With a little help from their best friends, the Lakoskys own a huge stack of racks.
Click here to watch video of Tank's latest shed find.
Tank and Mattie, Lee and Tiffany’s black labs, are successful shed hunters, helping amass a collection of deer antlers 3-feet high and 3-feet deep. It wraps around their hearth for about 20 feet, and many were retrieved by their bone-loving hounds.
“Tom Dokken is the sole reason that our dogs are as well-trained as they are,” Tiffany said of the legendary dog trainer and owner of Dokken’s Dog Supply. “Both are as obsessed with shed hunting as we are.”
Click image to see photos of the Lakosky's and their hunting dogs
Lee first met Dokken when he was in high school. He had saved up all his money and had Dokken train his first hunting dog. Just four years ago, Dokken met with the Crush show hosts to ask if they had any interest in getting a shed dog.
“We jumped on the opportunity. Little did we know what an impact that it would make on our lives,” Tiffany said. “Tank will be 4 this March and he's picked up over 1,000 horns already. We then decided to get Mattie, who will be 2 this May. She's picked up well over 150 horns already.”
The Lakosky and labs pick up about 400 dropped antlers every season, the search beginning about this time of year. After the rut, testosterone starts to decrease and the antlers fall when it drops to a certain level, although the exact time varies with weather conditions and regions.
Men have found antlers for eons, most by happenstance before a variety of critters eat them. Experienced shed hunters scour deer trails and other likely places such as thickets and fences, where antlers can be tugged or jarred free by jumps.
A recent craze has been to train dogs to assist in the venture, and shed dog hunting is now considered the fastest growing dog sport.Dokken started the North American Shed Hunting Dog Association and a trainer website (www.sheddogtrainer.com). He has hosted the World Shed Dog Hunting championship at his Oak Ridge Kennels in Northfield, Minn., where Lee and Tank came away as amateur and junior division titles.
“Tom has done an amazing job with our dogs and with us,” Tiffany said. “He gives us the tools and instruction to ensure that our dogs are successful in the field no matter what they are hunting.”
It doesn’t take much work to transition Tank and Mattie from retrieving pheasant, goose and duck to sniffing out and picking up sheds.
“Both can change from sport to sport with just a few drills to refresh them on what's expected of them,” Tiffany said. “We just got home from Arkansas duck hunting and both did great!”
Obviously, they have done well finding sheds. On a trip to their Deer Camp in October, Tiffany was simply keeping the dogs attuned to antlers by playing fetch with one. With their training, Tiffany said there’s not a lot of instructing while searching in the field, and their four-legged friends certainly cover much more ground than they could alone.
“Basically, at this point when we are shed hunting with them, we just let them work and do their thing,” she said. “We try not to overly control them and let them range as far as they would like.”
The Lakoskys know what’s going on in their woods and when to head to the field by monitoring game cams as well as their live web cam, thecrush.tv.Lee and Tiffany will pass on their shed dog expertise at Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic presented by MidwayUSA at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center on Feb. 14-16.
Of course, nearly everything they know they learned from Dokken, who offered Pheasants Forever online editor Anthony Hauck answers to following FAQs on how to get your bird dog in the game.Dokken said current shed dogs are mainly Labs and Golden Retrievers, but most bird dogs can become well-suited to shed hunting.
“The strongest breeds are the ones that are going to pick something up,” Dokken said. “Really any dog that likes to play fetch can be a shed dog. Even pointing breeds, especially those with natural retrieving instincts like German shorthaired pointers and German wirehaired pointers, can find success.”Dokken said the most likely culprit when pheasant and quail dogs go bad is a lack of an offseason training regimen.
“Quite frankly, a lot of people just drop the ball after hunting season,” Dokken said. “Shed hunting is another way to get offseason activity, and one that’s definitely different than what most bird dogs are used to.”
Bird dogs can easily pick up shed hunting, and in short order.
“Think of it as an upland hunt, but for antlers,” he said, “The dogs are using their hunting drive, their noses and working on retrieves, so it’s really a way to extend the hunting season.”
That goes for the trainer, too.
“It really feels like I’m going on a hunting trip,” he said before prepping his dogs to head west to South Dakota in search of sheds this April.
Fortunately, quality shed hunting can be had almost anywhere these days, including suburbia, and isn’t exclusive to just whitetail deer antlers – shed dogs can also retrieve mule deer, elk and moose sheds.
Asked if adding shed hunts to a dog’s repertoire will ruin him for actual bird hunting, Dokken gives an emphatic “No.”
“Hunting for sheds doesn’t mess up a bird dog, there just isn’t that competition between birds and sheds,” Dokken said. “The antler can never take the place of a living, breathing, good-smelling and exciting live bird.”
And the transition back can be seamless. The most important element is finding the time to retrain them for the next task at hand.
“It’s not something you need to train your dog for years to do,” Dokken says, “It’s simple stuff you can do at home.”
While Dokken runs a 12-16 week shed dog training course (www.dokkensoakridgekennels.com), he’s seen dogs pick it up in a matter of weeks.
Dokken recommends starting with a simple game of fetch, tossing the antler around the house, then the backyard, letting the dog have fun picking it up and bringing it back to you.
“Take a command word and work it in, but make sure it’s not a word you emphasize for other commands,” he said.
His preferred command is “find the bone.”
To a bird dog, a hard shed antler, unlike a soft, well-scented pheasant, typically takes some warming to. Dokken, who doesn’t use treats when training dogs for upland birds or waterfowl, does use them for shed training.
“A treat lets the dog know it’s worth picking up,” he said.
One caveat as you increase the number of sheds you’re hiding around the house or backyard is the scent from your own hands.
“At first, dogs will key on to sheds because of the scent from your hands,” he said. “You’ll eventually need to eliminate that scent using rubber gloves and boots when you place the sheds.”
In the end, bird dogs can learn to do it all, from retrieving dinner to helping decorate your home.
“For bird dogs, there really isn’t a downside to shed hunting,” Dokken said, “it’s all upside.”
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