From dogs and pigs helping humans hunt truffles, it’s a small step to teach dogs to help humans find morel mushrooms.
“It has been a very popular class,” said trainer Inga From of Positive Gun Dogs of Minnesota. “I think they just want to get out with their dogs and give them something to do. If they do find morels, that is a bonus.”
Helluva a bonus.
She started her class for dogs and morels last spring, which meant it switched to remote learning. She ended up with many more participants than she expected or what she would have had live. Her live classes are for eight to 10.
Lydia Rypcinski, whom I know from covering bowling and Beat the Champs for the Sun-Times, is a dog-rescue sort and forwarded a Facebook post about an intro class From was offering on morels and foraging.
That’s my kind of stuff.
Morel season has been going for a couple weeks in southern Illinois and should soon pick up around the Chicago area. On Tuesday, the progression map for the Facebook group, Illinois Morel Mushrooms, indicated finds as far north as Henderson County.
I caught up with From in late March.
She primarily does behavior consulting. She is a certified professional behavior consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants) and a certified professional dog trainer, currently on the board of Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
That led to her introduction to the idea of morel hunting and dogs. She has been doing training for dogs on finding shed antlers for the past six years, something that has become very popular.
At a positive gun dog event in Seattle, an instructor took From foraging for truffles. If you wondering what positive gun-dog training is, From describes her way of positive gun-dog training on positivegundogsmn.com, “PGDM is a professional resource for learning, growing and training your field sport dog using positive reward based training methods.”
Minnesota is not noted for truffles, morels are another story.
“[The instructor] said, ‘Why not morels? You have morel mushrooms in Minnesota,’ “ From said. “The first class was supposed to be in person, but it had to be remote. All the classes were full in the spring [of 2020].”
From is now doing a live class during April in Minnesota.
“Original plan was to stick to morels and chanterelles,” From said. “Intro is better with one and morels are obviously the most popular. I am sticking with morels.”
Chanterelles are another popular wild mushroom for foragers.
The future could hold more advanced classes.
“At the end of class, we go out with a forager and find morels,” From said. “He took us out where he knew morels were. That is the fun part.”
Morel-dog classes are seasonal, as in spring when morels are around.
Can your dog be trained to find morels?
“I found that in the class, you would be surprised, any kind of dog can do it that does nose work,” From said. “The hard part for the mushroom dogs is to leave them alone.”
The dogs are trained to recognize the morels by scent. When they hit the right scent, they are trained to lay down or sit next to it to indicate they have found morels.”
In that regard, it is similar to any nose work with other dogs.
“Harder part is taking them to the field compartment,” From said. “It is distracting.”
She asks that dogs have a basic manners class before taking foraging, morel-hunting or shed-hunting classes.
The class costs $165. From just posted a remote live class for Tuesday nights, April 17 to May 18. which Sun-Times readers could join. Sign-up details and information for both morel-hunting and shed-hunting classes are at positivegundogsmn.com.