Scent Work

Truffle Hunting

The Lagotto Romagnolo is a working dog with a superb nose, which it is always keen to use. The Lagotto excels at all sorts of scent work, but the one for which it is best known has to be as a truffle hunter.

black truffle found by MiaTruffles are the fruiting bodies of underground mushrooms and they are considered a gastronomic delight. Edible truffles occur naturally in most countries of the world, but by far the most well known and expensive have to be the Italian white truffle and the French (Périgord) black truffle. Because truffles grow underground and cannot be seen ripening, they are found by detecting the strong aroma of the mature truffle. This is where the Lagotto comes in with its great nose and keen work ethic.

The Lagotto Romagnolo is the only pure bred dog in the world officially recognised as specialised in searching for truffles. The Lagotto combines many traits that make them ideal for the truffle hunt; medium size, strong build, good stamina, exceptional nose, easily trainable, eagerness to please and to work, plus reduced game chasing instinct. All of these traits have been selected for by breeding, especially since the Lagotto came to be used more for truffle hunting than for retrieving waterfowl. In Italy, the Club Italiano Lagotto holds truffle finding Working Aptitude Trials for the Lagotto, as they consider it essential to safeguard the breed’s unique characteristics. Dogs contesting these trials are judged on their eagerness to work, search gait and bearing, sense of smell, hole-digging skill, rapport with handler, and of course the dog must find at least one truffle to qualify.

Pictures of truffle searching working trials in Italy:

Jane & Bella & Mia at Oaklands truffiereAmong truffle hunters there is always much discussion over how to choose the best puppy and how to train. It is suggested that you should rub truffle oil on the mother’s teats so that the suckling puppy learns the smell from early on. Or that you should visit the litter of puppies with a piece of truffle in your pocket and look for the puppy that shows the most interest in the smell. If you have no access to real truffle, a small piece of dried bread dosed with truffle oil will suffice.

Whatever method you use to choose your puppy, training should begin early. Start by hiding small pieces of truffle in easy places for the puppy to find. Praise and reward the puppy for finding the truffle. Initially the training should only be for a few minutes a day and should involve lots of fun and play. As the puppy grows, and develops a longer attention span, gradually make the hiding places more difficult and progress to burying the pieces of truffle. When your dog has become proficient in their training, then it is time to try them out on the real thing, the truffle orchard.

In New Zealand, the first commercial truffle orchards were planted in 1987 and 1988, with the first truffles being harvested in 1993. There are now over 100 truffle plantations around NZ. It takes between five and fifteen years for a truffle tree to start producing so many of these plantations are yet to produce truffles. Some growers have already trained Lagotto Romagnolo dogs to sniff out the first sign of truffles maturing in their truffle orchards.