How to Train Your Beagle Dog to Find Truffles

Medium
1-3 Months
Work

Introduction

Truffles. If you've ever experienced the rich, unique flavor of these expensive mushrooms, then you understand why some sell for thousands of dollars. Their high price is partially due to the hunting process they call for. 

Pigs are naturally inclined to the scent of truffles and were originally used to find these coveted culinary-jewels,  hidden underground. While many truffles could be found by a farmer leading an eager pig, the risk of the pig eating the truffles before they made it into a basket or bag was always high. This is where man's best friend stepped in. Their keen nose, embedded desire to dig, and ability to be trained all made them the perfect truffle hunter. 

Defining Tasks

Beagles, especially, are known for their nose and hunting abilities as this was their original utility, making them a desirable companion to both hunters and foragers. While it's no easy task, the activity of truffle hunting with your four-legged friend offers exercise and exploration for you both, and maybe even a little extra cash in your pocket.

Getting Started

Here's a general list of what you may need for truffle training, depending on the method or methods you choose to try. All items can be found online or in pet supply stores.

  • Scent-training canisters - These specially designed jars have lids with holes, which help the dog smell their contents.
  • Truffle scent solution - A concentrated liquid essence of truffles that can be dabbed on most anything.
  • Treats - Always important when training our beloved canines. Ensure these are snacks they have an interest in and will work for. Smaller pieces are ideal as they're quick to consume and won't distract the dog from the next task. 

These are basic training necessities for beginners, additional items may be purchased.

Beagles are typically described as easy-to-train. This is due to their general personality: sociable, curious, and intelligent. With this in mind, before beginning your training journey together, remember that all dogs are different, no matter the breed. Patience is important for the trainer because it keeps the training sessions light and fun, keeping the interest and excitement of the dog. 

Because this guide is a sub-topic of scent training, there are a few key tips to learn:

  • How you store scents is critical. The canine nose is incredibly sensitive and can even smell you on whatever you've been handling, even if only momentarily. Never store truffle scents in plastic, as this can affect its smell. 
  • "Hot" and "cold" scents are scent training vocabulary that differentiates between a fresh ("hot") scent and a scent that's maybe been out for a few days ("cold"). 
  • Because this task will take place outdoors, it's important to expose your Beagle to the areas where you plan to hunt for truffles early on. Getting them accustomed to the sights, sounds, and smells of these areas will make for a more focused sniffing-machine. 

The ultimate goal of this training guide is to help your dog develop his or her own understanding of the truffle scent and how you wish them to respond to it. The three methods we'll discuss keep all these suggestions in mind, with each giving a different approach, and each increasing slightly in difficulty as you and your pup improve together. 

The Hide and Scent Method

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Step
1
Introduce the scent
You're welcome to use an actual truffle to introduce the scent to your Beagle, but just in case you don't have any lying around the house, scent oils made specifically for dog training can be purchased. When introducing the scent to your Beagle, try to utilize reward-association. This is a training method that helps a dog to associate specific scents with rewards, such as praise and attention, food or treats, or well-earned play-time. This can be done by feeding your dog right after you call him to smell a truffle scent.
Step
2
Play hide and seek
Beagles love to play games, and just like any dog, they love to spend time with you. A great way to train your dog without it feeling like work for either of you is to play hide and seek. If it sounds simple, that's because it is. Initiate this game by exciting your canine friend, speaking happily to him, while someone else holds him back from going to you. Let the dog watch as you hide somewhere, not too far. Count up to ten and then allow the dog to be released. When he finds you, reward him with praise.
Step
3
Elevate the game
In the second step, your Beagle is using their eyesight to find you. Nothing too difficult about that and most dogs will find you quickly and easily in this situation. For the next round, however, you can amp up the game, by hiding in a well-hidden place. This will require your dog to utilize his nose instead of eye sight in order to find you, effectively practicing his tracking abilities.
Step
4
Mark a toy
Choose a toy out of your dog's treasure trove. It's best that this is a toy they feel particularly motivated by, whether it's a favorite rag-doll or a fun tug-of-war sock. Dab some truffle scent on their toy, not so much that it becomes overwhelming or unfamiliar. Then while your dog is restrained but able to see what you're doing, hide the toy somewhere in the room, perhaps it's even partially visible. Don't make it too difficult so that he becomes frustrated and gives up. Before letting him search, have him sniff your hands. When he finds the toy, reward accordingly. Do this until he becomes disinterested, each time hiding the toy in more difficult spots.
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5
Take it outisde
Once you find that your Beagle is hunting and finding the truffle-scented toy quickly and efficiently, it's time to play the game on a larger scale. A quick trip to the back yard or local park will have him playing this game but with the added distractions of the outside world. When seeking truffles, his concentration will be tested by possible encounters with wildlife, so it's important to get a gauge of their level of dedication to the hunt and train accordingly.
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The Playful Nosework Method

