Koolies Nose Knows – training your dog
Where to start?
A little over 12 months ago my dog Silhouette Luca (an Australian Koolie) and I joined a K9 Nose Works class. Luca had developed reactiveness to some other dog breeds and could be quite anxious thanks to a scare he got from a huge thunderstorm. Nose Works gave us the opportunity to work alone with no other dogs.
I remember sitting in our first class watching K9 nose Works trainer Angela’s, presentations and when she asked if any one has any questions I popped up saying how does one find truffles? Yep the class all laughed!
Luca loved this sniffy game and with each class his confidence grew and he was slow and very methodical, most of the other Koolies were fast and furious.
We moved on from scenting Birch to Anise and finally in level 3 class we added Clove oil. We attended a ‘scent trial’ with ‘Scent Games Australia’ and it was a big experience for him and I.
It was about this time my truffle dream popped back into my head and I went off and did a seminar on growing Hazelnuts and Oak trees for truffle production with the Noel Fitzpatrick and Colin Carter. The dream was ignited again. I also went on a ‘Truffle Tour’ where I took Kyra (as Luca is ‘entire‘ that counted him out) where we visited a lovely winery or 3, watched a Lagotto Romagnolo and its handler demonstrate how his dog finds truffle (they pre buried a truffle into the ground an hour or so before we all arrived for this demonstration) and then had a 3 course meal with truffles, of course.
I did lots of reading and bought some ‘fake’ truffle product from France called Canitruff as the truffle dogs in Europe seemed to be trained on this. It was also coming into Truffle season and I contacted many truffle growers seeking a truffle for me and some for my dog (yep all but one thought I was nuts after they asked what breed of dog I had and were was my truffière?).
The truffle has a very short shelf life and the season is June to August, roughly, in Australia. My truffle arrived and I feed some mates (this has been a yearly ritual for me for a decade).
I sliced up some truffle and started to introduce it to Luca, back to basics I learned in K9 Nose Works! Over time Luca would find the scent over the yard, in trees, inside in all the places I hid it.
Stepping up our training I contacted our Koolie breeder (thanks to Silhouette) and asked if they had any dirt I could play in and spent many weekends driving four hours from home and scenting all over the place with truffle scent.
Through a friend I managed to make contact with a grower an hour away from Canberra. They were more than happy for me to come up and they would do a mock up truffle hunt in the orchard.
You need to understand a couple of huge barriers at this point.
1) Growers do not let people and dogs onto their farms for a multitude of reasons. Most have dogs, there’s the fear of introducing biological contaminants and, it’s a fledgling industry covered in secrecy (tighter than the FBI).
2) It looked like Lagotto Romagnolo were the ‘dog’ of choice.
3) Did I tell you when you say you have a Koolie (they all said “what is that?”) and when I add I don’t own a farm and want to test my training…. they think you’re nuts!
4) Farmers with truffle dogs help other farmers without dogs!
Many emails later and lengthy conversations, plus my friend’s hard work (unknown to me) in the background I get an email offering me and the dogs access to their Southern Tablelands truffière at Bredbo, NSW.
The 2nd of July sees Luca and Kyra compete in the first Victorian K9 Nose Works Odour Recognition Trials (ORTs). I, yes I, failed them! My nerves got to me and we didn’t pass as I called it too early with both dogs – I was shattered with myself.
3rd July we left for Canberra with doubt all in my head after I so messed up the ORTrials!
On the 4th July (AKA Koolie Independence Day) we drive 1.5 hours from Canberra to the truffière. Minus 1.5 degrees at 10.30am, heavy fog and ice everywhere, but no rain. I meet the owners, we chat and were offered coffee and headed to truffière with coffee and dogs in hand.
There was no guarantee there would be any ready truffles as the Lagotto’s had been over it the day before.
I was asked what dog did I wish to start with and said Luca. Coffee still in hand and Luca’s leash in the other off we go. (Silhouette Kyra is also on the scent however, not to the level of Luca).
There are a variety of trees 25+ in long rows (I think) and I don’t know how many rows all up. The first row Luca picks up a scent and heads to the tree. I am told ‘yep we pulled one out of their yesterday’. He does this another 3 times (by this time truffier Barbara can see he has sound ability) 4-5 rows in he is on scent again. This time Barb didn’t say ‘oh we pulled one out of there yesterday’, Barb coached me ‘let him smell, there is something there see him sniffing’ Luca looks at me (his signal to me he has found the scent) and I know he has something!
Barb said, ‘Ok time to dig, don’t move him away’ as Luca starts to lightly paw the ground. Both humans put human noses to ground to smell for the truffle and start to move the loose top covering of soil, Luca drops onto his belly and shoves his nose through 4 digging hands and Barb says ‘dig where his nose is’ and she lets me dig.
At the tip of Luca’s nose, I see what could be (remember I have only seen them cleaned up and ready to eat – not insitu) the very tip of a truffle, he had shown us exactly where the truffle was growing.
Barb produces her speciality ‘digging up truffle tool’ and hands it to me saying this may be easier than your fingers, I take the dessert spoon (yep a dessert spoon) from her and scratch ever so gently around the edge, scared as hell I may damage the truffle. I lay it down and resume using my fingers until a huge truffle is exposed and soon in my hands,
free from the ground.
It’s at this point I forget everything in the exhilaration of what has happened! Thankfully Barb brings me out of this and says ‘let him smell it and treat him’! This reward went on for some time and then Luca started licking my face in favour of chicken treats, Barb said ‘let him, he did this for you, you are his reward, he did this for you let him lick you all he likes’
Luca found an 85gm (uncleaned weight) truffle and as far as I know made history as the first Australian Koolie in the world to do such.
Luca and I hope you enjoyed our adventures, and it also reinforces and proves the diversity of the Australian Koolie breed. Anything is possible! Dream BIG
Karyn is an Associate Member of the ATGA (it costs just $200 a year to join) and she has said that she’s happy to help new growers who are just testing their maturing truffle paddocks to give her dogs more practice. Members will see from her story that there a lots of things that the ATGA do, which could have helped her learning process and taken away some of those ‘secrecy’ concerns.