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Truffle-hunting dogs sniff out prized fungus

When her dogs indicate a prized black truffle under the soil, Karyn Turnbull says it is a very exciting moment for humans too.

Harvesting truffles does require expertly trained dogs. Traditionally pigs were used but they kept eating the truffles, whereas dogs are happy to exchange their findings for their favourite reward (toy, treats or praise). 

In Australia, the season runs from May until mid August and it’s a very busy time of year for Koolies Nose Karyn Turnbull and her two truffle-hunting dogs, Luca and Kyra.

We set out to discover what made truffle hunting so exciting for them despite some very early starts in all weather conditions!

How did you first get involved with truffle hunting?

"My male Koolie Luca had some anxiety issues so I needed to find a sport where he could work away from other dogs." explains Karyn. "K9 Nose Fun was where he started, and I watched him grow in confidence with this awesome game. We then went on to complete our ORTs (Odour Recognition Trials). He was at the time the first Koolie to achieve that"!

Karyn and her dog learned the basics of scent detection with K9 Nose Works. She clearly recalls sitting in class one day and raising her hand to ask ‘How does one find truffles?' and the entire class laughed ...


Karyn trained her two Koolies to hunt truffles from scratch though she's reluctant to divulge more details as she would be giving away Koolies Nose trade secrets!

Karyn suggests a good year of foundation training is required in all environments and distractions, then a year on a farm working with a seasoned dog and handler
"After that, it’s all in the hands of their handler to watch, improve and shape their truffle dog. 

Mine? Well, they keep teaching us all new things and every year we learn something new or a new behaviour.

Over the last two years and with the help of a dedicated farmer we learned that the Koolies Nose team could indicate truffles up to five weeks out of perfect ripeness
The human nose is the nose that decided if and when the truffle was ripe enough to lift but the dogs assisted with that process! 


During our first year of working with one of our regular clients in the Victorian High Country, Kyra indicated so excitedly that we all dropped to our knees to start to move soil about and we located the truffle. We could smell its faint smell and started to dig. 

At the time we were sharing our experience with the farmer and encouraging gentle and careful excavation techniques. We excavated all around but could not locate though we could smell it! 

Time and time again, Kyra was brought in - as is often done to show exactly when the humans are challenged in locating the truffle. The farmer got up and got a bigger digging tool. 

Some three feet later we hit hay and could smell the truffle so strongly! The digging slowed as the farmer also thought we were 'on the truffle'. However, it was not the case …What Kyra had in fact located was a native mouse nest and we know what that mouse had been eating from the smell! 

This year on a young farm, Luca indicated under a French Oak Tree. The farmers started to excavate in the rain and after nearly 45 minutes under just one tree they lifted 24 truffles in a huge cluster. This was a first for us all." 


What sort of dog makes a good truffle-hunting dog? 

"This is an interesting subject *LOL*, I suspect any dog can find truffles with the correct training." said Karyn.

"However, for a truffle dog to work hours in any weather condition (as we do in winter), I believe you need a dog with a sound working ethic and a never ending want to please their handler/s. 
I have had working dogs most of my life, and not always Koolies but I love them! For me, a working dog is what I favour. Because Koolies are increasingly popular, more and more are sadly being bred for ‘pretty looks’ sadly and end up needing to be rehomed. Fly by night breeders do not help and when the pup is about 12-18 months old, the humans have no idea they have the wrong dog for backyard living and many are surrendered. 


There are so many who need to find the correct home life so if we can help farmers and these dogs come together, for me it’s a win win. As most truffle dogs also need to fit into family life when not working then it mostly comes down to what the farmer's needs are.

When I start looking for the next Koolie to join our family then I seek a different dog because each winter we do many miles and visit many farms, so a pup with a high drive combined with strong work ethic and slightly obsessive will be my choice. And it will be another Koolie!"


Nowadays, Karyn uses her expertise to train truffle farmers to train their own dogs and she can also source and train a dog for them. "I have trained some lovely humans and their truffles dogs but my two standout dogs to date are a Lagotto (rehomed) and a Springer Spaniel" said Karen.

Australia is shaking up the truffle market


Not native to Australia, truffles were first introduced here in the mid-1990s, with the first Australian truffles unearthed in 1999. To cultivate or farm the truffles, trees - typically oak and hazelnut saplings - are replanted after their roots have been inoculated with the fungus' spores. The resulting black truffles can then start being harvested five to eight years later. 

In just 20 years Australia has become the world's fourth-largest producer (after France, Italy and Spain) of the most-prized type of winter / black truffle - the French black or périgord (Tuber Melanosporum). 

Western Australia produces the lion's share of Australia's périgord truffles - there are now 300 farms scattered across the country, and this number is expected to grow. 

The Australian Truffle Growers Association President Peter Stahle said the major demand was coming from overseas

"We export about 85 per cent of those truffles that we produce," he said. 
The other variety is Tuber Borchii, a white coloured truffle with a garlic /chive smell and taste which is a late winter / early spring variety. 

Australia also has many native varieties although most are inedible and none is as highly prized as the two European varieties. 


What happens during the off season?

Out of season, the Koolies Nose team do absolutely nothing related to truffles …. Instead they run, swim, play, practice herding (recreational), Treibball, dock diving or whatever else their humans feel like doing that they love too. In fact, the Koolies Nose team love nothing more than lounging inside!

In season when on farms, "we always have games handy to play to keep them from getting bored" explains Karyn. "Every 20 minutes, they stop for a break, have a drink and wherever possible they are let out of their working harness and allowed to run around like two mad Koolies!

During the season, truffle growers will book our services to come and identify their “black gold” and we are often invited to share their lunch (but definitely not the truffles!). 



In Australia, t
he truffle industry is still in its fledgling stage and this poses several challenges. We're still knocking down barriers and continue to show the capabilities of the Australian Koolies: how adaptable they are, as are their handlers." 

This delicate fungus is a recent addition to Australia's gastronomy scene and the challenge for local growers is still education to raise the profile of truffles as it is an acquired taste. 

So this festive season when you shave them (just before serving) over a bowl of pasta or a risotto, spare a thought for the Koolies Nose human and dog team and all their hard work! 

About Koolies Nose


Koolies Nose was founded by Karyn Turnbull and it was born from a desire to support and find a sport for her boy Luca that would meet his unique needs.

In Memory of Ann Warboys (1958 – 2019), Silhouette Koolies for believing in me! Kat and her Koolies ‘Silhouette’ Kyra and Luca are the state’s (they are the WORLD first) first successful Koolie truffle hunting team. With successful finds from 85 grams in their first season (2016) to 30+ kg in the 2018 season, this successful team is ready to sniff out your truffles!

They hunt all over Victoria for T Melanosporum and T Borchii and hope to one day find T Magnatum! They are also available to travel to the Southern end of NSW.

For more information, please visit www.kooliesnose.com.au

You can follow them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/kooliesnose/ or on
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kooliesnose/
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