This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Non-Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland, Non-Sporting Division.
Thus carefully have I entered into the management and keeping of the poodle as a house dog, because it is only used as such in this country, and because it is the dog above all others that, through neglect to its cleanliness, will become an eyesore, and offensive to its owner, when a little trouble will make it as pretty and as pleasant a dog as man or woman need desire. As to its intelligence and faithfulness, nothing further need be said by me.
Perhaps it may be fresh information to some who have kept poodles to know that this "wool" or "cords" can be used for manufacturing purposes, and although "poodle's wool" is not a mercantile commodity, the owner of a poodle can clip him, have the results made into yarn, and in due course converted into socks or similar articles of wear. One gentleman sent a sample of "poodle's wool" into Scotland, and forwarded me a specimen of the yarn spun from it. The dog from which it was taken yielded four pounds weight of wool, and many of the locks were eight inches in length and over, but the clipping was merely done in the first instance because the coat was falling off. As an old shepherd said when he was told of this, "Aye, aye, nea wonder sheep is sae cheap when these new-fangled dogs can grow four pound o' wool apiece".
The sample of the yarn I saw was of a silky though rather hard texture, and the manufacturer called it "a very pretty wool;" the spinner said it was difficult to "teaze" because so badly matted, but he thought it likely to card and spin well. When made, the yarn is knitted into socks; the latter seem rather hard, and their wearer tells me, though they are "somewhat harsh and whiskery, they are calculated to create a healthy friction, and are well suited for a cold climate".
One variety of poodle, or at any rate a cross bred poodle, is known as "the truffle dog," although all truffle dogs are not poodles. "Stone-henge," in his "Dogs of the British Isles," gives an illustration of a "truffle dog," which appears to be a cross between a small curly-coated poodle and a terrier. These animals are trained for the purpose of finding truffles, an edible fungus that grows underground in some parts of this country. It is, however, commoner on the continent, in France, Italy, and elsewhere, where pigs are trained for the purpose of finding the dainty article. As a fact, almost all the truffles used in Great Britain are procured from the continent, though they are found in some localities of the south of England in considerable numbers, in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, Oxfordshire (Windsor Forest was once a notable place), and Kent, but no doubt it is produced in other situations where the land is of a chalky nature and where beech trees flourish. This peculiar fungus is said to be a connecting link between the animal and the vegetable kingdoms, as like the former it absorbs oxygen and throws off carbonic gas. Otherwise it is a vegetable pure and simple, but it is of most value for high-class cooking purposes.
As an industry, the occupation of the truffle-hunter is rapidly dying out. In Hampshire and elsewhere there are no young men springing up who seem inclined to follow in the steps of the old ones who have made a moderate living by gathering truffles for many years. This is especially notable in the Wiltshire villages, where a quarter of a century and more ago, families were supported by their heads who took trouble to train and keep their favourite strains of dog for the purpose. One of the chief truffle "hunters" at the time I write is Isaac Bray, of Winterslow, and he, now an old man, has followed the occupation for years. His dogs are well known, and there is always a demand for the puppies, which, before they are trained, are worth £2 or £3 each. Of course a properly trained dog is worth much more than that, and the owner of a really good one is naturally loth to part with his animal, as the livelihood of the family depends so much thereon.
Local traditions say that a Spaniard who settled somewhere in Wiltshire, about 250 years ago, first introduced the truffle-hunting dog, and since that time the industry, if it can be so called, has been carried on. The dogs are very much inbred, thus difficult to rear. They are of any colour, white, even black, and any intermingling of the two. The lighter coloured and white dogs are best for the purpose, as they are easier seen in the coverts and undergrowth. In some instances a black dog has a broad white collar or front placed around his neck, so that he may be better seen by his worker. The training of the dog should commence when he is about four months old, when he is taught to bring to his master a truffle which is thrown for him. This quickly done, his next task is to fetch one of them which is hidden, and following this a truffle is first covered with earth, and this, too, he is encouraged to find and take to his master. So gradually the lessons continue, until the puppy will be quite reliable in finding and bringing in fungi which have been buried by his master two inches or so underground, the dog being, of course, rewarded with some little dainty each time he does his duty well. So far perfect, he is now taken out to some place where truffles are known to be, and the dog will find them, thus his training is accomplished with less trouble than either a pointer or setter is broken to find and stand game.
Of course the little dog hunts keenly, and with his nose to the ground, his tail action and quickness on scent are quite equal to what are seen in a spaniel on the line of fur or feather. When a truffle has been "set' or found two or three inches below the ground's surface, the dog will scratch the soil away with his paws in the fashion common to canines, but the better plan, and the one usually followed, is for the owner to dig up the prize, and so prevent any risk of its being injured by the dog's teeth. I need scarcely state that a truffle dog must be thoroughly and entirely broken from his natural inclination to hunt game and vermin.