By Breon O'Farrell
Any dog can be trained to perform any “Job” and a job is exactly what every dog needs. Just like us people. And just like people it is not possible for every dog to be the best at every job, but each dog can make a showing, an effort, which the owner can appreciate and value and in doing so express love and create the power love is responsible for.
In 2005 I taught our family dog Trilli to fetch littered plastic water bottles from the forest along the roads near our farm. Every morning I walked her and filled up a large plastic garbage bag. In six months the forest was sparkling clean, and to keep Trilli involved with something to do (a job) I used what I have come to call my “American Method” of dog training to teach her to find truffles and bring them to my hand like she had with the thousands of plastic water bottles. Finding things is the best job for a dog, because it is an expression of his natural curiosity, and if the “search object” has real value to us, as do truffles, the job takes on a whole new level of significance. Finding lost people is also a very meaningful job for a dog, but it requires infinitely more financial investment, organisation and collaboration with agencies, and a larger team, skills like map reading, radio skills, and more than anything else, a person needs to have the freedom to leave work to be available to join a search effort. It is not something you can do every day with your dog during the morning walk. For the average person who loves the company of a dog, lives near nature and enjoys walking, searching for truffles is the best job in the world for their dog. In my area there are thousands of people who have truffles on their own land, who because their dogs don’t find truffles must watch idly by as other folks come with dogs and harvest those truffles.
When I entered into the world of Truffle Dog Training, I applied the many rules of learning I had been using for years, in this brand new undertaking. The most important rule being the one of forming a team of two, a man and his dog moving into a natural space for a purpose, hunting treasure together, more like equals than I had ever considered possible. And if the truth be known and said, much of the time dog and man are not equals, but the dog is superior in the forest and we humans must acknowledge this without surrendering our power and authority, but instead go deeper into the idea of team mate, family really. Only the dog can find the truffles buried underground, and I must trust the dog until she gives me a damn good reason not to. And even then, my mistrust is usually an error. Real team work is the ever increasing ability to communicate for a shared purpose. Nothing at all like running through obstacles or dancing, or a beauty contest. More like saving lives of lost children in its sense of actual contribution to the family of the hunter. Money. Peace and tranquility. Exploration of the caretaker within us, the feminine part many men are afraid to meet.
I also found my life enriched by finally feeling connected to the community of neighbours with whom building intimacy was difficult for me. Not that the local people aren’t nice, they are. Umbrian are known for their stoic and suspicious expressions as well as their gentleness and generosity, and that is my experience with them too. But I struggled with the never ending sense of identity crisis I have experienced not being able to form relationships in my own native tongue, not being able to express the fount of who I am, who I know myself to be, my humour, my alertness, my rhythm, my ability to comprehend and anticipate people’s words and ideas. I suppose I must have felt much like a dog does living in human society where so few people understand canine culture. I do not speak the language of the heart in Italy yet. I don’t know if I ever shall. But my heart continues to grow, my relationships grow deeper and my affection for the many people I have met and helped with their dogs continues to have great significance to my existence.