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How to train a dog to search for chanterelles or other mushrooms!
Do you love the delicious taste of newly fried chanterelles on a toast? Then you probably enjoy spending time looking for chanterelles in the woods as well. And if you add your dog to the equation than you can look forward too many great moments with your dog as well as eating chanterelles. For the fact is that even if you are a master at finding mushrooms I can reassure you that your dog is much better. So the sooner you start training your dog to look for chanterelles the sooner you will be able to see those big yellow treasure fields in the woods.
Dogs have a great sense of smell and there is nothing to compare with a dog nose when it comes to search for chanterelles. So the hours you put in learning your dog this skill will pay out well. The other side to it is that your dog will enjoy this activity just as much as you because it is great mental work for your dog which is necessary to dogs if they are going to feel good. So, this training with your dog is a win- win situation; to teach your dog to search for chanterelles gives your dog mental training at the same time that you get the chanterelles! Consider also that apart from the fact that both you and your dog are winners you and your dog do this together and that is always a positive thing. So you see that you are both winners in many ways!
All dogs can learn the skill to search for mushrooms. There can be some differences of the ability between breeds but it has probably more to do with the dogs individuality than the breed. I have trained two Flat Coated Retrievers in search for chanterelles and on of them did very well while the other wasn't quiet so successful. Both did search and also found chanterelles but the better dog had a calmer behaviour than the other. Dogs that like to work and are easy to learn new things may have a bigger chance to be really good on this activity. But I think that the biggest difference probably is due too how the dog is trained, that is; how you succeed with the training of your dog. There may be some limitations when it comes to bigger breeds with thick fur since chanterelles can be found during the warm season which can be to warm for those breeds.
A few advises to consider before you start!
Before you start; make sure that your dog is healthy! It is no use to train a dog that isn't healthy. It isn't right on your dog and you will not get the results you want.
Let the training take time! This isn’t done in a blink! In fact it can take a couple of years of practice before your dog is really good at finding chanterelles, but don’t despair; your dog will find the mushrooms almost immediately once the dog knows what is expected of him/her.
Use positive learning technique! To teach a dog to find chanterelles can only be done with positive reinforcement. You can’t use any force or punishment it totally forbidden. In positive learning you use treats as a reward when the dog does what you want and that is much more effective. Personally I used dried lever as treats to my dogs, it is tasty, the dogs love it, and the most important; it will not leave a sticky ensure in your pocket!
Basic behaviour training! Your dog must have some basic training before your start this kind of training. Your dog must be able too sit on demand and have basic behaviour skills. And the training also demands that you have a good connection with your dog. You will not find any chanterelles with a dog that heads off away from you in the woods or is occupied with other things.
Important! Make sure your dog doesn't eat the mushroom. Chanterelles are not known to be toxic for dogs but other mushrooms can be both toxic or even lethal so if you have a dog that eat everything he/she can come over maybe you should think twice before you begin this type of training and choose something else.
Now let’s get started!
Step 1. You start with teaching the dog to connect treats with chanterelles by “charging” the chanterelles. To do that you must first go to the woods and find some chanterelles yourself! You can bring your dog on the tour and just find and pick some chanterelles. Charged chanterelles means that you put treats under the chanterelles! Use the same area for training in the beginning. By doing that your dog will soon know what you want when you go to that area. Also use the same items, that is the items that is going to signal to your dog that it is time to work as a search harness and a mushroom basket. Start with your dog sitting beside you. Tell the dog to sit still while you walk a distance of 1 ½ meters, lay out some charged chanterelles and walk back to your dog. Use a command word that suits you or use the word “search”! It doesn’t matter as long as you always use the same word. And this must be practiced many times. But do not repeat too many times during the same practice, it is much better to do the practice on many occasions and with fewer repetitions. In that way your dog will find it more fun and will be more eager to learn. And of course; praise your dog when he/she does what you want! Maybe everything isn’t going to be absolutely right straight away, but praise every little progress. You are both here to enjoy yourselves, right?
When your dog knows what to do, you can increase the distance to about 2 meters. Then you can also change the practise area because you want your dog to understand that chanterelles can grow anywhere and not just on one spot! Increase the distance further but do it gradually. Let your dog do about 3-4 searches and then let him/her rest for 10 minutes or so.
Step 2. During this phase you practice in the same way as in Step 1 but now you move on to “charge” wild growing chanterelles instead in the woods. Return now and then to charged picked chanterelles. The most important thing is to be patient and make sure you and your dog have a great time together.
Step 3. Since your dog can’t be so efficient if the dog is near you all the time you must learn your dog to mark the mushrooms by sitting next to the findings. And you also want the dog to find chanterelles that aren’t charged. You do this by having one treat in your hand and one under the chanterelles. Eventually you only give the dog the treat from your hand and by praising with your voice. Practise this step many, many times.
Step 4. Now you want to motivate your dog to search for trails that don’t have a strong scent from you. You do that by leave your dog sitting and walk away from the dog about 2 metres. Here you lay down the chanterelles and walk back towards your dog in a half circle. Let the dog sit and wait for a while before you give the search command. When this works well you progress by teaching your dog to look for chanterelles that doesn’t have your scent on them. You can use gloves when you pick them or a plastic bag, which you also use when you “plant” the chanterelles in the woods for your dog to search.
Step 5. The last step is to take away your footsteps from the chanterelles. This is important because otherwise the dog will search for your footsteps and not the chanterelles. You do that by throwing the chanterelles for the dog to search.
Watch the video below! The first one shows a 2 year old Golden Retriever practising chantarelle search after 10 months pause. As you can see; once they have learned, they know what to do even after a long pause from training!
The video below shows how a dog with the name Kenny, who train search for chanterelles during the winter season. You can see how he marks the chanterelles by sitting next to the mushroom!
Watch the video below with the same dog; Kenny, now showing how he find and marks the chanterelles in the forest!
Consider that the training should be positive for your dog and make sure he/she doesn't get exhausted or loose motivation along the way. If you at any time notice that the task is too difficult for the dog; take a brake and return to one of the earlier practises that your dog know how to do before you finish for the day.
Make sure you use your voice, give much praise with your voice even when you give a treat. The training is supposed to be funny and positive for the dog otherwise you run the risk that the dog associate chanterelles search with something unpleasant and that will not give you many chanterelles!
And again; Don’t rush, let it take time and take advantage of this kind of exercise as a mental training for your dog.
To get a dog to search for chanterelles in a certain and skillful way, to mark the chanterelles by sitting next to them, in a sustainable and calm way demands for great patient from you! Make sure you never practise when you are in a bad mood or if your dog is ill or have pain. Your dog shouldn't be either over stimulated or tired. This is supposed to be a positive time for both you and your dog. Since you and your dog are going to put much time and effort on the training it isn't worth to spoil all that effort by training under the wrong circumstances.
When your dog has learned to search for chanterelles you just need to go out and buy yourself a bigger mushroom basket and more receipes for how to cook with chanterelles. Because from now on; you are going to get more chanterelles than you have ever dreamed of. Your dog can find chanterelles in places where you never would have found them, like hidden under leaves and mosses. And you can now combine a walk in the forest with your best friend, give your dog some very good mental training and the best is that you will also get a basket full of chanterelles.