A truffle hunter must, by law, be accompanied by a dog trained to search. But which are the most suitable dog breeds for truffle hunting?
Truffle hunter is a profession that cannot be improvised: to obtain the badge necessary to collect truffles and become a true truffle hunter, in fact, one must pass an exam and demonstrate good knowledge of truffles and the entire universe surrounding them.
For this reason, any self-respecting truffle hunter must carry the right tools on a day’s search, such as the truffle hunter’s spade, a kind of small shovel used for digging and extracting truffles. By law, however, he must also have a special adventure companion; and no, it is not another truffle hunter.
We are talking about a truffle dog, the ideal companion to take up this rare and interesting profession. But which truffle dog breeds are best suited for this delicate search role?
What are the best truffle dogs: breeds
Before we start talking about truffle dog breeds, it should be mentioned that in the past dogs were not the first animals used to find truffles: in fact, this role was very often played by pigs. Actually, thanks to their sense of smell, pigs could easily find truffles, but they also tended to devour them and irreparably ruin the truffle’s growing habitat.
It is for this reason that, over time, the practice of using pigs as truffle animals was abandoned in favour of dogs, animals that are much better suited to follow their owner’s commands and find truffles without harming the environment.
There are several truffle dog breeds that are considered more suited than others to the search for these delicate hypogeal mushrooms.
We are talking, to give a few examples, about dogs such as the German Bracco, the Italian Truffle Spinone, the Romagna Lagotto, the English and Irish Setter, but also the Jack Russell, the Pointer or the Épagneul Breton.
Jack Russell: a lively and tireless truffle dog
Cheerful, active, very sporty and with a great instinct for hunting and searching: the Jack Russell is a popular dog for truffle hunting, precisely because of these characteristics. With its strong character, it has a great eagerness to search and loves to explore: due to its strong character, however, it is not suitable for everyone and may not like living with other dogs or with children.
English setter: gentle and with a strong instinct for hunting
The English Setter is also endowed with a great instinct for hunting but, unlike the Jack Russell, is more docile and more suitable for flat life, even with children. It is an excellent truffle hunter, thanks to its excellent sense of smell and adaptability: the Setter, therefore, is also highly valued as a truffle hound.
Spinone Italiano: a dog breed for white truffles
Another dog breed employed very often for truffle hunting? The Spinone Italiano: patient, sociable and with a great searching instinct, the Spinone is a dog that is very resistant to fatigue and loves to retrieve. Here, then, it is confirmed as perfect to accompany a truffle hunter in his days in the woods.
Épagneul Breton: a truffle dog with an exceptional sense of smell
Also popular with truffle hunters is the dog breed known as Épagneul Breton: with a highly developed sense of smell and easy to train, this dog is ideal for finding the precious underground mushrooms on all kinds of terrain. It also has a peaceful disposition: it is adapted to living in apartments and is therefore perfect for truffle hunters who live in houses without gardens.
Actually, there is no law that obliges a trifolau to necessarily have one of these truffle dog breeds. To find truffles, one can go searching for these precious underground mushrooms, even if accompanied by a dog of another breed. The important thing is that it has a good nose and has been trained to search for truffles. This means that the dog must find the truffle and point it out to its owner without eating or damaging it, and without spoiling the surroundings.
In fact, let’s remember that this hypogean mushroom is extremely precious and very attentive to its surroundings.
Those who play trifolau without having a badge or without a trained truffle dog, In addition to breaking the law and risking a heavy fine, they also risk irreparably damaging the habitat surrounding the truffle, including the symbiont plant, by digging in the wrong way.
How to train a truffle dog
But how do you get truffle dogs, regardless of breed, well-trained?
You either have to turn to professional trainers or start training with your dog, preferably still a puppy, to teach him how to find and bring back truffles. Of course, one of the main skills, when you opt for the second option, is patience: in fact, each dog has its learning time, and to be sure that the dog has learned, you need a lot of patience and empathy with your pet.
To begin training a truffle dog, regardless of breed, you can start with some simple games: having him sniff, for example, a cloth soaked in a few drops of truffle oil, hide it, and reward him when he finds it.
To continue the training and teach the dog to find and return the truffle without eating or damaging it, one can then hide a truffle inside an egg and bury it. In this way, the dog will train its nose to sniff the ground and find the truffle.
Of course, to be successful in training, it is essential that the truffle dog has learnt to obey precise commands from its owner.
How long does it take to train a truffle dog?
As mentioned earlier, every dog has its time. Training to search for truffles is, in fact, a process that always takes a few months. However, it is not certain that all dogs are suited for truffle hunting: each animal, actually, has its characteristics.
A male truffle dog, for example, can dig deeper than a female dog; however, female dogs are generally trained in less time. But if the dog has the right sense of smell, once trained to search for truffles, this will also turn into a moment of sharing between owner and animal, bringing them even closer together.
How to find truffles without a dog
Nowadays, searching for truffles without a dog is prohibited by law. Nonetheless, when it was still allowed in the past, truffle hunters would search for truffles (at least those growing in the topmost layers of the ground) even without the help of a truffle dog.
How did they do it? By using a stick and taking a good look at the ground and the presence of ‘plains’, burnt areas without grass typical of the area surrounding the truffle, or animals related to truffle growth, such as flies.
In fact, some types of truffles release allelochemicals that inhibit the growth of grass and plants in the surrounding area. These “burned” areas, known as plains, indicated to the truffle hunter the areas in which to dig. However, this is not an absolute law: in case of heavy rains, tufts of grass still grow, hiding the truffles. Some plants, such as beech trees, also tend to create false plains that do not necessarily indicate the presence of a truffle.
The company of truffle dogs, in this sense, is fundamental: a well-trained animal, even if it does not belong to one of the breeds listed above (English Setter, Italian Spinone, Jack Russell, German Bracco or Épagneul Breton, to name but a few), can sniff out the scent of truffles and indicate to the truffle hunter the exact spot where to dig for truffles.
Thus, the search for truffles is also transformed into a moment of communion between the trifolau and his truffle dog, to spend time together in the middle of the woods, cementing a friendship that is destined to never end.