Have you ever wondered if you can train your Black Lab to find and retrieve sheds? The skill of finding sheds is actually easy to teach to almost any dog, as long as they are big enough to be able to carry the shed. However, a Labrador retriever is one of the easiest breeds to teach this too because they naturally and instinctively want to retrieve just about anything. All you really need to do is teach them what to retrieve, and it is the same process whether it is a duck, a dummy or a shed.
The first prerequisite that is required of your dog is making sure they understand the basic commands. ie.. sit, stay and the command that you use to have them retrieve. When you feel as though your dog has a sufficient understanding of these commands you are ready to move forward with the shed training. Without these basic commands, though, you will find it more difficult for you to teach your dog and to grasp what you are trying to teach them. I will note here as well that you don’t have to start these exercises with a puppy, it is true that teaching a puppy can be a bit easier for two reasons. First, they have not developed bad habits and secondly, they are easily trained and motivated with food. However, an older dog, as long as they have a good understanding of the fundamental commands, can learn to find and fetch sheds.
Starting indoors is a great way to introduce your dog to the shape, feel and weight of a shed. You can either use a small shed that you have already collected or purchase a shed dummy to use. Either will work and can be used both inside and outside. Here is a link to some of the more popular Antler Chews. You want to create a repetitive action for your dog to follow. Set the shed across a large room like a great room or living room. A lot of trainers will also include a white paper cut out of a silhouette of antlers to reinforce the shape of what the dog is interacting with. Then command/instigate your dog to retrieve the shed. Repeat this process for an hour a day for approximately a week or until you feel as though the dog fully understands what you are trying to get him to do and he can repeat the action on command without confusion or mistakes. Repetition and praise are the keys to your success in this step. Your dog wants nothing more than to please you and you demonstrate this by energetic praise when the dog completes a task successfully.
The next step in this process will be to move this activity outdoors. Moving outdoors reinforces several of the processes you are trying to achieve in training your door to find and retrieve sheds. First, it continues the reinforcement of what you are wanting them to look for and retrieve. The exact same thing that went on inside but now in the natural environment where sheds are found. Secondly, you are no longer limited by the space or direction the sheds can be hidden. Where inside the size and the shape of the room greatly hobbled your hiding places. You also may want to introduce an external scent to the shed such as Dog Bone Shed Scent. A shed scent will reinforce that desire to retrieve sheds when your dog progresses to real sheds.
At first, try to duplicate the distance of approximate equivalent to your hiding spots indoors. You should gradually move them not only incrementally farther away, but also vary the direction the dog has to travel to find the shed. This variation will kick-in the dog’s natural instinctive ability to use scent as well as sight to be able to locate the shed. If it is not readily see-able, it most certainly is readily smell-able.
In this stage, repetition and variety are the keys. Try to perform this step daily for about 10 days. Do it to the point where both you and the dog are tired of it. (if your dog is anything like mine, you will tire of this step long before your dog. My boy Guinness will fetch sheds, eagerly, until he drops..) And never, never forget to lavishly praise and reward! Hang in there you are well on the way in the “train your black lab to find sheds” process.
Take a Walk
Now a lot of trainers might skip this step but it something I did with my boy Guinness that really helped his progress as well as gives him little refreshers every year when “shed season” is on top of us.
I try to talk walks with Guinness pretty much every chance I can. He loves to walk and it’s good for me too. It also helps build that bond that you have with your dog and you wander, stretch your legs and get a little exercise. It the area I walk there are a lot of good hiding places for sheds. I have staged several sheds in different places along the way for Guinn to find them. This is different from the “Move Outdoors” section above because in the previous lessons your dog always knows what’s up.. i.e.. “fetch shed time!!” whereas in this walk all he knows is we are going for a walk but it does not directly associate with fetching sheds. As we walk he finds the sheds.. either by scent or site and it commands to bring them to me. After several walks, it becomes a sort of an instinctive action to always be looking for and smelling for a shed. This is also a good way to refresh your dog’s memory and actions right prior to the next season shed hunts.
Praise and Repeat
You are pretty much now on your way to having a dog that will find and retrieve sheds for you as you wander the hills and woods. Dogs learn from rewarded incremental progression. Remember to praise praise praise! As you train your lab to find sheds in these steps, make sure he is rewarded not only with treats but with exuberant love and hugs, he will gladly continue to improve and do this for you because the greatest thing that a dog experiences are to make you happy.