Truffle-hunting can be a lucrative sport, for those with the right canine companions!
Today we’re discussing what dogs are best for truffle-hunting, and the beginner basics on how to turn your canine’s super sniffer into a truffle locator!
What kind of dogs find truffles?
So you want a truffle hunting dog, huh? In that case, you’re likely on the lookout for a Lagotta Romagnolo!
Lagotta Romagnolo is a dog breed that is naturally adept at finding truffles but, remarkably enough, nearly any dog can be taught to hunt truffles!
Nearly all dogs have super sniffers that allow them to hunt down tasty truffles. The real issue is the dog’s capacity for training – some dogs simple won’t be interested enough in truffle-hunting to learn how its done.
Lagotto Romagnolo is the main breed of truffle hunting dog, with the history of truffle-hunting bred into their ancestry.
About Lagotta Romagnolo Truffle-Hunting Dogs
Lagotta Romagnolos originate from the Romagna region of Italy, with its name translating to “lake dog.” These fluffy dogs sport a thick and wooly waterproof coat and often have off-white, white, or brown coloring.
In addition to truffle hunting, Lagotta Romagnolos have also been used as gun dogs and retrievers in the past, but today their primary job is as truffle hunters.
Lagottas have highly tuned noses, making them also great search dogs.
Lagotta Romagnolo dogs are considered a medium sized dog, weighing in at around 25 – 35 lbs depending on their sex.
Lagottas are intelligent working dogs, so it’s important that their brains are always kept sharp and engaged (they are a breed that will probably benefit a ton from dog puzzle toys).
They also love to dig, and may owners of these truffle-hunting dogs opt to get a sandbox for their pups to dig around in.
Owners won’t want to get too attached to garden flowers or a pristine lawn, as anything on the ground could be subject to a Lagotta’s digging obsession!
Lagotta Romagnolas need a lot of exercise, so owners should be prepared for long and frequent walks.
This breed is also known for being loyal and affectionate, making them great family dogs. They are fairly easy to train and can do well with other dogs and pets, so long as they are socialized at an early age.
Truffle Hunting: From Pigs to Dogs
If you’re lucky enough to be in a region where truffles grow, setting out on the trail to hunt down truffles with your four-legged friend can bring in a pretty sweet side income!
Truffles grow off of tree roots underground, which means only animals with the best sniffers can locate them.
Traditionally, pigs were used to hunt truffles, but more recently truffle-hunting dogs have replaced them.
Why are pigs out and dogs in? There are a few reasons why man’s best friend is a better truffle-locating companion that a hog.
- Dogs Are Easier to Train. Dogs have been breed to be human companions and are much more apt to training than pigs.
- They Won’t Eat The Truffle. Pigs work as great truffle hunters because they have a natural instinct and desire to hunt down and eat truffles. This means owners end up needing to grapple with pigs to grab the truffle before the hog swallows it whole! Wresting a tasty morsel from a 200lb pig is…difficult, to say the least.
- Dogs are Discreet. There is big money in the truffle hunting business, and many truffle hunters are quite secretive about their best spots. When you’re out in the woods with a pig, it’s pretty obvious what you’re up to. But owners with dogs could just be going for a meandering stroll, with unsuspecting passersby left in the dark about your true motives! This allows for more discreet truffle hunting that is a big advantage for competitive truffle hunters.
How much does a truffle hunting dog cost?
Born and bred truffle hunting dogs like Lagotto Romagnolos can cost as much as $4,000, along with another $5,000 to train them.
Despite the high costs, this canine can carry its weight – truffles go for as much as $2,000 per lb for the rare white Alba truffles!
Check out this great video from Associated Press explaining a bit on how dogs contribute to the tasty business of truffles!
You Don’t Need a Pedigree to Dig Up Truffles!
Here’s a sweet little secret – you don’t actually need a Lagotto Romagnolo to hunt truffles – any dog with a solid sniffer could potentially be a truffle prodigy.
Dogs who have been trained to do search and rescue are especially apt to hunt truffles, since they’ve been taught how to seek out certain scents previously.
