Curt Leitz & Mo

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    Alana McGee

    Welcome to class Curt!  This is the forum topic where you will post your questions and homework videos for feedback from the instructors.  Please take a moment to tell us about yourself, your dog and your interest in truffle hunting.

    Class begins June 1st but you already have access to the first lesson so go ahead and check that out!  You can begin posting video homework and questions June 1st.

    Alana McGee

    Welcome Curt. Glad you could join us!

    Also don’t forget to receive email updates about when we post responses to homework make sure to check the box below this comment area! We are excited to meet the new pup!


    Hello folks,

    A quick introduction:

    My interest in truffles came through my interest in other fungi. In the upper Midwest I enjoy foraging for morels, chanterelles, various boletes, and black trumpets; I also enjoy making forays to find and try to identify whatever fungi are fruiting. As I learned more about various fungi I (of course) became intrigued by truffles, which seemed exotic and thousands of miles out of reach.

    Then, in the depth of a northern Minnesota winter, I read a copy of the 1903 journal article that first described and named Tuber lyonii, which we commonly know as the pecan truffle. The type specimen was found in Minnesota.

    Game on!

    This spring I got a German wirehaired pointer puppy, “Mo,” to complement my geriatric German shorthair. My plan all along had been to train this puppy to scent hunt black trumpets. Trumpets will be my target during this course, and weather permitting I should be able to put Mo on plenty of wild trumpets in the second half of the summer. This summer and fall, I plan to do as much searching as I can for native truffles in Minnesota and Wisconsin. With persistence and luck, I hope to identify productive areas that I could then return to in 2016–after having spent some time adapting Mo’s above-ground scent work to hypogynous fungi.

    I look forward to “meeting” my classmates and learning from all of you.


    Alana McGee

    Welcome again Mo & Curt! We are excited to work with you, and to help you determine likely places for T. lyonii in the midwest. I have you on our list for when T. lyonii become available, so I’ll let you know when we hear more from the farmers.

    How is your scent supply for trumpets? If you need a restock/ or when fresh becomes available, let me know. My recommendation until I hear they are popping up is the folks at Far West Fungi in San Francisco. Let us know if you do order from them, as John, Toby and Ian are familiar with our program and are willing to go above and beyond for our students.

    Again welcome to class, we are very excited to have you with us!


    Thanks for the tip, Alana–FWF is a nice shop; I had the opportunity to check it out last fall. I’m good to go with dried trumpets, and I believe my midwestern trumpets will be fruiting before FWF can get their hands on West Coast trumpets, but I’ll keep them in mind!

    Alana McGee

    No worries. Just let us know!

    We are excited to to work with you both. Just thinking about Black trumpets makes my mouth water!


    Here’s Mo working on some simple box finds.

    A brief background, which I can elaborate on if necessary. Mo is a very young German wirehaired pointer, and my expectations of us in this course are tempered due to his youth and our limited time working together.

    We live in northern Minnesota, in a region where extremely little is known of the native truffles. I do hope later this year to identify some areas to hunt native truffles, particularly pecan truffles, but at this time I’m working with Mo on black trumpets–which I do know how and where to find in my area. This summer I plan to put him on trumpets in the field, and they probably will be Mo’s only fungal target this year.

    I am also planning to hunt upland birds with Mo, but I am more passionate about mushroom hunting than bird hunting!

    As for this video, Mo does seem to be hitting on the scent but at times he checks with me whenever he passes a box. I’m trying to be mindful not to cue him, but in trying to reward him for interest and proximity I might be doing so.

    Second, often Mo initially signals his interest in the correct box by stopping and looking to me. After his initial reward, he frequently paws the box. I’ve been rewarding this as well and wonder if or when I should withold rewards until he marks with a paw.


    P.S. Sooner or later someone will probably ask about my cue that we’re on a mushroom hunt, “houby.” This is simply the plural of the Czech word “houba,” or mushroom. Mo’s heritage may be mostly German, but mine is mostly Czech!

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 11 months ago by Curt.
    Alana McGee

    Hi Curt.

    Love your use of cue word. It always adds fun to the story of hunting and training, especially when talking to folks you are out with in the field.

    As for withholding: You are correct that at some point that will be a tactic you use to solicit a more solid and precise alert. What you are doing right now is shaping. Eventually you will increase your desired criteria for any shaped behavior (in baby steps, gradually). Initially any kind of paw or slap to the box will receive a reward. Then, ideally you’ll only start to reward when he actually hits the box (at first you’ll reward all hits to the actual box and 50% of those not right on the box but pretty darn close. He is a puppy after all- coordination is tough! Then you’ll reward every time he hits the box while still allowing a 20% margin for error- he doesn’t have to be exact all the time- just 80%… and it will continue narrowing down in this fashion).