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Step
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Play with your food
Although your mother may not approve of this step, your dog will! As natural, scrappy hunters, Beagles love a good game. When training them to hunt for truffles, make their daily life more of a challenge. This helps them to continually practice skills that will benefit them (and you) on a truffle-hunt. Next feeding time, instead of pouring kibble into a bowl, try hiding bits of it around a small room - the home office or kitchen nook, anywhere that isn't too large scale - and then calling your Beagle into that room. Kibble can be placed on the ground, easy to see and eat, others may be on the ground but covered up by articles, such as a cup or pillow.
Step
2
Yes to nose
Once your Beagle is used to the fun feeding game, slowly introduce more of a challenge to them. Try hiding bigger or more-revered treats in a more difficult place, such as couch cushions, or higher-to-reach areas. (You may not want to practice this game by hiding treats in places you don't want your dog to frequent, such as on top of your desk or dining table.) This will encourage him to use his nose to find treats, instead of relying on their eyesight.
Step
3
Introduce more challenging games
Now that your Beagle can successfully find every hidden treat in the room and gobble it up, proudly, it's time to test his skill. For this step, you'll need three scent containers--these are sold at any pet supply store or online--and an article that'll fit inside one with the truffle scent on it. Set the canisters in a row, close together, with the scent in only one of them. Allow your Beagle to find the scent and indicate it to you and reward them with a treat. Throw the treat a short distance away for him to retrieve, while he's busy finding and eating it, rearrange the order of the canisters. Repeat. Eventually, as their comfort and ability to indicate the scent strengthens, you can then fill another scent container with something to distract them - food. When they are able to ignore the distraction canister and still indicate the truffle one, they've surpassed a big hurdle in dog training.
Step
4
The blanket trick
Although it may or may not be Halloween, when it comes to training your pet, trick or treat is always a key learning tool. For this exercise, have your Beagle smell and see an article marked with truffle scent - it could be an old sock or some other fabric that soaks the scent easily. Then place the article in front of you and have him indicate it to you - dogs have different ways of doing this, some may touch it with their nose, others may paw at it - and then reward them with a treat. Throw the treat a small distance away and while his back is turned, place the article under a small cloth or blanket. When the Beagle returns, watch as he sniffs out the article. When its location is correctly indicated to you, throw another treat, and move the article to a different location under the blanket. As the game goes on, replace the smaller blanket with a bigger one, introducing your Beagle to a larger surface area.
Step
5
Play truffle-fetch
For the final step, take a tennis ball and cut it open, placing inside a truffle-scented article (or actual truffle if you prefer), then take the ball and your Beagle outside to play. Once your pet is used to playing fetch with the scented ball, then practice hiding the ball in the yard, instead of throwing it. You want your Beagle to watch you hide it the first few times, but then elevate the difficulty by hiding it without him seeing where you placed it. This will force him to rely on his nose and get him used to hunting for truffles by gaining familiarity with the scent.
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The Seasoned Sniffer Method

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Starting young
If your Beagle is a puppy, then this is the method for you. Many advanced trainers and truffle-trackers will rub truffle scent on the teats of a new Beagle mom, giving the pups a very early memory and positive association with the smell. However, even after the end of the nursing period, this can be accomplished. Dab your puppy's sleeping spot, their favorite cloth toy, or go-to tug-of-war sock with truffle scent to begin their positive relationship with the smell.
Step
2
Hide truffle-scented items
With treats on your person, play a game with your young Beagle in the comfort of your home. Hide small pieces of truffle-scented cloth under pillows, under chairs, in corners, and in plain sight as well. Start by pointing at one in plain sight and give a command of your choice ("Track" or "Find"). Your puppy may respond by retrieving a cloth or sniffing at it. As long as they acknowledge it in their own way, reward.
Step
3
Introduce new scents
As your Beagle grows, begin to slowly introduce new scents to him. You may utilize cloths as in step two, or you can use scent canisters. Place three items in a row in front of him, one unscented, one with truffle scent, and another with a scent to actively distract them, such as food or another animal. (It will be important to mark these articles in some way so you can recognize what they all are.) The goal here is to have your dog choose the correct item. This is a great practice that helps teach him that it isn't about signaling or retrieving an item solely because it's familiar, but to choose the one that contains the scent you're both looking for.
Step
4
Introduce digging
Once the first three steps are successfully met, take your Beagle outdoors to a relatively small, fenced-in area, so as to not overwhelm them. Take the scent canisters or articles of choice and gently bury them, just under some loose leaves or brush, or loosely-packed dirt. This will teach your Beagle to sniff out truffles in the wilderness. As they progress, reintroduce the distraction scents and reward them only when they avoid these and focus on truffle scents.
Step
5
In-the-field practice
Once older, your pet is ready to take his skills to the forest. It isn't necessary for him to be off-leash and for quite awhile you will want to keep him on leash so he isn't likely to catch sight of a squirrel and pursue it wildly. Having grown up with the positive association of truffle scent, your Beagle's interaction with the rich forest earth should be a successful one. Let him lead you. And keep the leash as slack as possible so as to not interfere with his direction.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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