Do you have a potential truffle hunter on your hands? Dogs that succeed at truffle hunting usually have to meet these general requirements:
- Solid Sniffing Nose. Most dogs have a great sense of smell, but not all dogs have a sniffer set up for truffle hunting. Dogs with smushed noses like pugs or bull dogs will likely have a tough time of smelling out truffles.
- Easy to Train. Dogs need to undergo at least some training to learn how to find truffles. This means your dog needs to be generally trainable – your pooch should to be eager to please you, their owner. Stubborn dogs who prefer to do as they please simply won’t be cut out for this work (we’re looking at you Shiba Inus).
- Working Dogs. While not a pre-requisite, breeds with a history as working dogs tend to fare better than others. Breeds with the natural desire to work and have a job are often more eager to learn. Dogs with previous experience sniffing out drugs or bombs are especially well attuned to truffle hunting, as much of that nose-based training can cross over into truffle hunting!
- Able to Ignore Distractions. This builds upon the already-mentioned requirement for trainability, but it’s worth noting that truffle-hunting dogs need to be able to ignore distractions and focus. If your dog is captivated by every squirrel that crosses his path, he might have a hard time tuning out the abundant wildlife scurrying all over forests where truffles reside!
- Good Manors. Your dog should have some basic doggie manors for truffle-hunting. For one, you don’t want your dog gobbling up that $300 truffle out of your hand!
The Most Popular Truffle Hunting Breeds
The most popular truffle hunting breeds include:
- Lagotto Romagnolo (the official truffle-hunting breed)
- Belgian Malinois
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
This is by no means an exclusive list – even petite dogs like Dachshunds have been known to show truffle-hunting prowess.
Interestingly, despite my mention of working dogs being well-qualified for truffle-hunting, sometimes a dog’s job experience can work against them.
Dogs that are instinctively hardwired for a different job (think herding and sheepdogs) might have a tougher time getting excited about truffle hunting. Maybe they could herd your truffle-hunting pigs though!
It’s pretty awesome news that the vast majority of dogs have a decent shot at learning how to hunt truffles!
One of the most important things your pup needs to learn is communication skills.
The nose comes naturally, but your dog needs to learn how to signal to you that they’ve found something important. Dogs can signal this through barking, digging, etc,
Most dogs need to be taught this singling behavior, which is where having the help of a professional trainer can be hugely beneficial.
How to Teach A Dog To Hunt Truffles
Teaching your dog the truffle hunting technique is very similar to how bomb or drug sniffing dogs are trained.
Dogs must be taught to associate the target scent with something positive, such as a favorite toy or treat.
Dogs learn that when they find a certain drug, bomb, or truffle, they’ll be fed a treat (or get a good game of tug-o-war, depending on what rewards motivate your pooch).
This is enough to convince the dog that the smell is worth seeking out!
Next, trainers set up obstacles for the dog, slowly upping the intensity. An example training process might look like this:
- Coat an item in truffle oil and have the dog seek it out. Then reward!
- Coat an item in truffle oil and hide it under leaves. When they find it, reward!
- Next, coat item in truffle oil and hide under rocks.
- Coat an item in truffle oil and hide under actual soil.
Once your dog finds the truffle-oil coated item, don’t let him eat it! Instead, take it away and give him another treat as a reward instead.
Some truffle-hunting aficionados also suggest starting off with a piece of gorgonzola cheese – this cheese is said to smell similar to a truffle, and will cost a lot less that truffle oil.
Still, make sure you invest in the real thing once your dog gets the hang of the hide-and-go-seek game.
Not up for training a truffle-hunter yourself? There are actually online classes that guide you, step-by-step on how to teach your dog to hunt truffles!
Once you’re convinced that your canine is a truffle-hunting machine, enter him in the Oregon Truffle Festival! Each year in January, the Oregon Truffle Festival hosts a truffle dog seminar, where dogs can compete in truffle challenges!
Charles Lefevre, head organizer of the Oregon Truffle Festival, says that nearly ¾ of the dogs who attend the truffle-hunting seminar are able to hunt down truffles. That’ll do Fido – that’ll do!
See what a truffle hunt and the Oregon Truffle Festival looks like in action!
What do you think – does your dog have what to takes to be a truffle hunter? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!