We’ve all heard of truffle hogs, which are famous for routing out these expensive delicacies, but did you know that there are truffle dogs? There are several different breeds of dogs that can be trained to sniff out these elusive fungi.
Having the ability to search out and locate truffles makes for a lucrative business that can only be done with an accomplished nose. We will examine what makes truffles so expensive and how truffle hunting works. We will also go over the kinds of dogs that make the best truffle hunters.
What Exactly Are Truffles?
Truffles are essentially mushrooms. They are not to be mistaken with the delicious chocolate truffle, however (so named because of their resemblance to the mushroom).
These fungi grow underground and are usually found near tree roots. They average in size from about 30 to 60 grams, though their full range is from 20 grams to over 100 (ping pong ball size to grapefruit size).
The world record goes to a truffle found in 2014 in Italy that was 1,789 grams and sold for $61,250! The record for most expensive truffle was for a white truffle from Italy that sold in auction for $330,000!
Why Are Truffles So Incredibly Expensive?
It’s all about how hard they are to find, how difficult they are to grow, and their short “shelf life.” The Black Winter truffle, or Périgord, hails from France and is one of the most expensive truffles out there, going for about $800 for 1 ounce. Also highly prized are white truffles from Italy, so the expense is also dependent on the region and type of truffle.
The conditions that truffles need to grow in are quite particular. While you can find truffles around the world, a Mediterranean climate is considered the best for growing them. The ideal is a mild winter with little frost and occasional rain in the summer, autumn, and spring. The soil should remain humid, without any extreme fluctuations in the weather or temperature.
Truffles are famous for their enticing odor that unfortunately dissipates quite quickly after they’ve been dug up. This aroma is a big part of what makes truffles a delicacy, but it loses its potency within 7 to 10 days.
Finally, they are hard to find. It takes truffles quite a long time to grow, and they have a short growing season. They are difficult to farm and are typically only found in the wild, so humans can’t find them without help. This is where the dogs come in.
The 10 Dog Breeds for Truffle Hunting:
1. Lagotto Romagnolo
The Lagotto Romagnolo is from Italy and is a medium-sized breed with a waterproof, curly coat. They aren’t big, but they are strong, athletic, and tireless dogs that are also quite affectionate, intelligent, and devoted.
The Lagotto first worked as a waterfowl retriever, but due to their exceptional sense of smell, they are known for being able to sniff out truffles. While they are not the only truffle dogs, they are considered one of the best.
2. Springer Spaniel
Springer Spaniels are medium-sized dogs with beautiful silky long coats. They are energetic dogs that are quite friendly and playful and are devoted to their owners.
They are hunting dogs whose job is to locate game birds in brush and tall grass and flush them out. They would then point and retrieve the birds. Their excellent sense of smell and ability to locate and retrieve game is what makes them great truffle dogs.
The Beagle is a small to a medium-sized dog famous for their white coat with black-and-tan patch coloring and adorable, almost pleading expression. These dogs are the definition of merry and are smart, sweet, and loving.
Being a hound dog means they have a superior sense of smell. For centuries, Beagles were used for rabbit and hare hunting, which makes them great candidates for smelling out truffles. Just be aware that hounds are also notoriously distractible. While sniffing out a truffle, if a rabbit crosses their path, the truffles will be left behind.
4. Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois (Mal) is a large dog that resembles the German Shepherd. They are hard-working, intelligent, and loyal dogs that love to please their owners.
Mals are herding dogs and work with the military and as guard and police dogs. Their strong work drive, stamina, and intelligence make them great truffle dogs.
5. Border Collie
Border Collies need no introduction. Famous for their smarts and work drive, these medium-sized dogs with their flowing black and white coats are energetic and friendly dogs.
They are also famous for shepherding and are considered the most intelligent breed of dog. With that energy combined with their intelligence and high trainability, Border Collies can make amazing truffle hunters.
6. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a large dog with a lovely golden (or cream or some variation thereof) shaggy coat. They are intelligent, loving, and devoted dogs that have long topped the favorite family dog list.
Goldens are eager to learn and please, so if you combine this with their energy and penchant for enjoying spending time with their families, truffle hunting is a definite achievable goal.
The Poodle comes in three sizes: Toy, Miniature, and Standard. They are known for their intelligence and being people-oriented dogs.
Poodles started as hunting dogs, but more specifically, as retrieving dogs for waterfowl. Any size of Poodle can become truffle dogs. They are eager to please and have great instincts, and their intelligence can make them great as a truffle dog.
8. German Shorthaired Pointer
German Shorthaired Pointers are medium-sized dogs known for their patched and ticked coats. They are smart, happy, and devoted dogs that love being active.
Pointers were bred to sniff out and locate game by taking on the “pointing” stance. When you take this natural instinct and combine it with their trainability and willingness to please their owner, they are a natural for truffle hunting.
9. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever is a medium to large sized dog that can be yellow, chocolate, or black. These dogs have long held the number-one spot as the favorite dog in North America, and it’s no wonder with their friendly, loving, and outgoing personalities.
Labs excel at retrieving, which makes them great for finding truffles. Labs are devoted to their owners and eager to please, good-natured, and adaptable, so they’re up for almost anything.
10. Australian Shepherd
Australian Shepherds are medium in size and come in various colors, though they are probably best known for the merle coloring with blue eyes. These energetic dogs are hardworking, intelligent, and agile.
Aussies have energy to spare, so combining that with their keen sense of smell and trainability, they can be quite useful in finding truffles.
Why Not Use a Pig?
Pigs are more famous for truffle hunting, so why not consider using one? It turns out that the female sow is the best at sniffing out truffles because they give out a scent that is quite similar to a boar’s pheromones, called androstenone, which is found in their saliva.
Once the sow has detected the aroma of a truffle, she will root into the ground until she finds it. This can be as deep as 3 feet!
The problem is that when a sow finds a truffle, she’s usually excited and wants to eat the truffle immediately. In fact, Italy banned the use of pigs for truffle hunting in 1985 because the pigs were eating the truffles and damaging the ground where they were found. This includes damage to the mycelia, which can prevent future truffles from growing.
A Little Bit About How Dogs Are Trained
The best bet is to train a dog at a young age, but it is quite possible for adult dogs to learn. Lisa Brosnan from The Truffle UnderGround believes that dogs of all ages can be trained to truffle hunt, as long as they are food motivated, curious, independent, and obedient.
She uses clicker training and positive reinforcement by introducing the scent of truffles to the dogs and rewarding them with treats when they find the smell.
The dogs are also taught to sit or alert the owner with barking when they’ve located truffles, and eventually, distractions are added to the training to help the dogs stay focused. This can include other scents, animals, and noises.
While pigs have long cornered the market on truffle hunting, it seems like dogs are better at it overall. Dogs have no interest in eating them, but they can sniff them out just as well.
While our list has 10 different dogs that are proven excellent truffle hunters, as long as they have the right temperament, almost any dog can be successful at truffle hunting.
See Also: Can Dogs Eat Truffles?
Featured Image Credit: grafvision, Shutterstock