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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Years 4 and 5: Time to Train Some Truffle Dogs

Knowing that we had a good chance of finding truffles at 5 years after planting, we figured we'd better get busy training that border collie.  He was ready for a real job.  So, what's the best way to do that?  We thought it was best to scent train the dog with the real thing so we got some truffles - the same kind he would be hunting.  Some folks think that training a dog with truffle oil works.  It might and it might not.  We didn't want to take any chances so we got a truffle, cut it up into several pieces, wrapped each piece in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and hid the pieces around the house.  I gave Friday a little sniff of the truffle and told him to go find it.  He acted like it was the most fun game he had ever played.  You should have seen him running from room to room, sniffing and pawing at the drawers and doors to closets where the pieces were hidden.  He learned how to find them in no time flat.  He never tried to eat them, he just wanted his reward which was always play time.  When he got really good at finding them inside, I started taking them outside and hiding them at the base of the trees an inch or two deep.  I would mark the trees with a piece of ribbon so I knew where the pieces were.  Then, I'd put the leash on him and tell him to find it.  He would start out with his head up sniffing the air. As soon as he caught the scent, he would go for it.  He'd paw the ground and look up at me to let me know he'd found one.  It didn't take very long at all for him to learn to find them all.  When he had mastered being able to find all the pieces every time, I knew he was ready for the hunt.  We put the pieces in the freezer after each hunt and just continued to practice until our first truffles came in.

A couple of years ago, we met a wonderful dog trainer, Lisa Kennell (Glen Eagle Kennels in Luray, VA) .  Lisa has a world champion dog who she trained to find truffles.  He's a little bitty wire haired dachshund and he loves to hunt truffles.  Any breed dog can be a truffle dog but they need to have a good nose, be more interested in working than sleeping and be willing to work for treats.  Border collies, labs, labradoodles, poodles and lots of other breeds work well.  Dogs with long noses work better than dogs with smushed in noses (like Boston Terriers.)  The number one truffle hunting breed is the Lagotto Romagnolo.  It's a water dog that looks similar to the Portuguese water dog and they have been bred for generations to hunt truffles in Europe.  There are breeders in the U.S.  Jayne Kline is a friend who has one of the Lagottos.  Visit her website  www.truffletracks.com  and take a look at her Lagotto, Lucca.  He's a real sweetie and already a good truffle hunter for hire.

We have another truffle hunter now as well.  Her name is Dazy and she's a terrier mix.  I usually describe her as being "All Terrier All the Time."  She will work when she wants to so you really have to keep her attention.  She loves those treats!

So long for now.  Think Truffles!

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