Truffle dogs

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The truffle is an underground fungus that is highly prized as a gourmet food. There are several varieties of truffle. Black truffles (Tuber melanosporum), the most fragrant and most highly sought-after variety, are found in the Périgord region of France. Truffles grow in chalky soil around the roots of trees. They grow wild although cultivation is also practiced, primarily in France and Italy.

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Various animals have traditionally been used to sniff out truffles: goats, sheep, flies, pigs and more recently dogs, which are more amenable and easier to transport. Pigs do not require any training, as they have a natural taste for truffles, but they can damage them with their snout. Dogs are not naturally interested in this food source, although training is relatively simple depending on the breed. The Lagotto Romagnol, for example, is an Italian breed that has been used to find truffles for almost 130 years.

Several training methods

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The traditional training method involves an entire litter of dogs, which are impregnated with the scent of truffles from birth by smearing the mother’s teats with truffle juice and adding it to their food. The dogs come to associate the scent of truffles with feeding and tend to search for it, especially when they are young. It is, however, important not to use too much juice as it is not very palatable and it can inhibit feeding.

There are a number of possible approaches to training. In one, the truffle is associated with a treat that has a similar odour, such as Swiss cheese or ham. The truffle is gradually hidden and the treat given as a reward when it is found.

A playful approach is suited to puppies and young dogs. The truffle is hidden in a sock or a plastic tube that the puppy is given to play with. Once the puppy has formed an attachment to the object it can be used in a game of hide and seek. The puppy does its best to find its favourite object, which it does by identifying the scent of the truffle.

Training can also take advantage of the puppy’s instinct to imitate its mother, if she is an experienced truffle dog, although this approach appears to demand more training than reward-based methods.

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Truffle dogs
    Truffle dogs

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