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People have been using dogs since the first days of their domestication to aide in hunting animals such as deer. A dog's powerful nose makes him a great hunting partner, especially in locating and tracking quarry. German shepherds are most commonly used as guard dogs, police dogs, and were originally herding dogs, thus the name “shepherd”. Although not primarily used as hunting dogs, many of the skills that make them excel at their other “jobs” also lend themselves to tracking and hunting animals such as deer.
When hunting deer, hunters, in spite of their best efforts, do not always get off a clean shot and a deer can be wounded, taking off into heavy brush. This is when having a dog that can track deer proves invaluable. A dog like a German shepherd that can follow the deer's scent or blood trail to locate the wounded deer so the animal can be humanely dispatched. This also saves time and prevents the suffering and loss of a wounded animal.
You can use a German shepherd in actual hunting scenarios to locate deer trails, track a wounded deer, or train your dog to follow deer scent and use him in competitions and field trials. German shepherds are focused, motivated, and intelligent working dogs with strong prey drives and a keen sense of smell. You will want to harness and direct these attributes to train your dog to track deer.
You can start by making sure he is familiar with hunting terrain and the sights and sounds of a hunt. You can lay scent trails to follow and encourage your dog to focus on deer blood and scent trails while ignoring competing scents. Because they are people oriented working dogs, your German shepherd will look to you for direction. Be sure to provide guidance patiently and motivate your dog. When your dog locates a wounded animal, you will want your German shepherd to signal you. Be prepared to reward and reinforce signaling behavior such as barking to let you know game has been located.
Acclimating your dog to guns, other hunters, and the presence of prey animals, as well as ensuring your dog has good off leash recall, are all important steps to prepare for tracking deer. You may also want to fit your dog with a radio collar so you can find him if you become separated in thick underbrush. You can purchase deer scent or obtain deer blood and apply it to a cloth or drag item to create a scent trail or use an actual deer hide to help train your dog to follow the scent.
The Scent Trails Method
Create a scent trail with food
Take your German Shepherd out into a open grassy area and take several soft dog treats with you. Grind soft treats into the ground under your shoe to create a trail. Walk between treats so that the scent of the food on the bottom of your shoe creates a trail between treats.
Direct along trail
Allow your dog loose and encourage him to explore and locate the treat trail. Praise your German Shepherd as he follows the trail. Ignore him if he goes off trail or makes a mistake.
Pair food with deer scent
Replace treats with deer scent on a drag, or by using a deer hide to create a trail. Plant treats along the trail at first to pair a familiar scent and motivate your German shepherd to follow the trail.
Reward successful tracking
Gradually remove treats and just have your dog follow the deer scent. When he successfully reaches the end of the scent trail, praise him and reward him.
Teach your dog to signal you at the end of a trail when he locates the drag item by teaching him to speak on command. Provide the 'Speak' command when you locate the end of the scent trail, then reward. Gradually stop providing the 'Speak' command, wait until your dog barks to signal you at end of scent trail, then reward.
The Deer Blood Method
Introduce deer blood
Pour deer blood onto a sponge and present it to your German shepherd. Give your dog a treat when he investigates the deer blood to create a positive association. Repeat often.
Create simple trail
Create a deer blood scent trail by pouring deer blood in a straight line. This line can be fifteen to twenty feet long. Place a deer hide at the end of the trail.
Encourage scenting trail
Take your German shepherd on a leash along the blood trail, encouraging your dog and letting him sniff and investigate the trail as you go. Take your time.
Reward locating drag item
When you reach the end of the trail, praise your dog and reward him with a treat or play with your German shepherd and the deer hide.
Add complexity and signal
Make subsequent blood trails more complicated. Introduce longer trails, winding trails, and interrupted trails. Let your dog locate and follow the trails off leash. Provide direction and guidance. Ask your dog to 'Speak' at end of the trail before rewarding with play time with the deer hide.
The Learn by Doing Method
Take your German shepherd out in hunting areas and wilderness. Make sure he is used to rough terrain and in good condition.
Introuduce hunting companion
Introduce your German shepherd to another deer tracking dog. Scenting breeds like hounds may be more commonly used for following scent trails. The dog does not have to be a German shepherd, but the dogs should be well socialized and familiar with each other before initiating work.
Create scent trail or locate wild trail
Take the dogs out to an area with deer and deer trails with scent, or create a scent trail with a drag prior to allowing dogs into the area. Make sure that you have control on the situation as much as possible.
Allow the experienced dog to locate and follow the deer scent. Your German shepherd trainee will take his cues and interest from the other dog and follow.
Reinforce finding deer
Practice and reward location of deer or planted deer hide with lots of praise and affection. Repeat often to reinforce the behavior so that it is reliable.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 05/25/2018, edited: 01/08/2021