Reply To: Annie & Dottie

Alana McGee

Hi Annie

We would encourage you to allow some exploration time, but with the understanding that some days she may not need it. Some days she may need to get pumped up.

Have you worked in this space much?

You handled the situation well, despite being baffled!

Every day will be different. Some days she may need an opportunity to explore before she is comfortable. Some days you may need to rev her up!

You know this well, but we always tell folks truffle dogs are not machines. There is a large emotional element present when hunting and there has to be a significant amount of motivation for the dog to want to truffle hunt, and it should be matched between human and canine. It should be fun!

It is one thing to work through distractions on a motivated engaged dog, it is another to indulge in distraction if the dog is disinterested thereby reinforcing behaviors of distraction in game environments.

If she is having a hard day and being really distracted, we would say don’t push it, and don’t encourage behaviors you don’t want to see in the field. Use those behaviors as indicators that Dottie isn’t feeling it today, for whatever reason. Once out of the situation you can try to determine what was going on. Try again a different day. Truffle hunting is not life and death. It should be fun!

—We don’t think that this example is evidence of a extreme case of that, but be aware there may be times this happens so we wanted to clarify what to do!–

It’s like professional football players watching tape of themselves after a game. You analyze what worked and what didn’t. What about the environment, scenario, or emotional energy may have created or prompted these behaviors. Then you evaluate how you can change those factors to achieve the results you are looking for.

Remember that the game is supposed to be fun.

If she is having a long round of rolling, eating grass, doing other activities besides truffle hunting in an area she is familiar, we would suggest removing her from the area, doing something else for a while and then revisiting. It could be a different day- in fact we encourage that.

What & how long you entertain these behaviors will depend on Dottie, and the scenario. It is your job as a handler to know the difference between disinterest & distraction. There can be many reasons for both!

For example, if this were to manifest with one of our dogs on an orchard we would allow a certain amount of play and exploration, but then would cut them off. We’d remove them from the area and do something else. We’d play games. For some reason they aren’t motivated to truffle hunt at that moment, and we’d want to know why, but first we would take them out of the environment where these contradictory behaviors are happening so we don’t create and reinforce behaviors we would like to not have later.


Early in Duff’s (My Black Lab Mix) career there was a day like this on an orchard. It was more than distraction. Upon reflection it was a combination of distraction, new environments, New odors, and emotional stress I was placing on him. After a few moments I realized this was the case and no amount of allowing him to indulge in smelling Pig flakes (long story) would combat what our intended task was that day. So I calmly explained to the owner what was going on (and that dogs are not machines!) and We went for a 30 minute drive, got out at a park, played for a few minutes and came back to the orchard and he was ready to work. During that time I had adjusted my energy levels and pressure I was placing on him as well as worked off some of his nervous energy. When we returned to the scenario the only thing that was different was our team energy. That made all the difference!

Every dog will be different.

Dottie May still carry with her the Yellow jacket stigma a bit, just not manifest in the same way. We would still be cautious and based on this video be willing to accept reduced criteria for success in outdoor situations with increasing levels of complexity. Every day is going to be different. Some days she’ll be more confident than others. Overtime the standard level of confidence (or average if you will) will raise and it will get easier to hold out for higher standards of criteria.

In this instance I think we actually would like to see the entire video if you have it so we can see the progression of either distraction or of her motivation “(There were a total of 4 targets in the grass, so what you don’t see in this video is two more finds between the first one and the last one. We did play with the toy after these finds. You also don’t see some of the distraction sniffing, marking, etc. that she was doing.) “ —Seeing the other hides will make this a bit clearer on what was going on.

0:16 She follows a scent column to the target- it is with purpose she goes there. That is clear. This is a situation wherein it may have been appropriate to accept decreased criteria for success. Easier to see/say on the playback than in the moment- but based on her other distracted behaviors, this could have been an alert. She followed odor to source (and you know this because you placed the target).
If Dottie had a habit of rolling on targets that would be one thing, but this may be a version of stressed situation. Stress doesn’t have to mean it was incredibly challenging or overly complex and frustrating, just that there are other forces at work here too that prompted this behavior over her more normal and usual alert.

What would have been good in that situation is to interrupt the behavior (not over aggressively of course by coming in fast) but by asking Dottie if she had found something? Which you did! By doing so you’re requesting a behavior she knows and encouraging her to alert in a fashion that doesn’t confuse you- while she is exhibiting the rolling behavior. You did a good job allowing the two of you to exit and then re-approach other hides.

That second hide- how confident was that? You are doing a great job at source, but we can’t see her well, so you’ll have to tell us.

The last alert on the 1st target was GREAT. She was very confident there- and Kudos to you on that staying at source and party there and when exiting the scenario. You can feel the shift in her energy from the beginning of the session to the end.

It is likely that this particular day Dottie needed a little more encouragement and success to play in the beginning to build up her drive and enjoyment in the game, because that last find was Superstar quality from both of you!