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I get a lot of questions about training a dog to hunt for shed antlers. Because I get so many questions about it and it is relatively easy to teach, I am going to start a blog on training a shed antler dog.

You don’t need a retriever to hunt for sheds. Any dog with good food or toy drive can be trained for antler hunting. Retrievers already have strong retrieving instincts and the physical strength to carry a good sized antler but even a small dog can be taught to locate them.

The focus of this blog will be on teaching a dog to work for a reward. Before we begin, let me say that in dog training, there are often many different methods to achieve the same goal and this is certainly not the only way.

Reward-based training is a little bit different from blood trailing and other prey-based hunting activities which are self reinforcing  (the hunt or chase itself is rewarding to the dog.) We have to give the antler appeal, give the dog a reason to hunt for antlers, and make antler hunting a fun game that the dog is willing to perform in order to win a reward.

In case you are wondering, antler hunting will not interfere with your dog’s other jobs if you do your training correctly. If you have a blood tracking dog, cross training him to hunt sheds during the Spring and Summer will not interfere with his other jobs.

So first things first…

Let’s talk about antlers, because not just any old antler will do.

The type of antlers that work best for this kind of thing are very fresh antlers with pedicle attached. Most of the odor originates from the pedical. If you look closely at the image below, you can see these pedicals have hair and skin tissue still attached to them. If you could smell them, you would detect a distinct animal odor very much like the forehead of a buck in rut. If a person can smell this a few inches away, the dog certainly can smell it from several feet or even yards downwind.
These antlers are very white in color because they came from pen-raised deer but normally antlers that are very dry and sun-bleached are not good to use. These are “fresh picked” from a deer pen, even though they are white.

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If your dog already enjoys playing with or chewing on antlers, you may be able to skip this step, but it’s a good way to teach a dog the foundations of scenting and searching behavior.
Before we introduce the target odor (antler odor) we are going to show the dog how to use its nose to search for a reward (in the form of food or a toy.) In the beginning, we are going to have the dog self-reward by finding the source and eating it or playing with it. The key here is that the search and find behavior is perfectly reinforced through the dog’s ability to self-reward at source.

I have had the pleasure of working with some very food-driven dogs so, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll be focusing on food rewards but if your dog is more motivated by a certain toy or ball (or an antler!) by all means, substitute that item for the food.

I start with a very high value treat. Soft, moist foods are easy to break up and have the most appeal. If your dog doesn’t go crazy for soft pressed dog treats, pieces of hot dog work wonders.

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I crate the dog or put him in a place where he can’t see what is going on and hide a piece of food under a bucket or a rock. Then I take the dog out and allow him to search for the food. If your dog has a good handle and is good at following your hand signals and directions, you don’t need to leash him but a leash will help you control the search area and help the dog find the treats faster. Walk him by the hides and give him time to search and pin point the odor. Once he finds the treat, quickly reward him by offering another treat. It’s important to carry a few treats in a pouch or baggy in your pocket so that you can quickly reward a successful find. This will help once it’s time to pair the food odor with the target odor (in our case, antlers.) You want to reward the find as quickly as possible. (If using a favorite toy instead of using food for this step, this would be a good time to bounce or throw the toy.)

Once your dog is consistently locating pieces of food, we can either pair that odor with an antler by hiding food and antlers together or teach the dog to target the antler without pairing.

If you are going to pair, just hide the antler and piece of food together. Continue rewarding for a successful search & find and eventually remove the piece of food from the hide area. The dog should begin to target the antler in anticipation of a receiving a reward from you. This is why it’s important to continue rewarding a successful search with food out of your pocket. The dog knows every time he found that odor in the past, it has earned him a reward so he will continue to search for it in anticipation of winning another reward.

I’ve trained a dog with pairing and I’ve trained a dog without pairing. Most dogs do better with either one or the other. If you’re not going to pair odors, you’ll have to teach the dog to target antlers with a technique dog trainers refer to as “shaping.” When shaping behaviors, all we are doing is fine-tuning a behavior that your dog already knows.

In a nutshell, we make the antler appealing and give the dog a reason to pick up. I might start off teasing the dog with an antler and rewarding him for chasing, pouncing on, or picking it up.

At first, you might just be rewarding the act of sniffing the antler.  If the dog occasionally picks it up, start administering rewards for that behavior only. If the dog picks it up and brings it to you, only reward that and not just picking the antler up and dropping it.

Dogs do what works. And any behavior that results in reward is more likely to be repeated.