    Being that Mo is a young puppy we wouldn’t have that be a criteria you focus on with the most intensity. That will come organically over time for the most part. Association of positivity and reward with the target source is paramount for pups. Fun experiences. Short sessions. Keep it extremely fun and short. Learning happens in the latent periods between training as well.

    However, we say be opportunistic! If Mo happens to paw or offer another desired alert at the box where the target is hid, Jackpot! “Wow Mo, what a Fabulous smart puppy you are!” Eventually Mo will realize he gets dramatically increased rewards for certain behaviors. You are naturally shaping this way, and this behavior or hitting the box with increase in frequency. Your enthusiasm will also likely be increased in this scenario and he will pick up on that as well.

    Right now rewarding the additional paw to the box is perfect. Likely that will become the dominant behavior before you know it and you won’t have to hold out for increased criteria in that sense.

    Your video:

    What a tiny little fellow! So cute. Fabulous you have him on a harness already. That is really great to get him used to working on it from a young age so he won’t have aversions to it. Do watch the pressure on your lead so you are not arresting his forward movement. You do a good job holding it up, but just be mindful of that. He is a little little guy right now and pressure can easily prevent him or cause him to make a decision away from odor. Nice pass around your back at 0:07.

    Your timing is good Curt, and GREAT on going back in and rewarding again when he knocks the container over. For puppies (as it is for any dog) any time he is near or indicates in any way right now on odor, acknowledge and reward if possible. Even if it is in your pocket. He would not be wrong! Truffles & mushrooms in your case are found in many places, and again, if he finds them in your garden or your pocket… (right now) it’s the same to him!

    We are curious to see how you exit out of the set ups. Show us one of those next time if you can. It is okay to lure away, and to use a thrown treat away from the source as a means of a “re-set”.

    He is doing SUCH a good job checking the boxes linearly. On the hide at 0:29 we actually would have rewarded that first pass. Right now solidifying odor association is paramount. You’ll run into many scenarios in your future where you’ll have ample opportunity for him to walk past cold targets and build confidence.

    Eventually, as we said, you will withhold until you get your desired behavior, but because of his age and lack of reward histories (because he’s still a baby!) we want to build confidence in correctly identifying odor. We would say don’t start that just yet. Focus more instead on solidifying the positive experience.

    Great at 0:36 you allow him to explore and check out other things. Again be careful not to apply pressure to drag him away. Lure if you’d like to get him out of that area to reset. Check out the BEST OF FORUM with Lois & Monza and their week 1 video and you will see a great example of this “re-set”.

    1:19 we like how you take a minute to give Mo some well deserved love for being such an awesome and smart little pup! You also are recognizing it, but his default alert right now is a very clear to look to you. He is developing that paw alert, but keep this in mind for the future- it may become a default in more complex and stressful situations or complex environments when transitioning.

    It looks really good you two!

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 11 months ago by Alana McGee.

    Here Mo and I are working on lesson two, shaping an alert.

    I’ve seen that Mo no longer checks with me very frequently on empty boxes–he races through (occasionally missing a box with a target on first pass) and alerts by looking to me and/or placing a paw on the box. I am still rewarding him for any alert, but am trying to reward more lavishly when he paws the target box.

    As you can see, we have a few more distractions present in the house this week compared to our work in the first lesson.

    Finally, Alana pointed out after watching our first video that pulling him off the targets might be counterproductive. I’ve worked around this issue by leaving Mo in place after a box hunt, collecting the boxes, and moving them to another room (shutting the door behind me so that Mo can’t follow). Thus, the scenes in this movie alternate between rooms.

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 11 months ago by Curt.

    Here are three photos of potential scent work sites at or very near our home:

    This first site is our back yard. Largely prairie vegetation–by the end of summer the big bluestem will be 6-7 feet high. For now, though, its cover is appropriate for Mo; I’m guessing he and the cover will grow together, so that by the time it is higher and thicker he’ll be comfortable in it. But I’ll monitor that!

    Morning, raining, wind coming from the left side, target in the left 1/3: I would approach the hill from the bottom right, quartering with Mo diagonally across the hill as I cover the area from bottom right to top left. There could be eddies behind the small trees center left and the fenced bush in the center.

    Fall, afternoon, hot day: air would definitely be moving up the hill as well as across from left to right. I would approach the site from the top right of the photo, at the top of the hill, and quarter with Mo diagonally across the hill working from the top right of the photo to the lower left.

