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!