When Kristin Rosenbach’s two agility dogs qualified for the Cynosport World Games competition, she looked at the budget with dismay. The trials will be held October 23 – 27 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Her rescue Border Collie, Callie, and her Belgian Tervuren, Da Vinci (officially Snowflower Thyme Flies) had qualified in Steeplechase/Performance Speed Jumping and might add other classes before then. But how could they afford the trials and trip? It was a long way from Lake Stevens, Wash.!
Enter some Pacific Northwest ingenuity and three dogs with great noses – Kristin’s third dog is a rescue Shetland Sheepdog named Cash. In 2010, Kristin had made a trip to Italy and was introduced to truffles, //Link “Truffles” to: http://www.mssf.org/cookbook/truffles.html // the fungi that live among the roots of certain trees. They are considered gourmet delicacies.
The Oregon white truffle grows around the roots of the Douglas fir. The Pacific Northwest also has highly desirable black truffles. Because they grow underground, it can be difficult to find truffles. In Europe, pigs are often used to “hunt” for them. Unfortunately, pigs also dig up the ground quite a bit, make a mess and may try to snack on the truffles themselves. Enter truffle dogs! They are trained to scent out truffles, then indicate the location to their handlers. In return, they get a treat or a game of tug or fetch.
When she returned from Europe, Kristin found that truffles grew in her area. She had a new Belgian Tervuren puppy and a Border Collie with an agility injury, both of whom needed some work that wouldn’t strain healing or growing joints. It occurred to her that truffle hunting might be a good occupation for both of them, along with Cash, her Sheltie.
Kristin took the initiative and started searching for more information about truffles. “I found the name Jack Czarnecki on the Internet and contacted the Czarnecki family to find out what I could about truffles. Little did I know I was contacting a BIG TIME truffle expert and chef! Stefan shared a lot of information with me and was very supportive as we learned to hunt truffles. I took the truffle information and worked with an instructor with extensive search and rescue-scent detection experience. Putting the two together, my dogs learned to find truffles. It has been such fun training them and learning about truffles and scent detection along the way.”
Gourmet European truffles may sell for hundreds of dollars, but even standard Pacific Northwest varieties like Oregon blacks will sell for $45 per pound or more. The dogs now had a potential livelihood as well as a “keep busy” hobby.
Kristin’s dogs took to truffle hunting quite nicely. “Last season was the first time Callie found a native truffle. This year, she started harvesting them in October and has been a reliable truffle dog all season. In fact, she is finding a variety of truffles now.” Not all truffles are edible or valuable, but the dogs will seek out any truffles and let their handler sort them out later.
Callie has become a true truffle hound. “Sometimes Callie will drop her squeaky ball, which is her reward, because she’s caught the scent of another truffle. Cash and Da Vinci are coming along with training. They both found their first native truffles this season. We still have things to work on before I ask them to do land surveys like Callie can. Next year they will be ready for the hunt, I’m sure!”
Working with a young dog has meant some extra training. “I think Da Vinci just needs a bit more maturity to stay focused. He has an incredible nose. We are also working on his alert…insisting that I come look. Cash is almost always right on the money. He will bark, lie down with the ‘spot’ between his paws and nose at the ground. Da Vinci is learning to dig when he finds one. Callie, well if I’m too slow getting there, she has been known to dig it up and throw it at me!”
These truffle-finding dogs are obviously having fun as well as earning trip and trial money. Along with hunting out truffles, Kristin can use her dogs to do land surveys for people to let them know if they have truffles on their property.
For Kristin, everything came together perfectly to give her dogs a much needed activity while Callie recuperated and Da Vinci grew up. “Honestly, the whole process has just fallen into place with all of the people I have met and the timing of it. I had no idea where this would lead when I decided I wanted to train truffle dogs. We just did it. And now we are out there hunting with established truffle dog teams. Who knew?”
Cash, the Shetland Sheepdog, had also been an enthusiastic agility dog. Unfortunately, an injury sidelined him. So he is enjoying the challenge of truffle hunting as well and will go along to cheer his buddies on at the agility events in Tennessee.
As she prepares her dogs for the agility national, Kristin will be working with her friends through the Toil and Truffle Facebook page. For anyone who might like to try truffle hunting for themselves, Kristin has developed an online course of instruction to help you get started.