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    Alana McGee

    Hi guys,

    This is where you can talk to your classmates about whatever you wish – so get to know each other better here!

    Alana McGee

    Hello all!


    Hi Gwen:
    So cool you are going to ClickerExpo UK. Have Fun! I attended ClickerExpo in the US for 4 years. Always very inspiring for training! Enjoy!



    Hi everyone, I need some help understanding about cooking targets. I am a bit confused…

    “Keep in mind that deeper targets need longer to “cook” to allow the truffle VOCs to escape from the surrounding soil.” (from lesson 3) This makes sense to me. It seems that the longer the target cooks, the more the odor will permeate the soil in that spot, and therefore make the target easier to find.

    So I am a little confused by this:
    “You also should allow the targets to cook. Anywhere from 15 minutes to a more advanced scenario of perhaps a day. Start in the 15 min to 2 hour range. When burying, it takes time for the VOCs to permeate the surrounding soil. By allowing more cooking time you are allowing the odor to concentrate and move in the environment more.”

    Why does allowing the VOC’s permeate the surrounding soil add difficulty? Wouldn’t searching for targets that haven’t had time to cook be very difficult since the odor hasn’t had time to permeate the site? Or does cooking make finding them easier up to a point, that is, do they reach a point where there is too much permeation and the odor has dissipated so far that the source becomes difficult to pinpoint?

    Sorry to require clarification on this! It just seems counter-intuitive to me that longer cooking times makes locating the targets more difficult.

    Thanks to anyone who can offer insight or explanations! 🙂


    Yes, it would appear that if you leave a sample out longer it would be easier for the dog to locate, whilst a shorter time would be harder. However, things are not as they appear and it does get more difficult the longer they are cooked as may environmental factors come into play.

    Scent will take the path of least resistance.

    For example: If it is a hot day the VOC’s will travel with the rising warm air and winds will disperse it over a greater area; whilst cold weather the VOCs hug the land, but still travel with the winds but much lower. If there is high humidity the scent is more ‘visible’ to the dog, whereas low humidity dries out the scent quicker, but the scent could be reactivated with the dampness of evening or dew in the morning.

    As VOCs travel the landscape changes and the scent could be caught in many different areas such as small holes in the ground (remember your first video where Tuesday double backed behind the dead tree and lingered? There could have been a pool of scent that had worked its way down from the sample on top of the stump and pooled there), around tree stumps, could be pushed either side of a tree, flow down a hill, or create eddies around the base of a hill. Every obstacle that can be found in the forest, or flat land will give the VOCs an opportunity to be held or travel.

    Because of the VOCs taking the path of least resistance, this is why it is so important to ‘get down and dirty’ with your dog. Dogs may indicate in a pool of scent and you need to determine whether to dig the earth or not before you reward them for their efforts. Using an ‘oops’ or similar cue, the dog will learn the difference between the scent and the SOURCE of the scent. And once at the source of the scent, have a BIG party. This secures in their mind what you are after and their body language will tell you what is scent and what is THE source.

    With the knowledge that you have of your truffle area, what time of the day would be best for you to search? What are different ways you can test which direction the wind is coming from? What are the advantages of knowing where the wind is coming from? Why would you set your dog to work upwind or downwind?

    Look forward to your feedback.


    Thank you Karen. This was helpful. To answer your questions:

    With the knowledge that you have of your truffle area, what time of the day would be best for you to search? Morning, as it is cooler and sometimes winds can pick up in the evenings. Mornings can be more damp, but truffle season here is a season of continuous rain, drizzle and fog. So avoiding high humidity or dampness will be pretty much impossible. So odor is going to be sticking to all the wet things around us as a standard norm.

    What are different ways you can test which direction the wind is coming from? Using smoke matches, watching the leaves, grass, other vegetation. Even watching flags on flagpoles on the way to the site.

    What are the advantages of knowing where the wind is coming from? So I can work my dog downwind.

    Why would you set your dog to work upwind or downwind? Because if my dog is downwind, the scent is moving toward her. If she is upwind, then the scent is moving away from her and she wouldn’t pick it up until she moved around to the other side of the source, thus positioning herself downwind. In the last class series (level 2), I used this concept several times to set up exercises where I purposely placed the targets in locations where we could search downwind from them. This was for my other dog who needed confidence building.


    Great answers Annie, and thoughtful which shows you are learning about your location, and how to set your dog up for success.

    Another option for checking your wind is to have a small bottle with potato starch in and you can squeeze to let a puff come out. Remember you need to do the wind test both at your height and the dogs. A lighter is another option to check the wind.


    Here is a question: I might have a problem getting real truffles here on the Island. Is it too early to try and find them in the wild?
    If I have some tins with oil to make sure he is successful, would I be able to go and try to hunt for real truffles?

    Alana McGee

    Hi Bev

    We are right at the cusp of the season. Where you are will begin production before here in Seattle. The thing is, there are all of 3 to 5 (maybe 10 if we are really bold in assumption) dog teams in all of BC. We’ll ask those we know to see if anyone has been looking or can get you samples. Dr. Berch is probably out.

    Here in Wa, our site that produces whites early just started (whites start before blacks), but the truffles are not quite mature. The blacks we have found have been hard won and small, and also not at the ideal maturity.

    In essence, it’s early in the season still, but maybe. It is possible.

    However proven highly productive truffles grounds on the island are somewhat unknown, but we know they exist. So it is a bit delicate.

