I?m going to break this post into sections with Bold Titles so it is easier to follow. (edit- ok it won’t let me So i’ll CAPS IT)
THE CLICKER: Yes you can certainly fade the clicker! It?s good to have a tool later when you are trying to work on precision skills or to problem solve should the need arise, but yes, you can fade it!
THE RETRIEVE TECHNIQUE is simply a retrieve. In Italy dogs are trained generally by someone literally throwing a truffle and the dog bring it back. This, as a searching technique, leaves many thing to be desired as it is not incredibly accurate and subjective to the dog. But dogs with high retrieve instinct pick it up fast. There can often be a disconnect once the dog is asked to find a buried truffle though! And it isn?t as reliable.
But the idea of Daisy bringing you the truffle is ok. We tend not to advocate this approach unless it is a behavior the dog chooses to manifest on their own because any time a truffle is near a dog?s mouth there is an increased likelihood of it being consumed. Intentionally, or accidentally, often through excitement.
If Daisy offers a natural retrieve- she puts the tin her her mouth and brings it to you, great.—This is also usually more likely with tins- putting it in the mouth as they are bigger and harder than with actual truffles, but some dogs do do this! And that is fabulous. Nothing really wrong with it!
We have had one student in the past where her dog will find the truffle, pick it up and then spit it at her, but that is rarer. Because that was her dog?s natural alert, we went with it, but that dog will still offer a nose target and a light scratch at the soil when she finds it.
?Daisy really enjoys bringing me the truffle and has handed me targets several times when training.? That?s great!
Playing retrieve with a truffle scented item or above ground is great, but the retrieve game is not something that is easy to practice one you are working with buried hides in the sense ofthrowing a ball. Sure, she can dig it up and bring it to you, and if she does that, fabulous.
With white truffles that tend to nest (aka you find more than one in a small area, and they are smaller) It is unlikely she will pick up every truffle and bring it to you though so you would still need to inspect the site of the alert.
What we mean by retrieve is, it sounds like, basically what Daisy does now on occasion- which is bring you the truffle. That?s great!
I would still recommend not relying on it as the only form of alert behavior- which you haven?t. But if she brings you a truffle great. That?s awesome.
Any time a truffle is near a dog?s mouth there is a chance they may consume it, or it may be damaged as well.
European species of truffles, namely Summer truffles (T. aestivum/uncinatum) and Perigords (T.melanosporum) have thick outer skins that are harder for dogs to damage. Some of the species you are likely to find will be more delicate, and so Daisy if she mouths them, may damage them.
WHAT A HUNT LOOKS LIKE:
First off- every team is different in how they prepare themselves and their dogs. I personally handle each hunt differently depending on what dog I have as they each have different methods for priming and getting ready, and different personalities- so you will develop a routine with Daisy that gets preformed when out in the field. We call this the Hunt sequence and it is something we go into depth in in the 201 course.
Boiled down: The hunt sequence is basically you arrive at location? Then it varies depending on where you park your car vs where the site is. If the site is 1/2 a mile, you?re not going to want to ask Daisy to start working right away, you?re going to walk to get to the location before you ask her to start looking.
So that is called transporting. Getting from one point to another prior to the search.
This is where specific gear which can signify the game can come in handy for some teams.
Walking to a location can take time, so if the dog in question is conditioned to a specific harness that is only worn when working in the field truffle hunting, the handler can walk the dog to the desired location, and then don the harness on the dog signaling the beginning of working. You can build association and value in this piece of equipment so the dog eventually realizes it is part of the game. It is also a great tool for being able to transport a dog out of an area. Harness off- no more truffle hunting.
Example- you have been out in the field for a while, found a bunch of truffles, but your car is a mile away. If Daisy keeps hunting the whole way back to you car finding a truffle every 10 seconds literally, it is going to take AGES to get back. If you can have a cue- (in this case the removal of the harness to signal the end of hunting) it can make that process faster.
You notice in the videos of Heidi the Belgian Teruvern she is wearing a harness. That harness is only brought out when Heidi is truffle hunting. Heidi gets SO pumped by the sight of the harness and anticipation of the game that the harness itself has become a marker or a signal for what truffle hunting. So her handler can be out hiking, have that in her backpack, get to an area, and THEN break out the harness for Heidi, who then knows- TRUFFLE TIME!