The reward may come in the form of a piece of food or having the antler tossed for him. It really depends on what motivates the dog. Some are so motivated by play that the antler itself becomes a toy. Others are more motivated by the food they earn for picking the antler up and bringing it to your hand. Whatever the case may be, the reward adds value to the antlers and a highly motivated dog will not be able to resist picking them up to earn that reward.

If the dog loves to tug, tie the antler to a rope and drag or swing it around. Whatever it takes to get the dog engaged and then pay, pay, pay! by rewarding the dog with more play time or food. Every time he grabs the antler, chases it, or paws at it, praise and reward.

I am currently training a young dog that loves to find the antlers and play with them but he has a bad habit of taking them off then prancing around for a few seconds before laying down to chew on them or dropping them in favor of something else.

If your dog is doing this, put him on a long leash. Stand on the leash but make sure he has plenty of slack to run around. Now hand him the antler. Once he’s got it in his mouth, cup your hand under it. Don’t ask him to do anything and don’t try to take it away from him. Just wait it out. The instant he drops the antler, even if he doesn’t drop it in your hand, pick it up and hand it back to him. Better yet, toss it to him if he enjoys picking it up. Remember, antlers are hard and pointy and most dogs don’t enjoy playing “catch” with them. They’ll duck or dodge if an antler is thrown at their head. So be careful not to clock the dog while playing antler games.

 

In the next part of this blog, we will hide some antlers and begin showing the dog how to search for them. If you have any questions about any of the techniques up until now, please post them as I would love to answer them!

Lacy owners are always wanting to know what kinds of activities and training are fun to do with their working breed. Most of our dogs work seasonally which can mean weeks or months of down time.

Antler hunting is simple nose work and a fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs. It’s easy to learn and provides mental and physical stimulation.

It is easy to teach a dog to find shed antlers through basic reward based training. To start out, you present an antler to the dog and every time the dog pays noses or mouths the antler , mark the behavior with good feedback and rewarded the dog with a high value food item. After a few repetitions, the dog will be excited to find an antler in anticipation of earning a reward.

After a few repetitions, you can begin hiding the antlers and encouraging the dog to search for them.

Some dogs are more food driven and will work harder for a food reward. Others are more motivated by toys and play so their reward might be to have the antler tossed for them so they can chase and retrieve it.

 When we practice shed hunting, I will plant several sheds over a large area. It helps to wear gloves so the oils from your skin do not contaminate the antler. Fresh antlers are better than old, dry antlers. In fact, Spring is the best time to take a dog hunting because freshly shed antlers are ripe with fresh scent from the buck’s head hair, blood, and skin cells.

Like bird dogs, antler dogs work about 50 yards in front of a hunter. I work the dog into the wind to maximize the air currents. Antler dogs will cover at least three times the area a hunter could, including tight spots the hunter cannot easily access.

Here are a couple of videos of Rowdy working. The first video is longer the second. In both videos, you can see where she catches the scent downwind.

If you want to hunt lions and bears, you have to find lions and bears…and in the vast rugged West, that is often easier said than done. For decades, dogs have helped hunters and ranchers locate, track, and tree game in a variety of conditions. Traditionally a roll fulfilled by hounds, Lacys, cur dogs and similar breeds are gaining popularity as effective tree dogs because of their intelligence and versatility.

Mountain lion in Nevada

A mountain lion is generally quick to tree. Photo by Cory Davidson.

“You can go catch a lion Monday, check traps on Tuesday and push cows around on Wednesday,” says Cory Davidson of Central Nevada. Multi purpose dogs are ideal for ranchers. A dog capable of tracking a variety of predators is instrumental in keeping livestock safe from coyotes and big cats. Cory hunts with a mixed pack of hounds and one Lacy. He admires the speed of a Lacy dog and believes they hunt harder…even though the hounds possess a cold nose for picking up the oldest tracks.

Lions, bears, and small game such as racoons and squirrels resort to climbing trees or ledges for safety. Once the dogs have located a track and found the quarry, their job is to push it up a tree and surround the base, baying to keep the animal from fleeing. Dogs that bay consistently and maintain respect for the cat or bear are more effective at holding the animal and less likely to be wounded or killed.

A multi purpose dog does require a bit more time to train. It’s easier to train a pup from experienced dogs than to start from scratch.

Since Lacys are so intelligent, they are easy to teach to track and tree. Most hunters start puppies on drags where a line is tied to a lion pelt (or whichever type of animal you intend to hunt) and drug through the woods. As with blood tracking, a good tracker must be conditioned to track. This means nurturing the desire to hunt and locate prey by keeping it fun and rewarding for the dog. There are few things more fun and exciting to a bay dog than a critter in a cage. A live animal can be trapped and a put it into a cage for the dog to bay and chase across the ground. Though not often thought of as a treeing breed, Lacys can be taught to tree very easily by suspending a caged animal from a tree where the dog has to opportunity to approach the tree and become excited about the prize in the top.

