Woof! Sharp canine nose tracks down chanterelles
Hunting mushrooms is Papu’s and Vera’s favourite activity, and the dogs have been taught that they are not allowed to eat the mushrooms themselves
By Anna von Hertzen
Papu, a two-year-old Swedish vallhund, is sniffing at a chanterelle mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius) in the hand of its owner Heini Viitamäki.
After this introduction, Papu lies down on a tussock. This is how the dog shows that it has grasped that it is to find a chanterelle.
Papu is rewarded with a piece of chicken heart, and after gulping this down, the dog sprints off after the selected smell.
Animal trainer Erkku Kottonen, who is leading the mushroom-dog course, has hidden a few chanterelles in the surrounding area.
Papu is no mug, and soon finds the mushrooms and lies down next to them.
Viitamäki takes more chicken bits from her pocket, praising her dog the while.
Papu obviously has the right mushroom-dog stuff.
”Gun and bird dogs are particularly good mushroom-dogs, but all dogs are able to learn how to look for mushrooms”, says Erkku Kottonen.
However, it is pointless to anticipate any return on investment within a couple of weeks, as training a dog is a long-term process. Results can be expected in about six months.
Dogs are first taught indoors how to detect a certain scent, such as for example coffee or tea. Only then can they start training in the woods.
This is Papu’s first time "in the wild".
Viitamäki teaches Papu to touch mushrooms with its nose in order that it would be easier to find them. The dog figures out immediately what is required.
Springer spaniel Vera has been honing her mushroom hunting skills for somewhat longer.
Vera has learnt that she must not sit on mushrooms. Vera has also learnt that she must not - under any circumstances - eat funnel chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis), her favourite mushrooms. Previously Vera used to wolf down all funnel chanterelles she found, which somewhat reduced her usefulness.
”I rewarded her with grilled chicken, which Vera fortunately liked even more than funnel chanterelles”, Vera’s owner Mia Sinervä says.
Every time Sinervä is making mushroom sauce at home, Vera nudges her food bowl across the floor purposefully at her feet.
Now Vera is tracking down the chanterelles that Kottonen has hidden. The dog loves hunting mushrooms. After half an hour's training, Vera falls asleep right away at home, as hunting is mentally hard on the dog.
Late in the summer, Vera and Papu will have an opportunity to get into the woods and hunt mushrooms in earnest.
However, one cannot trust the dog's nose completely, but the owner has to know areas where it is worthwhile to look for mushrooms.
Kottonen’s own cocker spaniel Luna is able to search for close on ten different mushrooms. Moreover, when it comes to the prized penny bun mushrooms or ceps (Boletus edulis), Luna looks only for the ones that are almost wormfree.
This is possible, as the dog's nose can distinguish between a cep spoiled by worms and the good ones.
Once a dog has learnt to detect substances by sniffing, the skill can be applied to many different things.
Some of the applications are downright ingenious.
”I sprinkled ginger on the television remote control at home and taught Luna how to locate it by sniffing”, Kottonen says.
Dog schools organise mushroom dog courses in many cities across Finland.
The prices range from EUR 45 to EUR 200, depending on the length of courses.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 30.7.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Smart people learn to identify one wild mushroom every year (30.8.2011)
Good mushroom forests are to be found not far from Helsinki (21.9.2010)
Mushroom expert hints that correct timing is more important than knowing the right location (25.8.2009)
Chanterelle or Golden chanterelle (Wikipedia)
Funnel chanterelle (Wikipedia)