So, the Hunt is hyper specific to each team and everyone will vary. There are so many variables at play no one experience is exactly similar. Generally you start searching and when your dog finds a truffle, you start the party. It depends then on the difficulty of the truffle and if YOU as a handler can find it easily. Digging out a truffle, depending on species, depth, etc can take a while- sometimes a couple of minutes. This is why it is important a dog remains at source, with you, engaged with you. If you?re busy digging out a truffle and your dog is off finding more without you, that?s no good!
Ideally your dog will be engaged with you at the site of the alert and helping you to pinpoint the truffle in the soil. They are not always easy to see (Pictures will be in one of the forums we are populating). Finding a truffle in the soil is as much about the handler as it is about the dog.
Again, we cover many aspects of this in the 201 course, as that is practical application in the field finding truffles, but it is often handler skills that come into play even more at that stage.
If Daisy alerts on a ?truffle? and you can?t find it- That is handler related, but at the same time you don?t want Daisy to start to get frustrated you aren?t finding what she just told you was there,. This is why we spend so much time on foundations and solid alerts. It is critical to be able to trust your dog. If she says it?s there, It?s there, not matter how small- she is detecting the truffle VOCs (which actually can be given off by the truffle mycelium at a certain stage as well). BUT this is also where that extra target we always say to have on you comes into play.
If you can?t find the truffle itself, throw the target in the hole and have Daisy alert on it, and then reward her. It is completely OK to manufacture success like this. It is better to just leave it if you can?t find it instead of causing Daisy to get stressed or impatient with you lack of response. There will be more truffles. Don?t dwell on one.
You ask about ?Time spent? handling dog, truffles, treats. Every handler is different. And personally I will do different things depending on what is going on that the time. Some of us will put newly found truffles in a pocket of a coat, some a backpack, some a basket we have along with us. I believe in 201 we have an entire hunt sequence demonstrated from start to finish of finding a truffle. It is a very good question though, as to what that actually looks like.
After the dog finds a truffle we pick it up and then reward, and THEN I put the truffle away- after the reward. you don?t necessarily want to build in a really long time where you dog is impatiently waiting for its reward for the successful find. Some dogs are better at handling that duration, and you can build on it.
I often have a small container I carry around (Think large yogurt container) and when we find a truffle, I have that ready (outside of my backpack already) to put the truffle into quickly and then after our reward sequence we can continue on our way relatively uninterrupted.
Depending on how fast we are finding them I will sometimes put the container away. I also occasionally will use a small mushroom basket to carry them- but be wary of it tipping over and out spilling all your truffles!
You can transport your truffles in a variety of ways in the field. It is what works for you. As we have said Truffle hunting is a messy sport when it comes to odor. You?ll have truffles in your pockets, in your bag, the odor on your hands? It is a fact of life when truffle hunting that odor is all over the place and contaminated for the dog that is searching. They learn that it is only source odor, in the ground that counts as a viable criteria for success. But is Daisy noses your bag, she?s not wrong! In fact, good puppy! She knows truffles are in there. Eventually if she is not rewarded for that behavior or alerting on your backpack when it is on the ground she will stop alerting on it. We always verbally praise when dog?s recognize odor like that though. Maybe not a play or food reward, but a confirmation, of ?yes, you?re right, those are truffles. Good girl?.? and then you move on. Soft praise.
I?ll respond to your other training questions in another post- but as for the KLM video- I saw this and heard about it- but Huff Post reported as it being PR. BUT the practice of ?matching to source? which is exactly what that Beagle is doing in that video, is valid. That is what Search and rescue dogs do often. Or Blood hounds you see in old movies tracking fugitives. They are following a specific trail/ odor source from a particular item to the strongest source. It is a fun skill to teach.
NOT the best for truffle hunting because it teaches hyper specificity whereas we want to teach generalization. If a dog is hyper specific (I have one like this naturally) you would show him say a white truffle as a primer? You go out in the field and he will only find white truffles although there are black truffles right next to a white truffle. He only would alert on exactly what matches the sample you gave him. Great for hyper specific detection work, more complicated for truffle hunting.