Shed Hunt-a super fun scent activity!

I love training all kinds of scent sports, mainly because I love seeing my dogs’ enthusiasm as they fulfill their hunt drive with a fun, safe activity! I recently completed a 6 week Shed Hunting course through Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, taught by Erin Lynes who is founder of National Dog Sports, located in Canada. The course was packed full of fun and all of the details of training shed hunting both as a hobby hunting activity and as a titling sport. I also took the Shed Hunt webinar through Scentwork U presented by Dr. Donna Morgan Murray of the North American Dog Sport Association (NADSA). NADSA offers a variety of scent sport titling programs, including shed hunt by video.

At this point I should explain for those unfamiliar that Shed Hunt is searching, locating and retrieving naturally shed deer antlers as found in nature. As with so many dog sports, this natural hunting activity is now growing as an organized titling sport. In a trial, the “sheds” are thrown into a search area (so there is no track) and the dogs are judged on time to locate and retrieve. At the beginning levels some organizations do not require a retrieve, just the dog locating and handler call. In nature, sheds are searched for as a collector hobby or to sell for use in crafts or as dog chews (not mine-they are teeth breakers!).

I have trained my current dogs, Flash and Wilkie, in many scent sport contexts-handler scent discrimination/retrieve, tracking, nosework. The transition to yet another scent sport is not difficult-once the search and locating skills are in place it is just a matter of introducing a new scent. One difference in shed hunt from tracking or nosework is the retrieve component. This can be more challenging, but very doable with positive training and strong reinforcement history. I have trained all of my past and present dogs to retrieve the traditional dumbell, leather and wood articles. But now we are working with antlers-hard, pointy and tricky to pick up. I am selective as to the size of the antlers I use for training, to ensure that my dogs can safely pick up and carry them. Safety aside, if they find it the least bit aversive they will never do it again-so I am careful! In nature, I will be satisfied with them locating antlers without necessarily retrieving them if they are too large or otherwise unable to carry. For titling by video the sheds are handler’s choice, so I will be sure it is one they are comfortable retrieving.

To actually train the scent for trials, “rack wax” is applied to refresh the antler scent (which may be minimal due to the age of the shed). IF you are training for real life shed hunting, it is best to only use clean antlers (no added scent) and minimize human scent by wearing a nitrile glove to handle the antlers. There are games to reinforce search and locating skills, and the retrieve is taught separately before adding it to a search. This requires additional steps depending on the dog’s history as to whether or not they already have a retrieve. For some dogs the retrieve evolves naturally in the process of training search & locate. But physically retrieving an antler is different from the usual dumbbells or scent articles in other sports, and some dogs may find it difficult. The good news is that if a retrieve is a real issue for your dog, you can still train and title with NASDA in Level 1 that does not require a retrieve, only scent and locate! And your dog can stay in Level 1 and earn the L1Excellent title if you want to keep playing without a retrieve (and in Level 1 you can use a long line too!).

So where do you get training supplies? I have found Etsy to be the easiest source for natural sheds to use in training, with a wide variety of sizes available-just be sure they are natural sheds! The will be described by the seller as such, and you can do a search for “natural sheds”. You can tell in the photos if it is natural by the obvious ruffled and convex base of the antler versus a straight sawed off cut. Gun Dog Supply online also offers natural sheds for sale, along with rack wax, soft fake training antlers and other items. Rather than a fake antler, I wrap the bar of a real antler in vetwrap to make it comfortable for my dogs when they are learning to pick it up. I also only use smaller spike or forked antlers, at least so far. Online titling makes it nice because you can use the size antler that is most comfortable for your dog rather than whatever the judge at a trial might use. NOTE: Again, the antlers you use must be naturally shed, not cut off from a carcass! This is important from a scent persepective and even more important is the humane aspect. It is also important to obtain the correct species that is found in your region. For me here in VA, that is White Tail deer (not elk, moose, etc.)

Here are 2 videos of Flash and Wilkie in training with the retrieve added to a search:



Video titling is great for this sport that is not widely available in person yet, but it is growing. For those who are looking to title, there are both video and in person options at this time with more coming! I have listed resource links below:

North American Sport Dog Association (NASDA), specializes in scent sports and offers both in person and video options for titling. If you are searching in unfenced areas, the first 2 levels of NASDA allow long lines. NASDA also does not require a retrieve in Level 1, only locating. They also offer excellent titles at each level, so you can continue to work at one level for some time if you wish! NASDA Rules NASDA Video titling rules (scroll down to find Shed Hunt)

National Dog Sports-Located in Canada, and will be offering Shed Hunt titling by video starting June 2023. Keep an eye on the website- They will be offering categories for skills testing by video.

In person trials are offered by the UKC and the North American Shed Hunting Dog Association.

If you are interested in shed hunt training you can contact Char,


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