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4 Steps To Train Your Hunting Dog To Recover Game

hunting dog
Training is an ideal off-season activity using one of your dog's greatest assets — its nose. (Shutterstock image)

Whether you lose a mortally wounded deer through thick cover or through the loss of a blood trail, a hunting dog trained for game recovery raises your success rate exponentially and serves as a critical finish to a good hunt.

By C. Howle

And the best dog for tracking likely already lives under your roof.


"They are all good at it. They all evolved from dogs that were required to track in order to survive," said Jeremy Moore, professional dog trainer and developer of DogBone Training Systems.


Several breeds have traits that lend themselves well for tracking: the sporting breeds, shepherds and even retrieval-driven mixed breeds that work cooperatively with their handler. Training is an ideal off-season activity using one of your dog's greatest assets — its nose. And a short once-a-week training session will get your dog ready for the next deer season.

Check your local/state game tracking laws, as many states require dogs on leash. A leash is not a deal breaker, however. It allows freedom of movement while still offering control and can be a visual cue for the dog to hunt if used exclusively for tracking.

More on Hunting Dogs

"Tracking is really a long-distance game of retrieve," Moore said. Following his basic steps for training, learned from years of experience, provides a fun challenge for your pup. He offers a complete game recovery training kit with a 10-foot drag line for creating a scent track, 8-inch-by-8-inch deer hide, blood trail scent (a composite of several deer odors), and booklet at dogbonehunter.com.

THE FOUR STEPS TO SUCCESS

STEP 1

Start with a simple, short visual track that puts the idea in the dog's mind that there's something to be found at the end. It's ideal if a helper can lay the track while you stay with the dog. With the dog watching on a 30-foot lead, lay a straight tracking line 10 to 30 yards by dragging a raw, partially unthawed beef liver if venison is unavailable (remember to save the deer's liver next season). Encourage the dog to follow the track with a reward waiting at the end.

Step 2

When the dog is ready, rehydrate an untanned 8-inch-by-8-inch deer hide in water for several hours. Sprinkle deer blood trail scent on the hair side and place in a Ziplock bag for about 10 minutes. Drag the hide (on a line) simulating a straight-line blood trail using the same procedure as with the liver. When finished, bag the hide and freeze. Remember to continue rewarding your dog.

Step 3

Create a 90-degree turn within your track using the hide. "They'll typically run right through the turn," Moore said. The dog will naturally work in circles following the scent cone. Work at a pace your dog's nose can handle, slowly adding more turns and difficulty as the dog progresses.

Step 4

Allow the trail to age before tracking with the dog, simulating what would naturally happen when losing a wounded deer. Wait 15 minutes at first, then 30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc., progressing slowly. Always set your pup up for success.

Train in a range of weather conditions, giving your dog experience in a variety of scenarios, tracking only once a week.

Tracking takes a lot out of a dog, Moore said. "If you do this every day, you'll burn them out and lose the excitement, the fun."

In between tracks, play scent games with a tennis ball dotted with blood trail hidden in cover. Be creative, keep it fun, and always leave the dog wanting more. For more game recovery tips, visit dogbonehunter.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/DogBoneHunter.

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