    This next site is across the road from our house. As in the previous photo, I am looking upslope. I would approach the cool rainy and the hot dry scenarios just as I described for the first site. Possibility of eddies at the trees center left (I swear I didn’t try to replicate the structures of the first picture!). When it is hot, strong possibility of plumes over the areas of dark basaltic stone exposed in various places on this site, as visible in the foreground.

    This site is close to the previous one; I chose it because it presents a relatively simple wooded scene with ground cover that will remain low through the year (lilly of the valley, low ferns, and logger’s leaf). I shot the photo facing across the slope. Thus, if the wind is blowing left to right it would be coming uphill. On a cool, rainy day I would expect the moisture and the fact that the wind would be fighting against any possible katabatic currents to keep the scent holding fairly tightly in place. I would assess the strength of the wind and, assuming air currents were indeed moving uphill, I would start on the right and quarter across the slope perpendicular to the fall line, working from right to left. Possibility of an eddy to the right of the large tree trunk at the right of the photo.On a hot, dry afternoon I would expect scenting conditions to be more difficult and the scent to be dispersed more quickly up the slope. I would still quarter in the same pattern, moving right to left. I wouldn’t anticipate plumes of scent in a shaded, canopied area but it is possible that scent would move upward on the downhill side of the large tree trunk, since it is a physical obstacle to uphill movement and because the tree’s higher, broader canopy creates a larger opening in the understory. Still there is a possibility of an eddy behind the trunk (on the uphill side).

    • This reply was modified 8 years, 11 months ago by Curt.
    Alana McGee

    Hi Curt.

    Sorry for delay- didn’t see it!

    Anyway here is your video analysis.

    REALLY GOOD. Yay! That first alert sequence was awesome on all accounts! We like the fact he keeps his foot there. You’re right he puts a foot on and then looks to you. It is very nice and controlled. Impressive for such a young pup! Don’t fret over the missed targets. What is nice is when Mo got to the end of the chain he immediately realized he hadn’t found criteria yet and so was looking for more clues- that’s when he saw the first container he bypassed originally out of excitement. Perfectly normal, and again very well done.

    Good job delivering reward at source.

    You are doing a great job, and we think the two separate rooms, while I know a bit more of a pain to set up, is beneficial. Even with added distractions and slippery floors.

    What we would like to commend you on Curt is also your choice of when to accept lesser criteria in alerts. You seem to have a very good instinct for this. On the last set of hides, not that Mo was struggling, but he offered only a look alert and you chose to reward that. We think that was an excellent choice. You could have held out for longer we realized, but we still want to build confidence in the small pup, and because he had gone past a couple of times in this trial, that was an appropriate response to support him, and genuinely excitement on his re-alert. Well done. He is a sweet pup.

    Alana McGee

    Those photos look great!

    In the first one beware of the hill is all in understanding how to approach your outdoor scenarios. Pay attention to where the wind is coming from.

    Your analysis of the situation for both weather conditions is absolutely correct. Nicely done. Hills change things 😉

    The second photo is great too. When you begin in this area though, as it is more complex than the first, keep your area you are working in limited. Different days you can practice in slightly different sections, but guide Mo to the intended search area. It’s a great location with lots of different features, but that also means you don’t want to start too big and try to cover too much at once. We’ll cover it once we start doing outdoor work, but you might want to start taking Mo there now if you haven’t so he can become used to the sights and smells of the area.

    3rd photo is also good for more advanced scenarios. Again keep areas small as all that undergrowth- while low- still impacts how scent moves. Again, we’d suggest taking Mo here to just walk around so he gets comfortable.

    You are correct about plumes here, unlikely except at the edges if it opens up. That thicker undergrowth in the far back we’d avoid. That will be exceptionally hard to move through, for both of you.


    Here are Mo and I working on Week 3. I have added a couple boxes to make the hides a bit more complex, I have varied the pattern the boxes are in, I have worked Mo off-lead, I have required Mo to alert with a paw on the box, and I have refined my use of the cue word (“houby”).

    I’ve noticed that Mo seems to do well, but approaches the hides with a bit less enthusiasm than he had in previous weeks. I have wondered if he might be getting just a wee bit bored with this level of work, but he may also simply be settling down a bit (in this context) from his crazy puppy enthusiasm.


