Fall in love with these truffle-hunting rescue dogs.
Meet Jayson Mesman of Canberra, Australia.
In addition to looking eerily similar to Chris Pratt, Jayson also adopts rescue dogs and trains them to hunt for truffles.
Truffles are famously rare, famously difficult to cultivate, famously delicious, and above all, famously expensive. This year’s harvest is expected to run between $2,000 and $3,000 per kilogram.
The flavorful funguses are found in the soil around certain trees like hickory and oak and can only be detected by their smell. While pigs have a natural ability to sniff out the scrumptious scent of truffles, they also tend to eat them, which has led some farmers to train dogs for the task instead.
As a lifelong dog enthusiast, Jayson took this one step further: He recruited a legion of eager pups to help him in the truffle hunt — all adopted from nearby pounds.
“I actually go into the pound and look for the dogs that people quite often can’t maintain,” Jayson said. “Those with a really strong hunt drive, wanting to play constantly, the dog that chases the ball until he falls over almost.”
“Owners are grabbing the cute, cuddly Labradors that everyone sees on the Kleenex ads,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “They don’t realise they’re a natural born retriever, so really high-powered … and they don’t realise that until their nice manicured backyard gets ripped to pieces.”
Jayson went on to explain that he uses positive reinforcement to train the pups to hunt truffles, noting that technique “can get a dog to do basically anything you want them to do.” He said he tries to rescue as many dogs as he can.
So how do you train a rescue dog to sniff out this sweet truffle goodness? The trick is figuring out what each one wants.
“These dogs don’t consider it work; it’s not a chore by any sense,” Jayson said. “The key is making sure they’re having a good time.”
Most of his canine crew would respond to standard treats or praise, and Jayson only had to figure out the rewards they liked best. But for some of them, the process was a little more tricky.
Take Simba, for instance.
Jayson had exhausted his usual tricks of toys and food in trying to train Simba, and he was all out of ideas. But Simba finally found his first truffle, and right after, Mesman’s partner, Danielle, gave the dog a hug.
This elite squad of truffle pups is rounded out by Willow…
…and Max, Jayson’s personal kelpie that recently started joining in on the truffle hunt action.
“He’s a dog that can run 80 to 100 kilometres per day,” he said. “So we put all that energy to use, and it’s something that he loves doing.”
But this rowdy crew couldn’t do what they do without Winnie and Piglet, the truffle pigs.
These two saddlebacks rely on their innately attuned noses to dig up any unformed or rotten truffles at the end of the season, which they eat up and poop out — spreading the spores back into the soil to make next year’s harvest even more robust.
Thank you, Jayson, for making a difference in the lives of these wonderful animals. (And also for supplying people with tasty, tasty truffle treats.)
The next time you’re in Australia, you can visit Jayson and his canine crew at The Truffle Farm Canberra. The internationally-renowned gourmet experience is just an added bonus. And yes — you can go hunting with the dogs, too.