Hunting is unquestionably the first activity common to man and the dog. This complicity in searching for and catching game has always been present and is carried on today. Other dogs put their sense of smell at their master’s disposal to discover truffles or minerals.
This sport requires an excellent physical condition on the dog’s part as well as on the master’s part to be practiced for a long time and in all weathers. It also requires strength of character, tenacity and a sense of observation, apart from the required olfactory qualities that make for a good hunting dog.
Hunting methods, grounds, game have all resulted in an extraordinary diversification of the physical types of dogs. Today, there are hundreds of these breeds, born of a particular use and land! Terrier dogs, water dogs, pack dogs, pointing or retrieving dogs, they all have specialties, physical builds, olfactory or visual characteristics of their own. Without a dog, the hunter’s friend and companion, there’s no hunting, as it is, in a manner of speaking, a competition in which the dog does not always come out the winner. Indeed, making use of its instinct, its knowledge of the territory and its crafty tricks, the game has the ability to outsmart the qualities of his canine adversary, which are his keen sense of smell, his staying power, his sturdiness and certain skills peculiar to such and such type of hunting.
As specialists, hunting dogs are placed in several groups in the classification drawn up by Fédération Cynologique Internationale. They all have in common great natural abilities which are the fruit of a careful selection process conducted for decades by specialized breeders. Among the required qualities, the ability to take initiatives comes first: for the dog, it’s not just a matter of having a good sense of smell, but also of knowing how to use it. That’s where comes in all the work needed to train the hunting dog: including much patience and tact, this training is not something unchanging and methods differ according to the dogs.
More generally, it takes several months of daily work to obtain a good dog. Obedience, recall, position acquisition (the Anglo-Saxons’ famous "down" command) are requisites to which should be added, for the dog, the fact of knowing how to use his nose. All animals have a more or less developed sense of smell according to the species and, in the dog’s case, according to the breed. But at the end of training, the dog should be able to sort out the smells that the wind brings to him in order to avoid any mistake. As for the pointing dog, he should be able to "go on search" on any given ground to point without moving, so as not to frighten the game and flush it out; he’ll also have to ensure retrieval of the killed game to the hunter.
All things that have to be taught to the dog while minimizing constraints.
As a matter of principle and because it’s in his blood, the hunting dog is neither an apartment dog, nor a mere companion dog; what is bred in the bone will never come out of the flesh. Therefore, owning one of these dogs without being yourself a hunter requires that you give your animal opportunities to run and play on a daily basis, as city life is not an ideal hunting ground!
There is a quite particular function that the dog fulfills to the great pleasure of gourmets: it’s cavage ("excavation"). What is hiding behind this somewhat obscure term derived from the word "cavadou" which in French designates the instrument which enables to take the truffles out of the ground is quite simply the search for truffles.
The search for truffles, these underground mushrooms so rare that they are nicknamed the "black gold", has been traditionally entrusted to the sense of smell of a number of animals: goats, sheep, pigs and, more recently, dogs, more malleable and transportable.
All dog breeds may be used for that purpose, provided that the dog is given indispensable training so that he may find truffles in a professional way (artificial truffle fields) or in an amateur way (natural truffle fields).
The traditional method implies that you have a litter of puppies intended for that activity and that you impregnate them right at birth with the smell of truffle by brushing the mother’s teats with truffle juice and by systematically adding truffle juice to the diet later on. The dog then associates the smell of truffle with his food intake and will tend to systematically look for that smell.
In 1962, dogs were used for the first time in Finland for minerals detection. At the time, it consisted in making the dog search for sulfurous rocks for prospecting purposes. This initiative was then used again with success in Sweden, in Russia and in Canada. In other countries, the dog is now used to search for nickel and copper deposits, even though they are less easy to discover, as sulfurous rocks give off a stronger smell. While the training approach, through play, is similar to that used for drug or explosive search, it is said in Eastern European countries and in Scandinavia that a good dog can discover a deposit up to fifteen meters deep.