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Truffle Hunting Dogs: How Does It Work?

Nicole Cosgrove

As far back as the 15th century, pigs have traditionally been used to hunt truffles. Pigs are natural foragers with a strong sense of smell. They can detect things up to 25 feet underground, making them efficient at locating and unearthing truffles.

While truffle pigs are still used today, dogs have started to become the preferred choice when it comes to locating these treasured fungi. When pigs dig for truffles, they sometimes damage them, which then decreases their value. When they’re not damaging them, they’re eating them. A large hog intent on eating truffles can be nearly impossible to stop. Dogs don’t have the same interest in devouring their finds.

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What Is a Truffle?

A truffle is an edible fungus. Truffles and mushrooms are both fungi, but they’re not exactly the same. They differ in terms of growing conditions, taste, cooking preparation, and availability.

Truffles grow underground, near and around tree roots. They can’t be easily planted and harvested. Some truffle farms exist, but supply is low because truffles are difficult to grow. The demand far exceeds the supply of these fungi. For a few months each year, they grow underground in forests that experience warm, humid days and cool nights. They have a rich, earthy taste and are regarded as a delicacy, used by chefs around the world to enhance dishes with their flavor. Truffles can be used to create sauces, oils, and butter to use during the times of the year when fresh truffles aren’t available.

Truffles are impossible to store for any significant length of time. They will start to decline once they are unearthed and are only usable for 7–10 days afterward.

Since truffles are more difficult to acquire than regular mushrooms and are highly desired by people, they’re quite expensive. The world’s largest white truffle was sold for $61,250 at a New York City auction. It weighed 4.16 pounds. Regular truffles can be worth up to $3,000 per pound.

truffle mushroom up close
Image Credit: Pixabay

How Do Dogs Find Truffles?

Truffles have a pungent aroma and start to become fragrant underground when they’re ready for harvesting. An unripe truffle has no flavor or aroma and is essentially worthless. Overripe truffles that are still underground are messy and unusable. They must be harvested and used at their peak. Dogs can detect when this is the case. Humans don’t have a powerful enough sense of smell to locate truffles, but dogs can find them easily.

The dog will start by sniffing the ground in the forest to determine where the truffles are located. When they find a truffle, they will paw the ground, alerting their people to the spot. Then the dog is rewarded for a successful find. Sometimes, the dog will get a treat reward. Other times, the dog drops a favorite toy on the truffle spot, waiting for the reward of it being thrown for them to retrieve. The way that the dog signifies the truffle will be the way that they were taught to do so, and these methods vary.

The dog can start to dig for the truffles if they are trained to do so, but this can cause accidental damage to the fungi. People will usually dig carefully for the truffles once they are aware of their locations.

How Many Truffles Can a Dog Find?

The number of truffles that a dog can find per day will depend on the location and the number of truffles available in the area. Truffles are only found in certain environments, commonly in Northern California up into and throughout Washington in the United States.

Lisa Bronson is a dog trainer, breeder, and truffle hunter in Salem, Oregon. On a good day, she and her two dogs can find around 1 pound of truffles in an hour.

beagle found a truffle
Image Credit: grafvision, Shutterstock

Cost of a Truffle Hunting Dog

It has been said that any dog can be trained to hunt truffles. If you have a dog that you’d like to train for this purpose, some trainers can help you get started. The owner of Truffle Dog Company in Washington has trained dogs of all sizes and breeds, from Chihuahuas to Alaskan Malamutes.

However, there is one particular breed that is regarded as being the best at hunting truffles. The Lagotto Romagnolo is known as Italy’s “truffle dog.” These dogs have been specifically bred for use as truffle hunters in Italy. Today, this breed has a natural affinity for the task.

Lagotto Romagnolo puppies can be expensive. You may have to import the dogs from Italy or purchase them from someone who has already spent a great deal of money to import and start breeding them. Some breeders have waiting lists as long as 4 years, and a puppy can cost as much as $8,500.

On average, Lagotto Romagnolo puppies can cost between $1,800–$2,500, but professionally training them to hunt truffles can cost near $5,000.

Is Truffle Hunting Humane for Dogs?

Truffle hunting causes no harm to the dog if they are worked when they are healthy, happy, energetic, and excited to do so. Forcing a dog to hunt for truffles if they don’t have the capacity for the task is inhumane.

Many dogs, especially hunting breeds, like to hunt. It’s an instinctual behavior, and they get great satisfaction from performing a job well done. Truffle hunting with your dog can be a bonding experience. They enjoy performing the task and you enjoy the rewards.

It’s important to keep your dog safe while hunting truffles. In the woods, they can get lost or come across a wild animal. The best way to make sure your dog is safe while hunting truffles is to keep them on a leash. They can still direct you to the truffles without the danger of getting lost or injured. Using extended leashes will give them the space that they need to search while staying protected.

truffle hunting dog
Image Credit: francesco de marco, Shutterstock

How Are Dogs Taught to Hunt Truffles?

There are companies dedicated to helping you train your dog to hunt truffles. However, if you’re interested in doing this yourself, you can save the cost of a professional trainer.

Some breeders train their puppies from birth to search for truffles, starting by putting truffle oil on the mother dog’s teats while the puppies are nursing to get them familiar with the scent. Older dogs can still be trained, and the process is usually a simple one.

Start by getting your dog acclimated to the scent of truffles by filling a ball with cotton balls soaked in truffle oil. When playing fetch with your dog, reward them each time they bring this ball back to you.

As you move on in the process, start hiding the ball. Ask your dog to find it and bring it back to you, and reward them when they do. The next step is to bury the ball and have your dog locate it.

The action that the dog performs upon locating the truffle ball will be something that they decide to do, such as barking, pawing the ground, or just sitting down. You can train your dog to perform the action that you desire by rewarding them when they do it. They will learn that this behavior is expected of them when they find a truffle.

Once they start accurately locating the places where the truffle ball is buried, they should be ready for truffle hunting.

Dog Breeds Suited for Truffle Hunting

While the Lagotto Romagnolo is considered to be the best truffle hunting dog, other breeds can also master the skill.

  • Springer Spaniel
  • Poodle
  • Belgian Malinois
  • German Shepherd
  • German Wire-Haired Pointer
  • Golden Retriever
  • Beagle

If your dog is energetic, likes to have a job to do, and has a keen sense of smell, they can be trained to truffle hunt.

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Conclusion

Dogs have taken over what was once a pig’s activity. Using dogs to hunt truffles reduces the damage done to them during the extraction process. Dogs try to eat truffles much less often than pigs do. Dogs also cause less destruction and damage to the truffles’ environment, enabling more to grow in place of the ones that were harvested.

Any dog can learn to hunt truffles, but some breeds are better at it than others. The Lagotto Romagnolo is considered to be one of the best truffle hunting dogs out there. If you’re interested in acquiring a truffle hunting dog, they can be expensive. Training your dog to hunt truffles on your own may be successful and save you the cost of a professional.

Hunting truffles can be an activity that you and your dog enjoy together, thus creating a bonding experience.


Featured Image Credit: Aleksandar Malivuk, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.