Now here’s a way to get the benefits of hunting (showy antlers) without all the trouble! And by getting trained this way, more rescue dogs can find homes! Its a win-win situation!
Thanks to the Appleton Post-Crescent for this story.
Wilderness: Dogs can sniff out shed antlers
By Ross Bielema
For The Post-Crescent
Roger Sigler has taught dogs to find drugs, missing persons and of course all manner of birds.
But now hes gaining attention as the man who teaches dogs to find shed deer antlers.
The growth of antler hunting as a sport has fueled the need for canines that can sniff out a shed rack the same as they might find a bunny or bird.
If youre hunting for antlers without a dog, youre just going for a walk,” Sigler said from his home in Smithville, Mo., just a few days before his visit to the Wisconsin Deer Classic in Ashwaubenon.
Sigler has been an animal trainer for 30 years, with the training of police dogs one of his specialties.
In Lansing, Kansas, he started a volunteer Christian ministry in the prison there called Safe Harbor Prison Dogs to teach inmates to become dog trainers as a vocation. At the same time, he helped more than 700 dogs from local pounds to find homes, once these inmates gave them the needed training to be good house pets.
He has also trained many other animals, including horses and sea lions.
While many trainers prefer force retrieving and other punishment-based training, Sigler favors operant conditioning, which uses positive reinforcement to get a dog to search for antlers (or whatever else you want it to do).
Youre constantly reading the animal and making decisions,” he said.
Each dog has its own personality, and each will have its own reason for enjoying the hunt for deer racks, he explained. Some simply love to retrieve. Some will bring the rack to their master just for a game of tug-of-war. Others will work for food, praise, or a combination of both.
Although many breeds of dogs can be trained to find antlers, Sigler recommends Labrador retrievers. Retrieving is a must for a good antler dog, and his black and yellow Labs really prove their talents in the field.
On a recent day, he turned four of his antler dogs loose on a 750-acre game farm. While several people wandered around, looking in the obvious places for shed racks, his dogs sniffed and snuffled through the same terrain. In a 3-hour period, the humans found seven sheds, while the dogs found 14.
Antlers give off a scent that dogs can be trained to find. Shed hunters normally rely only on their sight, but that becomes a challenge when hunting in such likely places as cornfields, where every stalk looks the same. Dogs can search these same places at high speed, and wind an antler as far as 20 yards away.
Dont worry – dog will not associate the scent of an antler with that of a deer, so your antler dog will not become a deer-chasing menace, Sigler said.
One of his training techniques is to hide antlers in fields of fives acres or so. He will wait many days for his scent to dissipate before taking his trainees to the site. The dogs quickly learn their quarry.
They have to find antlers to improve their skills,” he said.
January through March is the best time to search for shed antlers in Wisconsin.
Whitetails drop their antlers each winter, and surprisingly, an individual buck will lose its rack within three days of the date it lost its antlers the previous year, according to Sigler.
If you go the right time of year, you will almost always find antlers,” he said.
The average hunter doesnt have a great chance of bagging a trophy buck, but he or she just might find a record-book shed antlerespecially with the help of a trained antler dog, Sigler said.