This autumn I participated in a mushroom course with my Alaskan malamute. The goal of the course was to teach the dog to use its nose in order to find mushrooms. Depending on the breed a dog can smell from 1000 to 10 000 times better than humans and therefore if you want to teach your dog to find items it’s most likely a good idea to teach the dog to find it by using its nose, not eyes. All dogs on the course were of different breeds – any dog can learn to differentiate between smells.
Teaching my dog to find mushrooms doesn’t only benefit me but my dog as well, she loves it! Running and sniffing around in the woods make her tired and happy! The exercises should also be based on play – we only practice for as long as my dog seems interested and is focusing.
Now that the winter is coming we practice indoors with dry chantarelles. The smell will change a bit because of the drying process and we’ll only see next autumn if she is still able to find fresh mushrooms or whether she’ll just go for the old dry ones. 😀 The mushrooms used for the exercise have to be collected and touched with tweezers and stored in a store-bought glass jar. Otherwise the dog learns to find mushrooms that smell like their owner.
Teach your dog to find mushrooms
The simple idea behind the training is to teach the dog to understand that every time it smells a mushroom and indicates it to its owner it gets rewarded. The exercise should be divided into small parts beginning with teaching the dog the smell of the preferred item (in this case the mushroom). This method can be used for any other item as well, like home keys. 😉
First, we practiced indoors for a couple of weeks. These exercises included:
- teaching the dog to mark a jar that had mushrooms in it (the dog has to choose from 2 or 3 jars by sniffing the right one)
- teaching the dog to indicate that it has found mushrooms
We wanted our dog to sit down once she finds mushrooms so that’s what we taught her after she knew what to look for.
Once the dog knew what to look for and was sitting down nicely to indicate the find, it was time to move forward. We got rid of the jars and started practicing outdoors. These exercises included:
- finding mushrooms on the backyard (dog on the leash)
- finding mushrooms in the forest (dog on the leash & running free)
These exercises were just like the indoor exercises with an added difficulty level.
Why train with a group?
In the course each dog did the exercises individually one after another while the rest of the group was watching. We also filmed each others’ training sessions in order to see the possible wrong body signs that we’re unintentionally giving our dogs. The teacher can evaluate the learning process of each dog and give exercises accordingly. That way the dog cannot get confused with tasks that would be too tricky for it’s skill level.
Now that we’re familiar with the training process our goal is to teach our dog one new mushroom species every year. 🙂