Dogs are known for their keen sense of smell — hence their use on K-9 units with police and government agencies. But now they’re being used to sniff out something else: truffles.
Chefs and foodies who prefer this coveted and rare type of fungi have traditionally used other animals, like pigs. Because dogs are natural hunters, however, Truffle Dog Co. in California is training dogs to find the truffles in orchards and in the wild.
“Truffle hunting is right up their alley,” Alana McGee, the company’s founder, said. “It’s fun for the dogs. They get rewarded for using their noses — which is how they see the world.”
McGee has taken her dog Lolo out to find truffles at a nearby vineyard in Carneros owned by Robert Sinskey.
Sinskey planted a truffle orchard five years ago in the Napa Valley region, and he wants his dogs to help him harvest truffles, too. He’s asked McGee to train his dogs to sniff out the delicacies.
“I hope my dogs will finally be able to earn their keep,” Sinskey told AP. “It will be nice to see them actually work.”
Typically, dog owners might spend money on obedience classes or dog walkers found through pet dating sites to keep their dogs occupied. In metropolitan areas, owners can spend up to $100 per week for their dogs to be taken care of while they’re at work.
Now finding truffles is just another hobby for dog owners who have the dough.
The training is similar to that used by police departments and bomb squads. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, for instance, trains dogs using the NORT, or National Odor Recognition Test, to help them sniff out explosives; other agencies use dogs to find drugs and missing persons, as well.
Normally, truffle hunters use pigs, especially in Europe. But dogs are generally more well behaved and less conspicuous, and they also won’t try to eat the truffles.
Black truffles can cost as much as $800 to $1,200 per pound and come primarily from Europe and Australia.
There’s a growing demand for the fancy fungi, though, thanks to changing tastes worldwide and more foodies asking for truffles on high-end restaurant menus.
McGee’s dog Lolo is a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian breed whose specialty is hunting for truffles. However, any dog can be trained, McGee said.