    Week 4 Homework: Environmental Awareness

    Scene 1:

    Given that it is currently 50 degrees at 1 pm, immediately following a two-hour rain, I am assuming that temperatures are relatively stable and I wouldn’t anticipate any anabatic or katabatic airflow to strengthen or weaken the very light wind cited in the hypothetical. With moisture on the ground, scenting conditions for skin rafts left after the rain should be very good, but we’re looking for fungi here, and I would guess that the hard rain permeating the leaf litter and entering the soil would have “washed out” the volatiles that otherwise might have built up earlier in the day. These volatiles should now be moving again, but I would guess that scent might be pooled up in the deep leaf litter–and potentially, if the leaf litter is from the previous year and has been matted by snow cover (as it often is in the upper midwest) it is possible that this less-permeable surface would cause odor to shift and emerge in places that are not directly above our target.

    Black trumpets could well be emerging from, or even hiding beneath, such leaf litter if this were a midwestern forest with many oak trees. I would approach the site directly into the wind, with Mo quartering roughly perpendicular to it. I would pay attention to the possibility that scent was draining down the trough cited in the hypothetical (which appears to be oriented roughly parallel to the light wind) and I would consider that such scent could be emanating from a variety of places further up the drainage. Overall, these seem like promising conditions for scent work.

    Scene 2:

    Ticks, mosquitoes, blackflies: the holy trinity of northern Minnesota! At 40 degrees I wouldn’t expect the flying insects to be particularly active, but they’d be around, especially in a very light rain. The wind, though, would (thankfully) make them a non-issue on this given day. Ticks, on the other hand, could (depending on the time of year) be out in great numbers. Mo has been vaccinated for Lyme already, and if I anticipated extended work in heavy tick areas I probably would have dosed him with Frontline, even though I am as conservative as possible with such chemicals.

    If I had Mo out and this seemed like an excellent opportunity for success–a spot known to produce the target fungus, for instance–then no doubt I would give it a whirl but I would be quick to pull the plug on a day like the one described. Too windy, and the matted grass hiding sticks and branches would make moving through the area a bit treacherous. I’d want to work uphill, with Mo quartering across the wind, but if the trail came in at the top of the hill then I might descend just partway and work my way back up toward the top, just to see if it would be worth our time to work. My guess is that prolonged searches would result in exhaustion and frustration, potentially affecting both of our enthusiasm for future hunting. Time for a cup of coffee and a book back at camp, I think.

    Alana McGee

    Week 3

    This looks really nice curt. We love his long pause duration of foot on target. It’s very still and in control. Very impressive for a little fellow. Nice reward sequence and attention you give him after a find.

    Mo is a super smart pup and the two of you are excelling. We think this level of challenge is perfect for Mo. Nice varying the configurations.

    The hide at 0:55 is great. It really shows nicely his awareness of identification of odor! Yay Mo! He’s drawing some really nice associations. Good work Curt! That was an excellent search- also because it was nice and short.

    At 1:18 that was a perfect time to practice waiting for the clearer alert. If he had left source, we would say go back a little bit and don’t wait so long for the stronger alert- but that was really nice and you can see him thinking it through…

    We want to commend you on your container set ups in geographical space. You are conditioning him at a perfect level. We want to make sure that Mo doesn’t need to learn about failure, or incorrectness when it comes to truffles, so we think this is perfect level you are at. How you are positioning the containers is smart, and a level that Mo can handle but he has to use his brain a bit more to problem solve.

    For learning about failure (and here we mean offered alerts which are not what you want) use a trick that means nothing to you for Mo to learn about it in. In very tiny doses of course. For example you can play the 100 things to do with a box game- or with any object really. It is about small doses of shaping. Example:
    set out any object and click/ treat for any interaction but mouthing. Everything else is acceptable. Keep it short.

    2:05 perfect when you start to move your feet and direct your body towards the more hidden target. Mo is doing an EXCELLENT job here of working the space and trying to expand the search area on his own- but that is a very good impulse from you.

    2:13 is also excellent- You can actually “see” Mo thinking about if this container meets criteria when he picks up his foot. Clever clever pup. You are going to have so much fun with him.

    The position of the crate door and your body creates a bit of a pressure block that acts a bit like a wall, so just be conscious of when you create narrow passageways or tunnels when your objective is to try and have him come towards you.

    2:17 was PERFECT though Curt, good shift in your body movement and intention even a few inches, as that brought him past the physical barrier of the crate. We would have given him an even bigger party on that one, because he really had to work for it and that took a lot of puppy brain power! Remember he’s just a wee pup, so keep it really fun with a fun attitude. If you aren’t doing it yet, follow each hide- after your affection/ reward and play a bit. Gentle personal play even if Mo likes that as puppy. Fun Fun Fun is the name of the game for Mo.

    You guys look great. We don’t see it as him being bored at all. This looks more like added pressure in complications of the game- but you are both excelling. Well done.

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