TRAINING DOGS FOR SHED COLLECTING   1 comment

Roger Sigler and his wife Sharon of Smithville, MO have added a new element to shed collecting.  “It is a wonderful sport for the entire family,” explains Roger.  It does not make any difference whether one is young or old, male or female.  You do not have to have a license.  It is just great fun.  

I met the Siglers at a QDMA conference some time ago.  The love they have of family, deer shed collecting and their dogs are apparent on first contact. 

The Siglers train “antler dogs.”  These are dogs that find and retrieve deer antlers. 

Sigler takes the dog out and it is like hunting birds.  Roger will walk down a path.  “Wherever I go the dog will correct and quarter accordingly.”  The dog appears to be working a bird.  They stop, they correct, they get it and they bring it to the handler. 

One can use the dogs to either prospect or to collect antlers to know what is out there.  There are multi reasons that one would want to use a dog other than just finding the sheds.  The sheds are the crown jewel to the use of the dog.  

Roger uses a reward based program called the “Science of Participatory Training.”  No punishment is used.  He has been doing this for years.  The dogs are started at 8 weeks of age.  They are started with an antler and there is no pressure, it is all fun.  Everything about the association with the antler has to be pleasant.  No pressure, no force.  

When Roger’s dog Ayla finds an antler placed in a seminar audience and returns it to Roger on stage, most people see this as a neat little trick.  But think about it.   The dog has to have complete concentration in whatever habitat she is working.  Antler dogs have to concentrate on antlers and work all day long out in the field looking for only for antlers.  

One may have a dog that will retrieve antlers all day long in the field, but if brought into a building will she still do it in that setting.  Antler dogs must be able to do so. 

The training is all based in science that began with Pavlov’s dogs in the 1860’s.  He would ring a bell and then feed the dog.  Pavlov was studying the enzymes in a dog’s stomach and was trying to get them to salivate.  After a few times all he had to do was ring the bell and the dog would automatically salivate in anticipation of getting fed.  

In the 1940’s, B.F. Skinner, father of modern psychology, took Pavlov’s writings a step further.  Skinner would wait for a behavior like fetch and then he would mark that behavior with a marker sound like a clicker or word or light.  Then he would reward the dog. 

In training an 8-week old pup Sigler will place the reward behind his back and point or say X feeding the dog.  He waits after three or four times doing that to see if the dog will look away.  If it does, he says X to see if the dog looks back.  He then knows the dog understands.  

As soon as the dog knows and understands, Roger will pick a treat and place it in my hand.  He then asks the dog to touch his hand.  As soon as he does so with his nose, he says X and feeds.  Then with no treat in hand and saying touch my hand.  The dog does so and Roger says X.  The reason is that they are starting to teach the marker.  

What is happening is teaching incrementally.  Dogs learn like a child learns to read.  They learn parts and learn to combine elements.  They learn sit, stay and come.  

Roger teaches a puppy to come, to stay, come to its name, a target and also maintain eye contact.  They learn eye contact as a form of begging.  The dog is saying I am willing to do what you want if you give me what I want.  

He also teaches the come back and forth by using two trainers to just send them back and forth.  Beginning a few feet apart the distance is gradually increased.  The dogs are sent back and forth with their name and the “I say X” explains Roger.  

Sigler believes that a puppy by the time they are 12 to 14 weeks of age can know and understand all the obedience they are going to need for the rest of their life.  Everything starts with obedience before moving to the more complicated discipline. 

“We sell puppies but we do not really sell puppies, says Roger. “What we really sell is training.”  What the Siglers will do is take a litter of puppies at 8 weeks of age and begin testing them.  

“You can’t tell anything about an 8 week old puppy,” maintains Roger.  What he does with the puppy is start training them.  Somewhere around 14 to 16 weeks he can determine whether or not they have the drive and skills to be able to do the work.  At that point he will sell them as puppies.  They already know sit, stay and come, have worked in the woods every day and have started swimming.  Roger is shooting a gun around them and they are retrieving antlers.  He knows whether or not they have a very good chance of going on to become an outstanding dog.  

The dogs that do not work out are given away as pets.  “It is all about the dog,” says Roger. 

If you have the wrong dog, you are wasting time.  If you go out a buy an 8 week old puppy and want to train it to be an antler dog there is a slim chance that it will work out.  The chance is probably less than 20 percent.  

Roger maintains that if you begin with the right animal it is pretty simple to train the dog at 14 to 16 weeks. 

He also plays a game with a sock.  There are dogs that will fetch a thrown antler a thousand times.  That is just a retriever.  Roger will actually teach the dog scent discrimination.  The dog has to understand what it is that he is hunting.  

In a piece of blue jean, there is a piece of antler tied.  In another piece there is none.  He starts with the antler in the blue jean and throws it out.  The dog will go get it and bring it back.  Without the marker this is almost impossible to teach.  He switches from one jean with the antler in it to the second with no antler in it.  The dog goes out and makes a mistake.  If you correct the dog for bringing back the wrong one the dog may get confused and think that he has done something wrong.  He will quit bringing them both back.  

The way to do it is throw the blue jean out and the dog goes to get it.  The minute he picks it up Roger will mark it by saying the “X” marker.  It tells the dog that he did the right thing.  When he Roger out and puts two of them down and says “search”, the dog brings back the one with the antler in it.  If he would bring back the wrong one, Roger folds his arms and stands perfectly still.  He does not say no or bad dog or anything.  The dog will go back and look at both of them.  If he even looks at the right one, Roger will mark it. 

This is a form of language that the Siglers have developed. 

For additional information about antler dogs check Sigler’s website at http://www.antlerdogs.com.

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One response to “TRAINING DOGS FOR SHED COLLECTING

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  1. Very interesting article. I like to hunt for sheds to make writing pens. I turn them on my wood lathe.

    Using a dog seems like a much more efficient way to find them!

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