Train Your Dog to Hunt Truffles (Part 2)
Once your dog has mastered the first stage and is able to find truffles hidden in the home you are ready to move on to stage two. By the end of the second stage everything will have come together and your dog will be digging truffles, allbeit mock truffles, out of the ground.
When you begin stage two you know that your dog has clearly understood that you want her to sniff the truffle. She understands the connection between truffles and rewards. You are now going to take the truffle and the dog outdoors.
This is where the fun starts… outside is where most dogs would prefer to be. You are taking the dog out of the sterile artificial environment of the house into their natural surroundings, the place they are most at home. If your dog enjoyed the first stage, finding truffles in the living room, then she is going to love truffling outdoors. However this enthusiasm means that learning can be trickier because a lot of dogs tend to get excitable when they are outside. It might be difficult for her to focus when she finds herself in the place she associates with carefree fun and games. So have that in mind. We are going to have fun, but it will be focused fun, not the mad stuff.
Stage two has three main goals
- Focus and sniff – to teach your dog to focus and sniff the truffles in spite of the many distractions in the outdoor environment
2. Locate – to train the dog to locate truffles which have been covered by natural materials (leaves)
3. Dig – to teach her to dig for the truffles she has sniffed out.
Where should you train the dog?
The best place for stage two is someone’s garden. There are only three criteria:
- It should be a fairly small enclosed area
2. There must be soil and trees
3. It should be convenient for you to get there.
That’s it. When you are scouting your location make sure the place is safe for the dog. You need to find a quiet (preferably private) fenced in area such as a garden. Nothing too large so the dog is tempted to go running off all over the place. Preferably it will be a place that the dog already knows and feels comfortable in. You don’t want her to spend so much time exploring that she tires herself out. For our training purposes the area should contain some earth or sand as we need a place to bury the truffle. Finally bear in mind that you will have to go there regularly. It’s best to do the training every day if possible so the place you decide to use for stage 2 should be handy.
Whan is the best time for the training session?
Choose a good time for your session. Timing is crucial. You need to be in the mood as well as your dog. I would always do the training at a time when you both feel lively but not too excited. Don’t take your dog out for training in place of her usual exercise. She should not have been deprived of exercise or she will just want to run and will have trouble focusing and learning. However you shouldn’t feed your dog before your training session. She will be more alert if she is a bit hungry and will work hard to earn the snack. Obviously the dog should not be competely ravenous either. If she is, then she will continually pester you for snacks rather than focus on the hunting aspect. She will get a hearty meal when she goes home.
So prepare your truffle balls (cotton wool balls with a drop of truffle oil wrapped in foil) grab the snacks and you are ready to begin.
Basically we are going to repeat the stages for the indoor truffle only now you are outside with other factors competing for the dog’s attention.
First off distract the dog and place the truffle on the ground somewhere nearby. Use the command word to look for the truffle – the one that you taught her when you were training her indoors in part 1. When she approaches and sniffs it, take the truffle, put it right under her nose and immediately reward her with her favourite treat. Praise her just as you did when she was in the house. She will soon catch on.
The main obstacle to the outdoor stage is that she is surrounded by many enticing aromas outdoors. You need to teach your dog to focus on this particular aroma. The scent of the truffle. She will quickly learn that this is the only smell she needs to be thinking about.
Repeat this step several times, putting the truffle in different but obvious locations. As soon as she smells it, get in there straight away with the treat and plenty of praise.She may master this step immediately and be ready to move onto the next part in the same session. Don’t push her though, keep the exercise fun for both of you, it’s usually best to take it slowly. Repetition is key, not speed.
In this part you are going to hide the truffle very much like you did at home. Now you will use natural coverings like leaves. Don’t start burying yet though. Start by covering the truffle with a leaf or some dry grass.
Use the command word. Once your dog sniffs at the leaf praise, stroke and reward. If she uncovers the truffle using her nose to knock off the leaf…that’s progress. She is already finding truffles outdoors. It is very important that you only reward the behaviour that you want to encourage don’t confuse your dog. Try not to signal to the dog. Stay neutral until she finds the truffle.
At first it doesn’t matter if the dog sees you as you hide the truffle ball but as you progress with this game she should not see where the hiding place is. For this reason it might be easier if you have a second person with you who can distract the dog while you cover the truffle. You need to ensure that the dog is relying on her smell and not any of her other senses to find where the truffle is located. As your dog becomes more adept at sniffing out the truffle you can start to cover the ball with more and more leaves. Finally you can incorporate a sprinkling of soil into the leafy covering.
This is where we begin to bury the truffle and teach the dog that you want her to dig it up. As with all of the steps, begin nice and easy. Don’t rush this stage. Start by digging a very shallow hole – an inch (2 cm) at most. Place the truffle in the hole and cover with a thin layer of earth.
Let the dog sniff it out. When she locates it, reward her, pat the ground and give the commmand word (we always use the same command when truffling ‘Dai!’ which just means ‘Come on!’). Some hunters have separate commands for searching and another for digging, like ‘Find it!’ followed by ‘Get it!’ This is entirely up to you, just be consistent. Some dogs will take to the digging stage straight away, others will have a harder time as their digging urge might not be so strong. It might take some time for your dog to realize that you want her to dig, don’t be afraid to show her what to do.
When she digs up the truffle you should reward her a second time. She gets one treat for locating and a second for digging. As your dog progresses, make the holes deeper until they are three inches (about 8 centimeters) underground. This progression should take place over the course of several days. Be careful. As you begin to bury the truffles in deeper holes you will need to leave the truffles in the ground for longer in order to allow some time for their scent to rise. We usually bury the truffles at the end of the day’s training so they sit in their holes overnight.
Unfortunately they occasionally get dug up during the night by some marauding nocturnal burglars who I presume are badgers. If noone steals the truffles, the next day your dog should have no trouble locating their aroma. To make the game harder, the earth on top of the truffle should become progressively more compact. You can start patting it down more firmly.
You will also need to make sure that the dog is not simply learning to dig at any freshly disturbed earth. To ensure this is not the case, dig a few different shallow holes all close together. Fill them all in after placing the truffle inside just one of them. You might also want to have another person bury the truffles for you to ensure that the dog isn’t just following your scent. Repeat until your dog consistently finds the buried treasure.
Once this stage has been completed, things are becoming real – your dog can sniff out and dig for a truffle. You are almost there! Hopefully you have started to feel encouraged by your dog’s abilities and you are excited about combining your very different skill sets and working together as a team. There is something profound about being part of the line of this ancient bond between man and dog which stretches back for millenia. Anyway, it is now time for the third and final stage. You will need your walking boots, dogged determination and plenty of patience……