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Truffle Dogs

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

A Field Spaniels pauses and lifts her nose towards a blaze of pinks and reds sky. It feels like a sign of good luck. Then, cautiously, and with a nose that is an instrument of precision, the pooch enters into a green forest of twisted oak and hazelnut trees accompanied by her master.

Not long after both are in the forest, the puppy stops and gentle scratches at the soil covered by fallen leaves. Her master gets down on her knees, breaks the soft ground, and with a towel, picks one of the most precious fungi with a unique flavour capable of inducing fits of ecstasy for those lucky enough to eat it. This earthy morsel has a distinctive flavour and is found in the shallow earth by dogs. Yes, truffle dogs.

The early truffle hunters frequently used female pigs for hunting down truffles. It is said that female pigs were attracted to truffles because the highly prized edible subterranean fungi has a pungent scent similar to the pheromone compounds released by male pigs. However, due to the pigs’ erratic digging method, they damage the environment and the fragile fungal structures in the soil. To make matters worse, hogs love to eat the truffles once they’ve found them. Dogs, on the other hand, can be trained to locate the truffles and not eat or destroy produce. Plus, dogs are much easier to handle and train.

Dogs have been introduced and have replaced mainly pigs in the hunt for truffles. However, pigs are still used in some areas. Training a dog can take between four weeks to three months.

Certain breeds and characteristics need to be considered, as not all dogs will make the cut to be a perfect truffle dog. Dogs are trained to use their heightened sense of smell to rustle around the soil and find the truffle’s exact location.

Breeds such as Labradors, Weimaraner’s, Beagles, German Shorthaired Pointers, Field Spaniels, and Welsh Springer Spaniels tend to be a good choice. For instance, Labradors are intelligent and highly motivated by food, which makes the training and rewarding process easy. Field Spaniels are typically docile and laid-back, making great truffle dog companions.

One of the key aspects of training a truffle dog is having enjoyment. The dog must be having fun when they are trying to find the precious fungus. The dogs “mark” the area where they smell the subterranean prize by gently scratching the ground during the process. Once they find the truffle, the dog is rewarded, and the truffle is picked up by hand.

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