Puppy Training and Development: Part 5
The below training info is if you want to train your puppy to track wounded game or pick up sheds.
Having the ability to track wounded fur game or find birds that cant fly but can run is a nice skill for a well rounded hunting dog. To teach trailing is fairly simple but takes a little extra time and can be a great way to mix up training. The first step is to get the dog excited about whatever you would like it to track. You can use a patch of deer fur rubber banded to a canvas bumper covered in blood, a deer leg, or a frozen bird to teach a dog to track. To get the dog excited about tracking is to play a fun game of fetch with these items for a few days. Keep playing fetch until the dog is excitedly running to get the item. If he doesn’t bring it back, don’t panic, just repeat the steps described in the Retrieving section from above.
Once he is excited about the fur and feathers you’re ready to do your first drag. Find a fairly open area with low cover, a mowed yard works well for this. Use a long leash or tie piece of cord to the bird, leg, or fur. Take the pup out and give him a few fun retrieves before you start to get him excited. Now tie him up to a tree or a tie-out stake where he can see you the whole way. Pick a spot where you want to start your drag, drop you hat to mark the area, and rub the drag item into the grass and surrounding area to really scent the area. From that spot, start to slowly walk in a straight line while dragging the item behind you and bounce it or zig-zag it a little to leave a strong line of scent. Pay attention to the wind when doing this because if the wind is at your back it will be a much more difficult drag for the puppy and we’re not to that point in training yet. Drag with either a cross wind or even a head wind. Walk only about 10 or 20 feet for the first drag and slowly lengthen the drags with each repetition. Once you have done your drag, leave the item at that point, and walk back to the pup while trying to not walk back across the trail you just laid. Untie you pup and take them over to the starting spot and let them smell the scent for a few moments and when it seems like he has the scent, tell him to “track” or “hunt it up” and let him go. Don’t say anything else to your dog until he finds the item. He may run right to the item and thats okay since for the first few drags we are doing we want the pup to be very successful. When he does find the item praise him and play a fun game of fetch at a reward. If your pup seems to get lost call him back to the starting point and try again. If the pup is really having trouble finding the item, help him to it and then next time make your drag distance shorter. We want lots of success at this point and for the dog to understand the game. As the pup gets better with straight drags in short cover you can start to do drags in taller cover areas and areas with more debris on the ground.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time with your dog in the field or woods I like to teach my dogs to find sheds. If we don’t find any birds on a hunt its a fun feeling when your dog brings you a shed. If you’re dog gets really good at finding sheds you can even sell them to craft people and artists. Don’t worry too much about the dog searching for sheds and not searching for birds since a bird is way more exciting to a dog than a shed. So as long as the pup has had a lot of bird exposure you have nothing to worry about. To start a shed we start by playing fetch with a white rubber shed horn or a small deer horn chew toy. There are a few variations of scent that you can use but buy something like “Rack Wax” and cover your sheds in it. I mean cover the whole thing from top to bottom. We are trying to imprint the scent of sheds on the dog by playing fetch with these items. The reason we start with a small chew toy or rubber deer horn is because a young dog is teething at this point and a big heavy shed could be painful for them to pickup. Also if we use a big shed with lots of points we run the risk of a young dog running up and getting poked by the horn and causing a negative association with deer sheds. If this happens it could turn the dog off sheds and it’ll take a lot of work to get him excited about finding sheds. Play fetch with these items until he loves to chases these things and gets visibly excited when he sees you pull out the horns. You can also use a single piece of horn from a spike buck or a shed with most of the tines cut off and smoothed. Some dogs can be picky about what they pick up so its important that the dog has plenty of good experiences with these hard and knobby sheds. Once the pup is having fun retrieving the sheds you can start to hide it in places where the dogs knows. You can start to hide the rubber shed in the backyard near a bush before you let the dog out to pee. Hide the shed in a mowed field or a backyard and make it mostly visible so the pup can see it. We want to imprint the image of a shed lying on the ground. Let the pup out and don’t say anything but let him do his normal bathroom activities and explore the yard. Eventually, he will stumble across the shed and will pick it up. As soon as it is in his mouth, give praise and try to get him to come to you. When he brings you the shed play a game of fetch with the shed to reward him for finding it. If the dog is hesitant about bringing it back or about picking it up, you can smear a little peanut butter on the shed to encourage him to put it in his mouth and then give him a food reward when he brings it back to you.
The above is not necessary for every dog but if you give it a try you could find a strength in your dog you never planned for. I recommend leaning into a strength if your dog is talented at trailing or at hunting sheds. Remember, the puppy is never wrong!