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BRILLIANT that you have some orchards in your area as a possibility for you and Tuesday.
The course information has been updated as more people from around the world attend these courses that only work on Orchards or a combination of forest and orchard. I am in New Zealand where there are no naturally harvested truffles in forest environments and all harvested truffles are located on inoculated trees in truffières (truffle orchards). Whilst in other areas of the world dogs can search in forests of light to medium or heavy density to locate naturally occurring truffles.
Both forest and orchard have their own special training requirements. In the forest you have to have a strong safety view for both you and your dog. Getting lost would not be ideal, nor getting injured, but the joy of finding a wild truffle would be very exciting. In the orchard safety is still very valid, but there is more than likely always someone watching you do the work. Depending on what type of novelty it is you could have large groups watching you when the orchard owner invites over all their friends in the hope that they will find their first truffle, and want everyone to see it happen.
Orchards are planted with truffle inoculated trees. Depending on the type of orchard would depend on what the orchard owner has elected to grow, e.g. perigord, bianchetto, piedmont are the main varieties in NZ. Orchards are tended just like any other orchard, by the owners spending time in preparing the soil in preparation for planting truffle inoculated trees to increase the PH to around 7.5 to 7.8. They then wait from 4 to 20+ years for their first truffle depending on where they are in the world and the climate of their area. Trees are tendered during that time, such as liming around the trees, pruning the lower branches (to prevent dogs leads being caught up, and keep them clear of the ground letting in light and rain), pest control programmes to prevent loss of immature truffles, and lots of other duties in the hope of producing the illusive fungus. It is a huge investment (if you can call it that) for those that develop truffle orchards.
When working in orchards you are very often under the watchful eye of the owner, who may walk behind or near the truffle dog provider as the dog searches. Dogs are mainly worked on harness and leads, whilst in the forest they may have a harness on but run free and bark to alert when in dense forest. Orchard dogs are worked up and down the rows searching around the trees for truffles. It becomes a routine for them as they search up and down rows of trees. A trained orchard truffle dog will be taken to the first tree and start searching and will continue to search down that row and at the end turn and start the next row.
You need to know the time period your dog can search for as there is a time expectation from the client you are searching for (time x cost). Being orchard search fit is a vital part of working truffle dogs. That is that they can walk and scent for a set time period. Following your dog up and down rows of trees waiting (and hoping) for the change in body language and that soon you will find a truffle means you also have to be search fit. If the orchard has young trees then the search is more often than not unsuccessful. Orchards can vary from 20-15,000 trees, or more. When you talk in numbers it seems fairly easy, however, when you see 15,000 trees that span over 12 hectares (29.5 acres), working your dog, on harness, through those trees can take you a couple of days, and that’s without locating truffles! With locating truffles it can take a lot longer depending on the number you are finding.
Distractions are the same as the forest, however, some of the critters in an orchard can be pests such as rabbits that dig big burrows within a foot of a tree, and not run away as they would in a forest. Rabbit holes are a danger for you if you are watching your dog work the trees, and depending whether the orchardist has tended their trees will depend if you are also ducking under tree branches and preventing the lead from catching on them, whilst dodging the rabbit holes. For every rabbit hole, ask the dog to check them and get down and sniff the rabbit holes yourself as a check, rabbits only dig where there is food, and there may be the scent of the truffle wafting out of it. Rat and mouse holes are also common around truffle inoculated trees, and the scent of the truffle can rise from these.
If you are using a hunting dog then these could bring out the hunting instinct so you need to proof against these so the dog will only search for truffle scent and ignore the rat, mouse or rabbit scent.
With the search pattern for the dog being either up and down a row, or weaving from one side of the row to the opposite side in a zigzag pattern, it could be seen as a really monotonous task. The dog needs to be able to continue to work enthusiastically without being successful for a reasonable period – approx. 20 – 40 minutes at a time. Yes, you may put decoys down, but if you always do this at the beginning and the end or as you get out of the car, then the dog will learn this pattern as well and rush just to get to the end for the reward. Some orchard owners will not allow you to take other people’s truffles into their orchard in order to reduce the risk of other truffle types, or disease being introduced, even when using sample tins. You may also be asked to clean the dogs paws, and your shoes, before going into a truffière, again to reduce the risk of introduction of disease from another orchard.
Teaching your dog to continue to search for longer and longer periods without success is the biggest milestone. Using larger and larger training areas with fewer hot samples with HIGH praise each time a sample is located continues to build the drive to locate the truffle, and now working on duration. You need to keep this duration random rather than every 5 feet, again dogs can count and will learn that truffles can only be found in 5 feet intervals.
Truffles are not always removed in an orchard, the area the dog sniffed is ‘tagged’ in any variety of methods such as small amounts of golden sand placed at the site, a nut with a pink tail may be dropped, sticks are placed in the walkway to indicate general area…it will depend on what the orchardist wants to use. In an orchard, it is not your decision to dig up the truffle but the owners. They may decide to leave it in the ground for another few days or dig it up. If you remove a truffle that is immature, it will not mature out of the ground, and it cannot be put back into the ground. So it is up to the owner to decide what they want to do when the dog locates it.
So the truffle dog team is more about locating possibilities rather than digging them up as you go. So your dog needs to be trained to accept that some truffles will be left in the ground and the search continues, but the truffle in the ground is now excluded from the search and dogs must be encouraged to move forward. After a period of time your dog may see the burying/covering over or removal of the truffle from the ground as the cue to start searching again.
Find a row of trees that you can practice on in a park or somewhere and work through placing samples in a variety of different locations around the trees. You may have a sample per tree initially, but then you may clump three samples together and the next few trees empty, then the next one could have a large truffle and a couple more further down a truffle the size of a pea.
I tend to work down one side of the row and then turn and go down the other side and repeat until the orchard has been searched. If there are trees dropping needles or sticky leaves that can attach to the dogs coat or between the paws, then stop in random places to check the dog is ok rather than always at the beginning and end of rows.
Once you know how long your dog can work for watch them for any changes in behaviour such as stress, fatigue or heat exhaustion and stop your dog well before they get show the above signs.