I read a story a month or so ago about Bloodhounds tracking Elephants. Crazy, right? Rabbit hunting was the latest “tracking” activity I did with my doxie and basset/beagle mix so I’m on the look-out for hunting related things I can do with the dogs. Then I stumbled across a great story about a local Oregon truffle hunter, Eric Lyon, and his dog, Zoe. About a month later, I saw at the NW Pet & Companion Fair that you could actually participate in truffle hunting at the expo. I went ahead and registered Bruiser, our doxie, and we had a lot of fun. So whether it’s exclusive “veggies” like truffles or prey like rabbits, these activities are a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I loved field trials with our doxie club so I’m planning on doing that with the dogs for years to come.
I contacted truffle hunting expert Eric Lyon and asked him some questions I thought readers could benefit from. More about Eric can be found on his Web site. I am not all that competitive so I pick activities that are both fun for the dogs and my husband. This is definitely worth exploring further! It’s really about your relationship with your dog at the end of the day. Although truffle hunting is like *striking gold* if it’s on your property! Why not try it?
Q. How many people hire you and Zoe for on-site inspection and hound-harvesting of truffles on their property? As this gains in popularity, are you finding a lot of people are getting involved?
A. Yes, many owners of forested land are curious to see if their property contains truffles. Unless a dog is used, it is very difficult for these people to know if they have truffles growing in their forests. Surprisingly, most of the property’s we survey we find truffles! Though, usually the quantity isn’t large enough to expect a big pay day. In some very special cases, a forest can contain a HUGE amount of truffles, with the possibility of generating a lot of money. It’s this small chance of striking ‘pay dirt’ that excites them.
Q. To the best of your knowledge, how many truffle hounds are currently in Oregon *for hire*? Are dog lovers jumping on the bandwagon? “Now he’s one of only three commercial truffle hunters in Oregon who work with truffle hunting dogs,” I saw this in the Oregon Business Magazine story, is this true – only three?!
A. I’m sure there are more than 3 working truffle dogs here in the Northwest. Yet, this is a secretive activity and people are hesitant to advertise themselves to the public. It’s really hard to put a concrete number on it. All I know is the number is bound to grow.
Q. Onto Zoe! What training methods did you use to get Zoe *interested* in searching for truffles? Is it similar to K9 Odor class where dogs hunt for odor like Birch?
A. Unbelievably, Zoe needed hardly any training. I stumbled upon a truffle in the woods and brought it home for Zoe to smell. I hide it in the grass in my front yard and told her she would get a treat if she found it. Instantly she went to work looking for it and within a couple of seconds she located it. I gave her a treat and the rest is history. That’s it! Also, she was 6 years old at the time with no prior tracking training. Though, I’ve found over the years of trying to train other dogs that Zoe was an exceptionally quick study. All dogs can smell truffles in the woods. It’s getting them motivated and focused on finding truffles and ONLY truffles for long periods of time that is the hard part. Zoe is highly motivated by treats and she’s extremely focused on a certain task. Most dogs will need much more structured training to be able to consistently locate truffles.
Q. I loved the video on your site – how often do you go out and train Zoe to search? For someone wanting to do this with their hounds, how do you recommend they get started?
A. Zoe is getting to be an old girl. Her 12th birthday was recently. She doesn’t have the stamina to go truffling for long periods, but she is still an incredible truffle hound! She really has mastered the art of locating Oregon’s truffles. To see her at work is a thing of beauty. I’ve also been training a new dog this year. Leroy, another black lab, has shown some great promise, but sometimes he lacks the long term focus that Zoe has.This will be the biggest problem people will encounter when they are trying to train a dog to locate truffles. Teaching a dog to find truffles is somewhat easy in the beginning. It’s getting them to stay on task for long periods that will be the biggest challenge.
Q. Will you help train someones dog if they’re interested? Do you offer this as a service after Truffle season?
A. I do not currently offer a service to help people train their dogs. Though, I have more or less told you everything I know on the subject. There is such a business locally that does.
Q. What about searching for Truffles do you love the most? Is it just watching Zoe hunt?
A. My favorite part of truffle hunting is the interrelationship that is built between Zoe and I. Never have I experienced a situation where I am so reliant on an animal to help me. It’s really incredible to see her so focused on the task of finding truffles. And when she does find one, to see her tail wag with excitement, I just know she loves it.