    Yes, Oils are fine- we use those all the time in training and in the field. Be sure to manufacture success often- far more frequently than you think necessary, and stage those scenarios for success. That will help you if Wolfy comes across something in the wild. I’ll reach out to Dr. Berch and see what she knows as of the last few weeks and let you know.

    Short answer, yes- but early, and yes, oil is good.


    I have heard several times throughout my study and communication with TDC that orchard work is very different from forest work–that it requires different skills on the part of both the dog and handler, knowledge of different conditions, etc., and got the impression that orchard work is a whole different animal than forest work. Yet I noticed that with this 3rd level, the text has been updated to state that this class will prepare us for hunting truffles in the forest OR orchard….

    So I am wondering: What are the special/additional skills that are necessary for both dog and handler to have in order to successfully work in orchards, and what are the particular factors that need to be considered in an orchard setting versus a forested setting? I would love to be able to work in orchards as well as forests (I already have a few leads on some orchards in my area that are inoculated), and so this information would be very appreciated! It would also be great to get some ideas of exercises/modifications that would help teach my dog the special skills required for orchard work. Thank you!


    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.

    Alana McGee

    Hi annie- I’ll chime in in addition to Karen’s comments, which are spot on and give a good indication.

    The biggest difference for many dogs is mental & physical endurance, as well distraction. In the PNW and orchards here that often comes in the form of wildlife of some sort. When you are searching Large orchards for long periods of time with limited success it can be mentally tedious for the dogs. Even a small orchard, to be thorough can take a long time. It’s our job as handlers to keep our dogs on point and to watch for subtle shifts in body language, and to know when to take breaks.

    For a handler there are added protocols as Karen discussed, such as bio security. It’s also important to set your team up for success and to be best be able to do that it is important you understand scent dynamics and shifts in the wind and how to adapt as you are working.

    Working on more passive alerts and nose touching is also beneficial. As Karen said, on many orchards, aside from perhaps the 1st truffle found, you won’t be digging it up. So gentle precision touching is important.

    We do have an exercise for this for those over active/ aggressive diggers. If you’d like to see it, let us know and I’ll dig it out. It involves the use of a yoga mat (or similar) and treats and teaching them to push with their nose to unroll the mat. Using their feet won’t cause the yoga mat to unroll- thus no reward. It can then be transferred to truffles.

    The other main difference is the pressure applied. As Karen mentioned there are often people around, even if not close in proximity, but they are watching you work.

    On orchards it is relatively high stakes because you are being paid for a service provided. It is a lot about the handler mental state in these situations as that can directly impact your canine partner- and vise versa.
    Safety is still a concern on orchards, but often for different reasons. It’s always critical to listen to what your dog is telling you, but on orchard situations handler teams often apply more emotional pressure because of the nature of the work, so you need to be extra sensitive to your communicative bond.

    Orchard work is far more tedious for a dog because of the exactness required to be proficient and professional. So endurance is one of the main things.


    So, if your dog has a more active alert is it not good to work on an orchard? I have not discouraged digging behaviour as we are hunting in the forest…although we have not found an actual truffle yet.

    Alana McGee

    Hi Bev

    Not necessarily. You can have a variety of alerts or behavior chains that are situational. After confidence in an alert is established you can fine tune it based on situation. Confidence & clarity in an alert is the most important thing, once you have a little more experience you can certainly teach situational alerts. For example, over the course of the past 2 years I have taught Lolo & Duff that more passive alerts are appropriate on orchards- whereas in the wild, having them help me dig can be incredibly helpful and I encourage it. On Orchards I do not and when we were training for this specifically I would if neccessary truncate the behavior (with praise & reward) and taught situational awareness in alert behaviors. Even different forested environments can have different alerts.

    There are situations on orchards when digging is encouraged- but we’ve put it is on cue.

    When Karen and I are talking about alerts on orchards as location services we are also referring to orchards in production which is a bit different than what we’d consider the majority of North American orchards at present.

    In Australia for example they have 100,000 tree orchards that heavily produce. It would not be time efficient for the dog handler to harvest, so the dog harvest team is followed by a person who actually excavates the truffle and then takes it back to the grading shed. The dogs & humans have a limited amount of working time per outing. So it is a true location service.

    It is true however that most orchard owners won’t want to have a dog tearing up their tree roots.

    Digging in of itself is not problematic as an alert until there is a stage of commercial production. Being able to fine tune and or arrest a behavior with positive reinforcement when you get there is helpful. But again, confidence in criteria of searching (aka clarity in the alert and at odor source) is the foundation on which you can build these more subtle behaviors. That is why we like to encourage nose touching when possible. AKA we wouldn’t be too concerned with the digging in Wolfy’s case. Some dogs, it is something you want to set perimeters on (one of my own dogs was this way- Duff- but you have to understand rototilling is his natural alert, so we spent time after he was confident in searching working on those fine motor skills and more gentle behavior.) Confidence & Clarity are paramount at this stage.

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 7 months ago by Alana McGee. Reason: additional material

    Do any of you who do find truffles with your dog consider them working dogs? I would myself, as they are working whether they are doing it recreationally or commercially. Does anyone compete in Scent detection trials, or nose work, whichever they call it? I want to compete next year, and will have to put him in working stream, as he does this for a job. According to the rules. I know Alana mentioned earlier if anyone competes in nose work sports. My dog has an active alert, which in boxes would need to be changed to a passive alert. I do not think this should affect his truffle hunting as the environment and cues are different than boxes indoors or searching a room or vehicles. Thoughts, anyone with experience with this?

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