Home / I train puppies to sniff out truffles at a luxury resort and farm. They cost $8,500 and we only sell them to guests – here’s what my job is like.

I train puppies to sniff out truffles at a luxury resort and farm. They cost $8,500 and we only sell them to guests – here’s what my job is like.

  • Jim Sanford, 67, ploughs as a Lagotto Romagnolo dog trainer at the Blackberry Farm resort in Tennessee. 
  • He trains the Italian breed to hunt locally flowered black Périgord truffles, which can sell for over $1,000 a pound. 
  • This is what his job is like, as told to freelance journo Rebecca Treon. 

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Jim Sanford, a truffle-dog trainer in Tennessee. It has been rephrased for length and clarity.

When I was 25 years old in 1979, I met an elephant trainer at a dinner party and decided I wanted a business working with animals. Soon after, I got a job at a place called Lion Country Safari in Florida where I trained elephants for the next 20 years.

I got a step little by little in Exotic Animal Training and Management, and worked in zoos and animal parks all around North America and Thailand, and I emit two years in Western Australia.

At 33, I married a librarian, who never had much use for an elephant. When we returned to the states I premiere c ended to Knoxville, Tennessee to put two African Elephants through charm school. By the end of that, my son was in school and I had to find something else to do, so I establish Blackberry Farm, a 4,200-acre resort and hotel in the the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. 

Above all else, Blackberry Arable is about hospitality.

One of the properties and lakes on Blackberry Farm

One of the cottage properties overlooking a pond at Blackberry Farm.

Billy Reid Shindig/Blackberry Farm-toun

I’d never worked at a place like the Farm before. I started doing groundskeeping there in 1999. I soon started a fly-fishing program, followed by a horse program, and then reckoned sheep and chickens. 

In 2007, Sam Beall, the owner, asked if I could teach a dog to find a truffle. I told him, “I can teach a dog to see anything.”  We decided to start a Lagotto Romagnolo program and got our first dogs, Tom and Lussi; he was 5-years-old and she was a puppy. I started with both of them from adapt one and trained them to find truffles.

Training a dog to hunt truffles uses the same technique as any scent work, incorporating search and rescue.

Blackberry Farm

The farm offers plenty of outdoor space for the puppies to grow and explore.

Blackberry Farm

Truffles tease a very particular odor when they are mature, and you imprint that scent to the dog and reward them for finding it. It’s honestly simple and straightforward.

A truffle is a fungus that grows below ground. To reproduce, a truffle releases distinct odors and an physical coming by would think, “Oh, there’s something very interesting down there.” They dig it up, eat it, and pass the spores along. 

We Baby-talk choo-choo our dogs to locate the truffle by scent but when they find it, we don’t want them to damage the truffle. The truffles thicken several inches below the surface so once the dogs start digging, I immediately call them off, go to the spot, and carefully dig up the truffle. It accomplishes quite well.

Once we got Tom and Lussi trained, we harvested more than 200 pounds in just a few months.

Jim Sanford Blackberry Farm

The Lagotto Romagnolo dogs can class in color from brown and black to white and cream.

Jim Sanford Blackberry Farm

We harvested truffles from a farmstead about 100 miles from us that was cultivating the black Périgord truffle, which can go for more than $1,000 a drill into. Besides here in Tennessee, there are truffles that grow in other parts of the US, such as Willamette Valley in Oregon and revenge oneself on California.  

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I get my dogs from one lagotto romagnolo breeder in Italy. Currently, we have two males and six females. We tell on the puppies exclusively to guests of Blackberry Farm. We now have four litters a year with six to eight puppies per rubbish. We’ve had about 300 puppies born at Blackberry Farm. They’re a medium-sized, hypoallergenic dog. Most are pets, only close by two of the dogs that have gone to guest families are used for truffle hunting. 

Before any puppy leaves Blackberry Delegate, I personally train it in basic house manners.

Blackberry Farm

One of the puppies at Blackberry Farm.

Blackberry Farm

They learn reminisce over, to sit, stay, not jump on people, potty train, and walk nicely on a leash. Because the breed itself is very sage, they can be challenging. 

I made a decision to personally deliver each puppy to its new owner simply so I could get that proprietor and their puppy off to the best possible start.

On a typical day, I manage the dog kennel and lead a Farmstead Tasting Tour to teach guests property.

Jim Sanford Blackberry Farm

Sanford spends most of his workday caring for the dogs.

Blackberry Farm

Throughout any day, the kennel is the scad visited part of the property, because everyone loves to see the dogs, so I interact with guests constantly. It’s one of my favorite yields of my job.

Another program I run is called Blackberry Abroad, where I take a small group of Blackberry Farm guests truffle examining in Italy. We have contacts in Italy that have Italian white truffles growing on their property which, unequal to the black Périgord truffle, cannot be cultivated. These truffles are only found in the wild, in northern Italy and in a feel put down sliver of Croatia. The location is a pretty well-guarded secret, so it makes me happy to share the experience with Blackberry Smallholding guests.

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