Teaching a lacy to tree is easy!

Lacys and cur dogs are well-balanced breeds, adaptable to various types of hunting and terrain. Their agility, speed, and a baying style that is unrelenting make them good choices for hunting predators in rough country. Although not specifically bred for treeing abilities, they are intelligent enough to learn to tree very quickly and can become proficient in trailing and treeing bear, cougar and bobcat when hunted in packs.

Red Lacy and Leopard Catahoula team up on a hog.

Red Lacy and Leopard Catahoula team up on a hog.

When it comes to working style, Lacy Dogs most closely resemble Catahoulas and Blackmouth Curs. They work in a completely different manner than the European herding dogs developed to move sheep across hill and dale or the Continental livestock guardians created to protect their flock. Curs have the ability to work much rougher animals in much tougher conditions. And the Lacy is no exception. Developed to gather and move range hogs, Lacy Dogs herd with a gritty, loose eyed, upright, heading style.

Hog Dog Origins
When discussing Lacy stock dogs, it is important to acknowledge that they developed their style and instincts primarily on feral hogs. They had a specific purpose that was dangerous and difficult. It required great intelligence, independence and an aggressive approach. Lacys without these traits would not have survived the rank animals they faced.

“I was fortunate enough to help my father, John Henry Lacy, round up hogs on our ranch when I was growing up in the Depression days. We didn’t drive the hogs, we just followed as the dogs led them to the pen. One rider could round up a large number of hogs with just he, his horse and his two dogs. There was a pen in the pasture which the dogs knew to take the hogs. We would go into the pasture, this one being about 1,000 acres, with the dogs and they would locate the hogs and round them up into an area. The dogs would nip the hogs and begin their run toward the pen. The hogs would chase the dogs and when the hogs no longer ran after the dogs, the dogs would return and nip a hog again to begin more chasing by the hogs. This continued until the dogs reached the pen and ran through the open gate with the hogs in wild pursuit. There was a hole in the pen on the opposite side of the gate which was too high for hogs to go through but which the dogs could jump through and escape the hogs. The riders just followed the hogs to the pen and shut the gate, thereby penning the herd with no trouble or danger to the horsed or riders. This is still very vivid in my mind’s eye even 65 years later. This is the same way the hogs were taken to Austin to the packing house — led by the dogs, followed by the riders.” – Helen Lacy Gibbs
Read the rest of this entry »

Lacys were developed to be an all-around working dog. Our series, Lacys at Work, explores the numerous jobs the breed excels at.

blue lacy cow dog

The Lacy Dog has the perfect combination of agility, speed and grittiness for herding. They are also adaptable to all types of cattle. On more gentle and responsive cows, they are softer. If they are working wilder, ornery cows, they will bite a nose or ear to make the cows behave.

When Lacys herd livestock, their instinct is to work as headers. While heelers focus on boundary control and circling their animals to keep them in a designating area, heading dogs take a more aggressive approach. They take advantage of livestock’s natural instinct to seek protection in the herd by barking, taunting and harassing. Lacys work in a style similar to Catahoulas and Blackmouth Curs. Read the rest of this entry »

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There is no single, surefire method to train a Lacy on hogs. Each dog is different and what works for one hunter may not work for another. However, these are some of the things we’ve found most successful with our own dogs as well as other dogs we have trained. Please remember safety first and be patient.

The first step, regardless of the dog’s age, is introducing them to a hog. Our own pups start that process at six to eight weeks old, always on a hog of equal or smaller size. The puppies typically see the piglet as a playmate until the piglet nips them, which is usually what “keys” the pup off. Older dogs may need a companion to help them find their way. We use one of our finished dogs to teach older pups and dogs the first few times. After that introduction, we have them work alone for a while so they learn to trust themselves.

