Teaching a dog to find mushrooms

Training a dog to find mushrooms

This autumn I participated in a mushroom course with my Alaskan malamute. The goal of the course was training a dog to use their noses 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.

Training 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 makes 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 chanterelles. The smell of the mushrooms will change a bit because of the drying process and we’ll only see next year if she is still able to find fresh mushrooms or whether she’ll just go for the old dry ones.

Train your dog to find mushrooms

TRAIN 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 exercises should be divided into small parts beginning with teaching the dog the smell of the preferred item (in this case a specific type of mushroom). This method can be used for any other item as well, like home keys.

Stage 1: Indoor Exercises

First, practice indoors for a couple of weeks. These exercises include:

    1. Teaching the dog to mark a jar that had mushrooms in it:
      • Place 2 or 3 jars in front of the dog. One of the jars contains the mushrooms that you want the dog to learn, the others are empty. Make sure that the jars are clean.
      • Now your dog has to choose from 2 or 3 jars by sniffing the right one: Encourage your dog to inspect the jars. When the dog sniffs the correct jar, instantly praise and reward it.
      • The mushrooms used for this exercise should be collected and touched with tweezers and stored in a store-bought glass jar. Otherwise your dog might learn to find mushrooms that smell like their owner.
    2. Teaching the dog to indicate that it has found mushrooms:
      • Choose a method that you want your dog to use for indicating the find (barking, sitting down, laying down etc.). 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.
      • When your dog learns that it gets rewarded when it finds the right jar (mushroom smell), add the command that you want to use for indicating the find before you reward the dog. Dog sniffs the jar → Command (e.g. sit, down…) → Instant reward

Stage 2: Outdoor Exercises

Once your dog knows what to look for and knows how to indicate the find, it is time to move forward. Now you can get rid of the jars and start practicing outdoors.

These exercises include:

    1. Finding mushrooms on the backyard
      • (dog on the leash)
    2. Finding mushrooms in the forest
      • (dog on the leash & running free)

These exercises are just like the indoor exercises with an added difficulty level.

Why train with a group?

Train your dog to find mushroomsDuring the the course that I did with my dog, 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. 🙂


2 comments on “Training a dog to find mushroomsAdd yours →

  1. Would it be possible to use dried mushrooms in boxes/jars to begin teaching the dogs or is it only possible to use fresh mushrooms?

    1. Hi Marko,
      sorry for the late reply! Yes, you can start the mushroom exercises with dried mushrooms in order to teach this skill to your dog – if you start now, you’ll have a lot of time to practice before the mushroom season starts. 🙂 When you replace the dried mushrooms with fresh ones, repeat all the steps of the training process from the beginning with your dog. This way the dog will learn to associate a new smell to a familiar task, which goes much faster than starting the training from scratch. You can actually teach your dog to look for many different types of mushrooms by using this method (so if you start with dried mushrooms and move on to fresh ones, your dog will learn to look for both dried and fresh mushrooms).

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