the Truffle hunter and his DOG
The truffle Hunter
The truffle hunter: This special figure is deeply in contact with the rhythms of nature and moon cycles. He ventures out with his dog (his hunting partner) very early in the morning, armed with a particular curved weeding hoe. In his small secret notebook (il registro) he records the temporal and geographical coordinates of the locations, where he finds his small white precious treasures. Five days after the magical full moon, the hunters will set out, because the truffle is always reborn in the same place and under the same moon. In his secret notebook, jealously kept, the truffle hunter marks the paths, the number of paces, the cycle of the stars, the day, the hour and the weight of the truffle. It is very important that the truffle hunter respect lunar cycles and the meteorological conditions. Hopefully the poetry and the ritual of the truffle hunter will survive and pass from father to son.
"I cani da tartufo"
Fresh truffles have been hunted for several centuries. In the past, pigs were more common for hunting truffles. The pigs were more inclined to eat the truffles, and their transportation was difficult. So, the hunters started to think about using dogs as truffle hunters. There was only one little inconvenience: pigs instinctively dug for truffles, whereas dogs had to be trained to do so.
There is no breed of dog which hunts truffles:
There is no breed of dog which hunts truffles instinctively, but certain dogs seem better at the task than others, such as the Poodle, Fox Terrier, German shepherd, and the Dachshund.
A truffle-hunting dog must have a sharp sense of smell, be calm, not too excitable, obedient to his trainer, and sociable. The dog must neither destroy the truffles it finds nor be diverted by other animals or people when they are present. The animal must have good endurance. A hunting session can last 6 or 7 hours in the winter, with a frozen ground.
The dog and its handler must be inseparable partners. Because of the training, the attitude and behavior of a truffle hunting dog is unique from other dogs. A truffle hunting dog will proceed slowly, sniffing from right to left, stopping, turning around, backtracking, etc. Suddenly, it drops its’ nose to the ground, inhales deeply, and scratches and digs the ground with its paws, keeping its nose down all of the time. The hunter must never allow his dog to dig all the way to the truffle. He must stop the dog before the dog’s nails reach the truffle. The truffles can be found at 5 cm. or at 20-25 cm. from the surface.
The training begins very early; usually a dog at 8-9 months is ready to be trained. At first, the dogs will learn to come when the handler calls him to sit at his feet. The trainer will start to hide a small piece of cheese (usually gorgonzola) in the ground or under an obstacle. He gives the dog the command to find it; after a while the dog will find the good morsel. The trainer will repeat this routine several times in different spots. The dog’s sense of smell will quickly help it to find the cheese, whose smell resembles that of a truffle. At one stage of the training session the puppy will understand the direct command by the trainer
“trovalo” which means –find him!-. The dog, after the command, starts to look for the cheese, pushing aside the obstacle, digging the earth in order to find it. This exercise can be repeated every day for a couple weeks. At one point, the trainer allows the dog to learn the smell of the truffles everyday. The trainer starts to hide the truffle and the cheese in the same spot. The dog is seeking the cheese, but it also finds a small fragrant truffle. The dog starts to associate the cheese with the truffle. The trainer will continue this training procedure for another week hiding together the truffle and the little piece of cheese. After the dog has learned the smell of the truffle, the trainer will start to hide the truffle only and command the dog to find it. The dog, at this point in training, has associated finding the truffle with receiving a reward. Each hunter uses a different kind of reward: a piece of cheese, Mortadella or sausage. They are placed in a bag that the hunter keeps with him during hunting.
In a true hunting environment, the hunter will find a promising area where he believes there are truffles. He will give a command to the dog to start hunting. When the dog digs the soil and locates the truffle, the hunter takes the truffle in his hand and lets the dog smell it. The hunter compliments the dog for his performance and gives the dog a succulent reward. This ritual is very important, for the dog to establish a connection between the truffle and the reward.
It takes around one month to train a dog. Some dogs are more inclined and talented and can be trained in a few weeks.