Dogs in Australia are sniffing their way out the animal shelter and into jobs on a truffle farm.
Jason Mesman is one of the owners of The Truffle Farm, where he cultivates the fungi prized by gourmet chefs worldwide. Since truffles grow underground, attached to tree roots, truffle farmers and hunters have long enlisted the help of four-legged friends with better noses than humans to detect the scent of a ripe truffle.
In Mesman’s case, those animals are dogs -- mostly Labrador retrievers -- that he’s adopted from animal shelters.
“I actually go into the pound and look for the dogs that people quite often can't maintain,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Company. "Those with a really strong hunt drive, wanting to play constantly, the dog that chases the ball until he falls over almost."
He explained that in his region, Labradors often end up in shelters because people want to own the popular dogs, but don’t realize the amount of work the high-energy breed often needs.
Labradors are one of several dog breeds -- including German shepherds, golden retrievers, and Belgian Malinois -- that are known for being adept at truffle detection. But while there are whole businesses devoted to breeding and training truffle dogs, Mesman -- who has experiencing training police dogs -- does just fine with pups from the pound.
“Every dog is trainable, it's just finding that key niche that they want to work for,” Mesman, who only uses positive reinforcement like treats or praise, said.
Traditionally, truffle enthusiasts used pigs to find the fungus, but in recent years employing trained dogs as become more common, food and agriculture site Modern Farmer explains. Most people find dogs easier to train, and it can be hard to stop a determined pig from eating the truffles.
Mesman himself has two pigs, named Winnie and Piglet, who come in handy at the end of season digging up and consuming rotten and leftover truffles, he told the Canberra Times.