Secrets of The Truffle-Hunter: Meet The Dog With A Nose For The Finer Things

We’re often amazed by our dog’s sense of smell – and we’re sure it’s not just us who are impressed by the weird and wonderful things dogs find when we’re out on walks.

However, we were particularly impressed when we heard about 7-year-old springer spaniel Max’s ability to sniff out rare and expensive truffles. Truffles are technically a fungus but they’re considered a delicacy and can sell for up to £1,300 a kilo!  

His mum, Joyce Couper, is a Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear fan and she’s kindly shared the secrets of how Max got started, how she trains him and how you can turn your dog into a truffle hunter too!


Here’s what she had to say…

How did you discover Max’s talent for truffle hunting?

Joyce: He started ScentworkUK classes in April 2017 and it quickly became obvious that he was not only highly motivated to search but had an ability to pinpoint the source of any scent plume. So when the opportunity arose to train him to search for truffles I thought it would be an excellent outlet for his energy and enthusiasm.

A local landowner had planted 11,000 trees in partnership with Plantation Systems. The oaks, hazel and beech trees had been inoculated with truffle spores. The landowner then approached Gwen Matear of our local training group, Tynewater K9, to produce a training programme for interested owners – and me and Max jumped at the chance!

Tell us about his training…

In August 2017, seven dogs, including Max, started the five-day training programme.

The key thing during training is keeping motivation high. We do this by using ‘hotpots’ - small containers with a piece of truffle that we drop intermittently and then allow the dog to find, and then reward the find. This is particularly important at this stage of production as in the 3 months of the first season we only found 12 productive trees out of 11,000.

It’s easy for dogs (and owners) to feel demotivated when nothing is found for days at a time and, like all activities with your dog, finding the most rewarding toy is key to success.

What have been the highlights so far?

Just three months after we started training, Max found his first truffles - the first ever cultivated truffles in Scotland. Since then he has gone on to find quite a number. So far this year, he’s has found 33 truffles at 12 trees.

What’s Max’s favourite Tug-E-Nuff toy and how does it help his training?

Max was introduced to the Rabbit Skin Pocket Squeaker at a workshop and he instantly fell in love with it. I was delighted as previously he had only shown interest in balls and I wanted a reward that was less stressful on his joints as he has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Max will tug with the toy but just having it tossed into his mouth is the best reward for him. It’s a lovely low impact reward that he really enjoys.

What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in Max’s pawprints?

There is going to be a need for more truffle dogs in the future.  There are a number of orchards all at different stages of production – and the only way to find the truffles is using a dog.

The things that make Max successful are his wonderful nose, his motivation and his ability to cover large areas at speed. If your dog has similar traits, now’s the time to sign up!

If you enjoyed reading about Max’s adventures, check out our article about how a special team of dogs are using their snouts to save lives.
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