Koolies Nose Knows

July 15, 2016 at 6:00 am
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Where to start?

A little over 12 months ago Silhouette Luca (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 presentations and when 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 with each class his confidence grew and he was slow and very methodical, most of the other Koolies were fast and furious.

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 members from the Australian Truffle Growers. The dream was ignited again.

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 from birth. 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).

I sliced up some truffle and started to introduce it to Luca, 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 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.

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Through a friend I managed to make contact with a grower an hour away from Canberra. When I made contact 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, the fear of introducing biological contaminants and, it’s a fledgling industry covered in secrecy (tighter than the FBI). 2) Mostly Lagotto Romagnolo are the ‘dog’ of choice. 3) did I tell you when you say you have a Koolie (they all said what is that?) and 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 the Truffière. Silhouette Kyra is also on the scent however, not to the level of Luca.

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 offered coffee and headed to Truffière with coffee and dogs in hand.

There was no guarantee there would be any 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.

There are a variety of trees 25+ long (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 farmer Barb 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 in situ) the very tip of a truffle, he showed us exactly where the truffle was growing.

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Barb produces her speciality ‘digging up truffle tool’ and hands it to me saying this may be easier than your fin

gers, 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 made history as the first Australian Koolie to do such.

Luca and I hope you enjoyed our adventures and it also reinforces and proves the diversity of the Australian Koolie anything is possible!  Dream BIG!

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