Ted joins his big brother Milo, a Lagotto Romagnolo – an ancient Italian water retriever dog breed and the most popular truffle hunting dog in Europe.
Pigs have traditionally been used for hunting truffles as they have an excellent sense of smell. Truffles contain androstanol, a sex hormone found in the saliva of male pigs which makes
them very attractive to sows - trouble is they also like eating truffle and it can be hard to
convince them to release a ripe truffle from their mouths, and there are many stories of
truffle hunters with missing digits from wrestling a truffle off a pig.
Any breed of dog can be trained to sniff out truffle as dogs experience their world through
scent and it’s a matter of getting them familiar with the smell of truffle and associating that smell with rewards.
Generally, the truffle is buried below the soil surface and needs to be dug out but some truffle
can pop through the surface, particularly at the start of the season. The dogs have such a
good sense of smell they can detect truffles well below the soil surface.
Milo began his training as a small puppy playing with a mini tennis ball that was kept in the freezer with some frozen truffle. He learnt to find the hidden ball in the house then moved on to finding it in the garden and then in the trufferie.
His first season he worked alongside fully trained dogs and cottoned on pretty quickly that
you got treats when you sniffed out the smelly black things in the ground. Once his harness is on he knows he’s working though he still tests us sometimes and nudges the odd stick to try for a bit of playtime. He responds to both treats (his treat of choice is cheese) and pats and praise and we try to mix both into his work with lots of pats and ‘good boy’s’ when he’s done well and a little cheese treat when he’s found truffle.
He’s got a couple of signals to let us know he’s onto it – lying flat on his tummy and looking up at us
when he’s found a ripe truffle and when he’s found something that might not be quite ripe
or he’s not sure he scratches the ground letting us know to have a better look.
Ted will start his tennis ball training soon and is already familiar with the smell of truffle
currently being harvested, but he’s a bit small and playful to understand work yet so well let
him enjoy his childhood before beginning work alongside Milo.