By: Kristin Rosenbach
Owner – Wagnificent K9 Truffle Dogs, LLC
Freelance Truffle Hunter & Teacher
Reiki Master Teacher
When I made the decision to begin truffle hunting, I never imagined how much our lives would change.
I became fascinated with truffles after tasting them on a trip to Italy. I joked that I was going to teach the dogs to find truffles. One day, in a random internet search, I discovered that they grow where I live, here in the Pacific Northwest. I decided that it was meant to be. And I’ve never looked back. I learned everything I could about truffles and scent detection. The adventure began.
During that time, Callie, my Border Collie, was injured in an agility accident and would be on restricted activity for several months. We needed an activity to keep her happy while being compliant with her restrictions. Truffle hunting is a scent detection activity where a handler and dog work in partnership to locate underground gourmet fungi called truffles. It was perfect! Little did I know that learning to truffle hunt would not only satisfy her mentally and emotionally during her recovery, but it was also going to change our relationship.
Many years ago, I made an agreement with Callie to stop using the term “reactive” because it feels limiting to me and I want the two of us to evolve in our partnership. I stopped seeing her as reactive and began respecting her discomfort around other dogs by protecting her space. Gradually, she became more accepting of less space and I, perhaps more importantly, became less charged by OUR triggers. We both understood each other better. We both saw the world as a less scary place.
Part of that process for us involved learning to find truffles. It was an activity we could do without the stress of being around other people or dogs. We could connect in a way that was much deeper than ever before. One person and one dog, hands and paws in the dirt, and surrounded by the soothing energy of nature. We made up our own rules and learned our own language, one that is perfect and unique to only us.
As the years went by, I began noticing significant changes in our ability to cope with suburban challenges, recover from stressful events, communicate with each other, and respond to the other’s needs. I owe this partnership that I cherish so much to the discoveries we made while learning to find buried treasures that only a dog’s nose can find.
Here is why I believe truffle hunting is a great activity for reactive dogs and their owners:
- Truffle hunting, at its very core, is an enrichment activity. When truffle hunting is taught through organized and carefully planned enrichment activities, learning and team partnership unfold organically. The dog and handler learn trust, communication, and cooperation in a naturally rewarding way.
- Sniffing is a soothing activity for most dogs and smell is the fastest route to the emotional center of the brain. The activity of seeking uses a part of the brain that is incompatible with fear. By creating a positive emotional response to a scent, that scent supports beneficial hormonal and chemical responses that can support the dog in feeling more comfortable in the world. Engaging in a meaningful sniffing activity is emotionally and physiologically rewarding.
- Nature has a grounding and calming effect on us all. Between fresh air and a natural environment, hormones and chemical responses that influence emotions can harmonize to improve our experiences. Fresh, rich air found in nature has many health benefits including an effect on brain waves that can be calming. Being in nature can reduce stress hormones as well as give the brain a break and allow the body to relax. The most interesting effect of being in nature might be that there is a bacteria commonly found in soil that can boost serotonin levels. You and your dog will literally be bathing in the medicine of nature.
- Truffle hunting doesn’t involve other people or dogs (unless you want it to). Creating spaces where dogs feel comfortable is important so that the dog feels safe and you, as a team, can be fully engaged with one another without the likelihood of encountering a trigger. Instead of managing a dog’s space in a group setting, truffle hunting teams can experience the freedom to move and interact in a way that is unique to them and not influenced by the environmental factors or structured group dynamics. (Note: sometimes truffle hunting is on public land, so make sure to be aware if there are other folks in the area)
- Truffle hunting shows you how to be in conversation with your dog, perceiving the subtle information your dog is providing. Deepening this connection in a natural way can assist you in understanding your dog’s communications elsewhere.
Each truffle hunt is unique so you and your dog will be continually developing your communication skills while diving deeper into your relationship and understanding of one another.
I’ve been truffle hunting with Callie for 8 years now and we continue to experience shifts in our relationship as we grow. We come back from every hunt filthy, exhausted, and happy.
You can learn more about truffle hunting with your dog and get started for free through my masterclass series on the podcast What The Dog Nose. I’ll be releasing new lessons during the 2018-2019 fall and winter truffle seasons. I encourage you to choose the best learning environment for you and your dog and that is why I’m making these masterclass lessons free.
Wagnificent K9 Truffle Dogs, LLC
“Shifting the way people relate to and partner with animals.”