

For example, there will come a point in training that I want to look at extending my dog’s ability to make retrieves at a distance of 100, 200, maybe 300 yards or more.  I certainly cannot throw a bumper out that far, so how can I get them proficient at extending their lines? One of the most effective ways I know how to do this is by setting up a trailing memory.  I simply heel the dog out to a predetermined area or point of fall. Pitch the bumper, turn around and heel the dog back incrementally making maybe 50 yard jumps in the length or distance over 3 or 4 repetitions.  Really quickly and easily I can go from a 50 yard retrieve to 200 and with a lot of success. But, in order to do this drill I first need the dog that can heel without any issues. If I can’t get a dog to heel well throughout the trailing memory setup, I will be fighting just to set the drill up and the chances of us finding success are slim to none in the end.  

In order to build on any and all of your training you will need to scale drills and lessons by incrementally adding complexity. If your foundation isn’t sound, you simply won’t be able to add to the drills.  It’s like asking a kid to write a book. Before you can expect them to be be able to do that, you first have to teach them how to write a complete sentence, and before that they will need to be able to spell and use words correctly.  Even before that, they will need to learn the alphabet and what actual letters are. That makes a lot of sense to most of us. The same idea needs to make just as much sense when it comes to raising and training dogs.  

Over the years I have come across plenty of issues, problems or struggles with the dogs I’ve worked and continue to work with.  For every struggle I’ve had myself, I’ve been asked similar varieties of questions 50 times over. And over all those years with all those different questions, I can still say with a lot of confidence that the great majority if not all of them can be traced back to, and remedied by, simply strengthening the foundation.  Like I mentioned earlier, the good news is that the answer is simple. It all starts in the beginning and the beginning is your dog’s foundation. In the next issue I plan to break down the foundation, Heel, Sit, Stay and Recall or Here even more in depth.  

Until then, best of luck to you in your training, 

Jeremy Moore