Ripe truffles have to be found by above ground smell alone, since once the truffle is excavated and exposed to air, it cannot be re-inserted into the ground to continue ripening. Therefore, an animal with a very keen nose is of critical importance. Truffle hunters in previous centuries brought along a pig to root around in the undergrowth: a most intelligent method of truffle retrieval! Nowadays, truffle-hunting dogs are much more widely used and with good reason. A truffle hog is a female pig that possesses a natural impulse to search out truffles due to their similarity in scent to boar testosterone. Sows, therefore, have the innate ability to sniff out truffles but will also try to eat truffles once they root them out of the earth. Some legends surrounding truffle hogs also suggest their handlers tend to end up missing fingers, having found themselves on the losing end of an argument over truffle possession with a 300 pound sow! Truffle hogs may also destroy truffle beds in their eagerness to get to the scent and are even banned in Italy for this very reason.
Truffle dogs present a much friendlier alternative. They must be trained to search for the scent of ripened truffles underground, and mark where they are located before they are pulled off and dug up by someone at the farm. Truffle dogs will happily mark the spot in exchange for a treat! The Lagotto Romagnolo is the only dog breed officially recognized for sniffing out truffles. Originating in Italy, these working dogs have a natural instinct for retrieving along with a keen sense of smell, making them ideal for this business. That sense of smell makes it easy for a trained dog to tell the scent of a ripe truffle from that of an unripe one. Hunting truffles is actually fun for these dogs, who get rewarded for using their strong sense of smell and praise from their handler, along with a treat.
Here at AVTC, we have 5 Lagottos trained in finding truffles. Tuber Giana, Leo, Vito, Bella and Luke.