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12th May

2013

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Dog, Truffle Hunter

The wonderfully flavorful truffle grows entirely underground, nestled at the base of a certain tree with which it has a symbiotic relationship. Truffles are ready for harvesting only when mature, and at that time they give off a strong scent that attracts animals. Humans typically are unable to smell them, since they are underground.

Traditionally, female hogs were used to hunt truffles because the odor released by mature truffles smells like the pheromones produced by boars to attract sows during mating season. However, the pigs enjoyed eating the truffles once they were unearthed, which clearly is not ideal for the truffle hunter seeking to sell these highly priced gems. Because of this, specially trained dogs are now more commonly used and, in fact, the use of dogs is mandated in Italy to avoid damage to the truffles. Dogs are easier to restrain from eating truffles and are content to receive a different food reward for their efforts. This short video shows a truffle-hunting dog and her owners in action.

Because dogs are not naturally attracted to the scent of truffles, they must be trained. This training typically consists of similar techniques used to train dogs for other scent-based activities – sniffing out drugs, for example. Such training has become a lucrative business, especially in the US where truffles are being cultivated with some success. Italians use the Lagotta Romagnolo for truffle hunting, a medium-sized dog with a curly coat bred for hunting and retrieving. Elsewhere, trainers will train nearly any breed, although most recommend those bred as working dogs, such as German shepherds, retrievers, and labradors. Dogs and hunters alike appear to enjoy the companionship of the hunt on crisp autumn days, working together to discover these earthy treasures.

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