TRAINING

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Object of training

We are not content with just having good trufflehounds, but look for ones with a lively flair, good-looking and with a brisk gait. Being able to admire his own dog at work is one of the things that gives a truffle hunter the greatest satisfaction, and a good dog that searches eagerly makes even days when truffles are short pleasant.

Searching ability and brisk gait are largely natural gifts, to be sought through selection, but careful training can also help the dog to express its potential to the full.

For these reasons, the main object of the training has for us to be to develop to the maximum the searching ability, the main factor in finding truffles, but we do not feel the need to insist particularly on good digging and making a good hole, in part because the dog has to learn to stop before getting right through (at least for white truffles).

We do not do any special training for the work tests. All our dogs are trained to go after truffles, and for a good outcome in the trials it is best for the dog to have, as well as good natural qualities, easy adaptability to the most varied kinds of ground, which means experience on all types of truffle and all types of ground.

Some preliminaries

The Lagotto is generally an easy breed to train. It is advisable to start at two or three months, and a little patience can bring great satisfactions. Training has to be handled by a single person, who must be the one who normally looks after the dogs.

Training should be a time for play and fun: the exercises should be repeated for a few minutes every day, and broken off as soon as the trainee’s attention falls off. The dog has to learn each exercise perfectly before going on to a more complex one. Once it has shown it has fully learned the first stage and is able to find truffles that have been buried, it has to be taken to natural truffle ground to go on to the next stages.

Retrieving and seeking

We usually make the puppies play with pieces of truffle from their first few months, letting them get used to eating them. Very soon they learn to look for them in the ground, following the scent.

The training proper starts using a ball (called “strufiòn” in dialect) of tied-up rags with pieces of truffle, truffle oil or even a nutmeg inside, of such a size that the dog cannot swallow it. We start by teaching retrieving: the strufiòn is thrown so as to let the dog see it, and generally it will naturally go after it and take it in its mouth. Gradually it has to be accustomed to bring it back to its master, and when it does so it is rewarded with pats and a nibble.

Gradually we start throwing the ball into grass where the dog cannot see exactly where it falls and has to find it by scent. Finally, we throw it without the dog seeing, and encourage it to seek. For this stage we need a fairly large grassy area, and work against the wind so that the dog learns to seek eagerly and extend the action to several dozen yards.

In some cases it can be stimulating to make the dog work alongside another one at the same level, so as to encourage competition. However, we have to watch out in case one is clearly better so that the other gets demoralised, bringing a result opposite to the one aimed at.

Digging

Only once we are satisfied with the pupil’s seeking action do we begin to bury the ball, putting it in a cut in the ground or an open hole so that it can easily find it but not reach it with its mouth. We encourage the dog till it starts to scrabble; sandy ground facilitates this.If at first it does not want to dig, we try again, alternating exercises with seeking in the open.

Once the dog has learned to dig to get to the ball, we move on to burying small truffles, always starting with an open hole. Once the truffle is buried, a few hours have to be allowed to let the scent spread through the ground.

If the dog gets tired learning a new exercise, it has to be alternated with the previous ones, so that it continually has satisfaction in retrieval. It is better to suspend a training session after a success than to press on leaving the dog having to stop without finding.

The training can be done with any type of truffle; generally, it is easier with the ones to be found in the greatest quantities.

In terrain

Once our dog easily digs up truffles we have buried, we can move on to seeking in natural truffle ground. For the first outings, it is best to have a more expert dog available, so that we can encourage the pupil to continue holes already begun. Once the dog has done its first few holes, it is better to take it out alone: working in pairs can be stimulating for some individuals, but others may become demoralised, and some tend to lag behind waiting for their companion to dig.

For this stage the only real need is lots of truffles, something that is threatening increasingly to become only a memory. This is why training a dog today is much harder than ten or twenty years ago, when there were lots of truffles around and not many truffle hunters. Then almost any dog would do, but today unless the animal has good natural qualities the training may prove extremely problematic.

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