As the dog progresses and gains confidence, as well as knowledge of how the hog moves and thinks, we graduate them up in hog size until they can control a 200 to 250 pound boar efficiently. Repetition is important, working the dog on a daily bases increases their drive and helps keep them focused. A young pup will have a short attention span, so five to ten minutes a day is enough. Older dogs can work anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It’s important not to overwork your dog. Give them breaks and let them get a drink. Read the rest of this entry »

Lacys were developed to be an all-around working dog. Our new series, Lacys at Work, explores the numerous jobs the breed excels at.

lacy agility jump

What is agility?
This modern dog sport is all about speed and accuracy. Modeled after equestrian show jumping, the goal of the handler and their dog is to complete a set of obstacles in the fastest time without any disqualifications. The most common obstacles are the bar jump, tire jump, tunnel, chute, teeter, A-frame, dog walk, weave poles and pause table. Courses are designed to test the team with tight turns, close obstacles, distance work and much more. In addition to standard agility, some organizations offer classes like jumpers, gambler’s choice, juniors and relays. But whether or not you want to compete, agility training is a great way to challenge your Lacy both physically and mentally.

How do agility dogs work?
The most important quality of a winning agility team is obedience. Dogs must run through the course without a leash, treats or toys. A close connection between the dog and their handler is extremely important. They must be in constant communication via hand signals and voice commands to successfully navigate a challenging course. Dogs also need to be accurate in order to earn a qualifying score for their round. To earn credit for the dog walk, A-frame and teeter, they must touch the yellow contact zones at the beginning and end of the obstacle. When negotiating the weave poles, the dog must enter to the right of the first pole and proceed through the entire series without missing any. They also must negotiate the tire correctly, jumping through the center ring, and cannot knock down jump poles. Speed is icing on the cake. Of the dogs that complete the proper course with no faults, the fastest round wins. Read the rest of this entry »

The world of hog dogging can be broken into two distinct fields: bay pen competitions and woods hunting. Each requires intelligence, endurance and agility. The Lacy dog excels in both arenas. But there are a few differences between woods dogs and bay pen dogs. It is important to understand the nuances of both venues to maximize your Lacy’s potential.

lacy baying a pig

In a bay pen competition, the dog is placed in a large round pen with a boar. Two or three judges are evenly spaced around the pen to evaluate how well the dog controls the hog. The dog is required to bay the pig continuously for a timed period without looking out of the pen. They are judged on style, intensity and focus. Catching or holding is a disqualification.

Sounds simple enough right? Wrong! Bay pen dogs must develop an intimate knowledge of their quarry. They need to understand the nature of the beast in order to control it. Read the rest of this entry »

Lacys were developed to be an all-around working dog. Our new series, Lacys at Work, explores the numerous jobs the breed excels at.

What is a trap line?
Trapping is a form of predator control. Trappers set up lines for coon, coyote, fox, bobcat and hogs that are killing livestock, destroying crops and causing habitat damage. Many professionals use a long chain and drag on their traps. This lets the animal run into the brush, where they feel hidden and settle down faster, preventing further physical damage and stress. The drag will usually create a good trail to follow, but if the ground is rocky or has a lot of dead grass, the drag will leave little or no sign. This is where the dog comes in.

How do trap line dogs work?
Starting where the animal was caught, the dog works the track to find the trapped varmint. Once they find their quarry, they must bay up to alert the trapper to its location and keep the animal in one place. So the dog must learn to trail any varmint that is in the trap. They also need to be able to deal with anything the trapper catches, which can range from an ornery wild boar to a treed black bear. With a competent dog controlling the situation, the trapper is able to get close to quickly dispatch the animal. Read the rest of this entry »

Lacys were developed to be an all-around working dog. Our new series, Lacys at Work, explores the numerous jobs the breed excels at.

jerry and diggerWhat is blood tracking?
Blood tracking is the art of using a dog to trail and find wounded game. In Texas, blood dogs are mainly used to trail wounded deer. Hunting leases in this part of the world range anywhere from $8 to $20 per acre and trophy deer packages may cost anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000, so any tool that can be utilized to recover a wounded deer is well worth the effort. Blood tracking dogs are trained to follow a scent trail of blood as well as microscopic scent particles eliminated from a deer’s wound. An experienced dog will also track the scent from the inter-digital gland located between the hoofs when a blood trail runs out.

How do blood tracking dogs work?
Tracking dogs utilize any scent particle that is eliminated from a deer’s wound or body to find the animal. These scents are not only limited to blood, they also include stomach material, other tissue and tarsal gland secretions. The dogs must be able to associate the blood track and scent it is following with one particular wounded deer, staying on track even if another deer has walked over the trail. An experienced dog will be able to avoid all distractions and remain focused on its task. When a dog finds a dead deer, they normally stay by their find and begin to eat on it. A live wounded deer is another story. The dog must be able hold the animal in one area by baying, and if the bay breaks, the dog must be able to stop the deer by biting it in the leg and keep baying it until the handler arrives to dispatch the deer. Read the rest of this entry »

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