For centuries, pigs and truffles went hand in hand. Today they are used by very few farmers for hunting, but still create great delight, when featured in regional truffle festivals. For many reasons dogs are now the truffle farmers’ preferred companion.
Why would you use pigs to forage for truffles?
Pigs are natural foragers and root for food in the ground with their snouts.
It was female pigs however, that were primarily used to find truffles. They were perfect for this task, because truffles contain a ‘musk like’ substance, also synthesised in the sexual organs of the male pig. As part of the mating ritual, the female is insatiably drawn to this scent.
They can detect truffles by their aroma alone, even when growing deep underground. Unless they’ve been encouraged to eat something else as a reward, pigs are likely to devour any truffles they find, hence, over the past two centuries, hunting with well-trained dogs has become the norm!
So why use dogs to hunt for truffles?
A well-trained dog is just as effective at sniffing out a truffle as a pig. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and many enjoy working with this skill. Truffles, when they are mature and ready to be unearthed, give off a very particular aroma, which dogs can be trained to find. Time is a critical factor in truffle farming: they need to be found when they are mature, harvested and stored quickly to preserve their unique flavour.
There are also sound environmental reasons for using dogs. Truffles are fairly delicate and are quite particular about the quality of the soil they will grow in. Pigs aren’t the most delicate of creatures and can have a destructive impact on the earth as they frantically search for their prize while hunting. With a well-trained dog, a farmer can have much greater control over how the soil is disturbed. Of course, dogs are also far more mobile.
Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years and we’ve developed a very natural working relationship with them. We live together and we play together. Truffle hunting with a well-trained dog
can be a very rewarding way to interact with your pet.
What breed of dogs are good for hunting truffles?
The Lagotto Romagnolo is the classic Italian truffle hunting breed. However there is a long list of dog breeds that have been successfully trained. It’s more important to consider the characteristics of a dog when deciding if they’ll be your truffle hunting companion.
A training school for truffle hunting dogs would look for temperament, intelligence, alertness, work ethic and ability to stay on task. But even having found a dog with these attributes, there’s no guarantee they’ll make a great truffle hunter: these characteristics have to come together in the right way. A further factor to consider is how you work together as a team. Dogs will thrive under confident leadership.
To answer the question: many breeds can become successful truffle dogs. We’ve come across very successful Spaniels, Labradors, Kelpies, Border Collies, Britons, Australian shepherds, German shepherds, American Staffordshire terriers, French Bulldogs and even Chihuahuas (on a smaller property!). There aren’t too many breeds we wouldn’t consider suitable, providing they have the right mix of essential qualities and can be trained to do the job.
How do you train a dog to hunt for truffles?
As the adage says: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Ideally you would start with a puppy around 12 to 16 weeks old. Dogs have an excellent olfactory sense and enjoy using it, so this should be taken advantage of. Begin with a patient introduction to the scent of a ‘first quality’ mature truffle. This is extremely important, as your goal is for your dog to ‘only’ stop and mark ‘ripe, mature’ truffle.
Play regular games that can be easily identified and learned. Infuse a toy or other object with the scent of a truffle and hide it until the dog learns to search for it. Use treats and lots of verbal praise when they find their decoy truffle. Once they’ve found some regular success, move the game out into the field. They’ll get used to using their sense of smell to pinpoint this particular aroma among all the others in nature.
The key word here is patience: a good truffle hunting dog will take from one to up to two years to fully hone their skills.
Where can I learn more?
Truffle farming has changed significantly since the days when truffle pigs were commonly used.
Register your interest for our developing online Truffle Dog Course.
This course includes extensive evidence based training methods using current world’s best practice.
Includes selection of dog breeds and traits to look for.
You’ll access reliable information on getting you and your dog ready to work together.