Hey everyone! Da Vinci here. I just had to share our latest truffle hunting adventure with you! The forest we went to yesterday looked like another planet! It’s snowing in our neck of the woods and that means truffle hunting gets interesting.
Mom took me to one of our usual forests and, to our surprise, there was snow actually covering the forest floor. It’s been an interesting winter! The snow was melting quickly and Mom probably should have been wearing rain pants. My paws were getting cold when we weren’t moving. Her knees must have been freezing! I love snow and thought it was fun to see our usual hunting spot transformed to a bright and shiny forest. It’s usually dark in there. That day it was brilliant with light, illuminating parts of the forest we don’t usually see.
We were having a great time until the trees threw their first snowball down at us. That first thud caught us by surprise. We realized that it was just melting snow but I crossed my paws that none of it fell on us. They were small clumps of snow and wouldn’t have hurt either of us but I prefer not to be surprised from above while I’m focusing down on the ground.
There were a couple of moments when the combination of these new noises and the unfamiliar look of the forest made me uneasy. I could tell Mom also had moments of uncertainty as she assessed our surroundings. She always tracks our path so we know our fastest exit. I really appreciate that! The wonderful thing about yesterday’s truffle hunt, and the reason I wanted to share it with you, is how we not only mirrored each other’s worrisome emotions but also the calm emotions. We were in perfect balance and responsive to each passing moment. That doesn’t mean the hunt conditions were perfect. It means we were perfectly paired to work in those conditions, on that day and in those moments.
We were both startled by the randomly falling snow on multiple occasions. Startle responses interrupt our communication and, when that happens, the entire working dynamic changes. It’s impossible to truffle hunt without ever being startled so Mom has put a lot of effort into helping each of us respond to unexpected events. Just like a startle can interrupt our communication and send us spiraling into a cycle of hype-alertness, a calming act can interrupt the undesirable fear spiral. First, she always assesses the situation to make sure it is safe. Once she determines that we are safe, she brings her attention to her breath. It’s so simple and yet it settles both of us, bringing us back to a calm and congruent state.
How cool is that?
Foray or Not To Foray?
Just the other day I was contemplating the best way to explain why I don’t guide truffle hunting forays. I struggled with this because my way is not the only way and what is most important to me, may not be a priority for another hunter. So, how do I explain my decision without discrediting someone else’s personal choice to guide forays. You see, with truffle hunting, each team gets to make up the rules for their own process, their own relationship…their own language. I spent a lot of time contemplating this because I believe in my reasons but I also respect everyone’s right to choose what works for them.
Then, as if answering my question for me, MacGyver SHOWED me exactly why I don’t guide truffle hunting forays. We went out to a known patch today just for a short hunt and to get some experience under our belts. The last time we were here, this dog showed me the most incredible focus. He hopped out of the car ready to search and persisted at hunting even when I was trying to make our way back to the car. Those of you who don’t know me…I LOVE that! We had a blast that day. We played. I laughed…a lot! We didn’t take ourselves too seriously but we were in a congruent state of being with each other. It was quite beautiful and so perfect that I lost track of time.
Today was very different. Today, MacGyver came out ready to work. He found a truffle rather quickly and we had our usual party. He seemed more interested in other smells today, so I simply remained patient. It’s all completely normal for dogs to investigate different smells and I didn’t feel like he was disengaged from me or the activity. I knew that he would tell me if there was a truffle scent mixed in with all the information he was gathering, so I didn’t consider him distracted or disregarding my presence. We continued to move through the space together, me observing him and him smelling that invisible world of wonder.
But then there was a moment and I felt it. Total disconnect. Admittedly, my intention and attention had drifted to thoughts outside of the present moment…but I didn’t realize this until later. MacGyver dropped me. He completely dropped his connection with me and it felt awful! In fact, that is precisely what brought me back to the present moment. The realization of how empty it feels to go from beautiful connection to NOTHING. I committed to feel it and observe. I didn’t call him or ask him to work, just let him continue to sniff and explore in his own little world. I kept moving through the space and all I can use to describe it is lonely and abandoned. What do I do now? By myself, I’m not part of a team and I have no one to share this experience with. Eventually, I cleared my throat just loud enough for him to notice I was no longer close. I wanted to allow this to unfold as organically as possible while still being responsible for our safety. MacGyver heard me and came running. I was grateful for that. We reconnected as I gathered the line he was dragging and we walked together back to the car. No big deal. Just information. After all, he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
So what happened here? Why does this explain why I don’t guide forays?
When guiding a foray, a guide’s attention is split between their dog and the guests. It isn’t possible to give full attention to both. The guest deserves attention, experience, and education. The dog deserves the relationship he/ she is used to. This is like trying to carry two conversations in different languages simultaneously WHILE being the interpreter for the guests. What results is repeatedly dropping connection with the dog. Why is this so hard? Because we can’t explain to the dog “let’s pause for a moment so I can talk to someone else.” Yes, we can teach “take a break” behaviors, but even during that break, we should still be in connection with the dog. We are still doing this together.
How does that explain why I don’t lead forays? Because what I experienced today was no different from what happens to my dog if I give my attention to a guest during a foray. While truffle hunting, my dogs count on being connected and engaged with me. This commitment to our partnership is a critical foundation for our enjoyment of the activity and the strong relationship we share. I think to myself…how would I feel if my dog repeatedly dropped connection with me like I experienced today? I believe it would erode our relationship, forcing us to continually chase that congruent state we are used to experiencing when we work alongside the other. THAT congruency…THAT relationship…THAT partnership and trust is my priority and I don’t believe I can fully honor that when my attention is split between guests and my partner. I choose to prioritize my relationship with my dogs and to find alternative ways of sharing our truffle hunting experiences with the world. But, don’t worry! If you want to go on a truffle hunting foray, I would be happy to recommend a guide for you!
OFFICIAL Truffle Pup
December 11, 2015
MacGyver is an OFFICIAL Truffle Dog! Today was his 10th learning session and it was an awesome one! He found five truffles (not pictured because…he is a puppy)!
This boy demands that I operate from a grounded state and with heart-centered action…in anything we do together. I am so proud of this pup and our developing partnership. Our path has been nontraditional and “outside the box”, one of reciprocal learning based on organic conversation, respect, transparency, intuition, and mindful action in the present moment. Dogs are amazing teachers!
The newest member of my truffle dog crew in action! This is MacGyver’s first truffle hunt and it was awesomely fun to see how he put all the pieces of this game and our foundation training together. He offered to include the “face down” at the truffle and I LOVED it!
MacGyver finds his first truffles after just 10 sessions with truffle odor!