Five Ways Truffle Hunting Helps Reactive Dogs & Their Owners

When I decided 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 our dogs to find truffles. One day, in a random internet search, I discovered that truffles grow where I live, here in the Pacific Northwest. I was certain this path was the right fit for us, and I 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 was on restricted activity for several months. We needed an activity to keep her happy while complying 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 also change our relationship. 

Reactive to Relaxed, Paws in the Dirt

Years ago, I made an agreement with Callie to stop using the term "reactive." 

It felt limiting to me, and I wanted the two of us to evolve in our partnership. I stopped seeing her as reactive and began respecting her discomfort around other dogs, protecting her space. With time, she became more accepting of less space, and I, perhaps more importantly, was less charged by OUR triggers. We both understood each other better. We both saw the world as a safer 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 connected more deeply 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 the rules and learned our own language, a dialogue 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 each 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.

Benefits of Truffle Hunting for Reactive Dogs

Here is why I believe truffle hunting is a helpful activity for reactive dogs and their owners:

  • Truffle hunting, at its very core, is an enrichment activity. Teaching truffle hunting through organized and carefully planned enrichment activities allows learning and team partnership to unfold organically. The dog and handler learn trust, communication, and cooperation in a naturally rewarding way.
  • Sniffing is soothing 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 incompatible with fear. Creating a positive emotional response to a scent supports beneficial hormonal and chemical responses that can help the dog feel 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 the fresh air and a natural environment, hormones and chemical responses influencing 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 and give the brain a break, allowing the body to relax. The most interesting effect of being in nature might be that there are bacteria commonly found in soil that can boost serotonin levels. You and your dog will be bathing in the medicine of nature.
  • Truffle hunting doesn't involve other people or dogs (unless you want it to). You can create spaces where your 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 your dog's space in a group setting, you can experience the freedom to move and interact in a way that is unique to them and not influenced by environmental factors or structured group dynamics.
  • Truffle hunting shows you how to dialogue with your dog, perceiving the subtle information your dog is providing. Deepening this connection naturally assists you in understanding your dog's communications elsewhere.

Each truffle hunt is unique, so you and your dog will continually develop your communication skills while diving deeper into your relationship and understanding of one another.

Callie and I have been truffle hunting for 13 years, and we continue to experience shifts in our relationship as we grow. We come back from every hunt filthy, exhausted, and happy.

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