Earthdog Training & Equipment
For Earthdog test and trials, the dog must be familiar with den work and quarry in order to reliably meet the expectations of earthdog tasks. The essential skills for earthdog trials are:
- Tunnel Training: Any dog can be trained to work a tunnel with a little patience and practice. It is beneficial to begin training with a short tunnel, about 6 feet long with no bigger than a 9 inch opening. Once the short tunnel is mastered (your dog responds to your non-verbal signal, the dog seeks kibble or treats inside, complete darkness is not an issue), the training can move on to a longer tunnel with corners and turns.
- Quarry: Quarry tracking is largely an instinctive behavior, but earthdogs still must practice the skill.
- Distracted Recall: Earthdog dog’s tend to be very focused on the quarry they find, thus training the rapid recall (come back to the handler) can be tricky for some dogs. It can be especially difficult because the dog often must back up through the tunnel to exit and the recall command is a timed factor in higher level earthdog trials.
Earthdog equipment needs include:
- Tunnels: Wood or composite tunnels are excellent for practicing different configurations and mastering traversing and returning from the tunnels.
- Quarry: Most earthdog handlers elect to use lab rats (the ones sold as snake snacks at the pet store) for training purposes. Some trap squirrels or other small animals using a Havahart trap, practice with them for a short time, then release them back into the wild.
- Quarry Cage: Quarry cages are intended to protect the quarry from the earthdog during practice and trials.
- Tunnel Bars, etc.: The final step of training for earthdog is to block off the end and either retrieve the dog through a trap door (Junior level) or recall the dog back through the tunnel (usually requires them to back up through the tunnel).
The AKC and AWTA Earthdog trials vary both in composition and purpose.
The AKC requires that all Earthdog participants be registered with the AKC. The dogs do not have to be intact, but mixed breeds may not participate in AKC tests. AKC Earthdog tests are broken into several steps of increasing difficulty, as follow:
- IQ I and IQ II (Introduction to Quarry I & II): The intro level is designed to acquaint the dog with going to ground (following a scent trail) and working a rat (an active cue to indicate the rat has been found). The IQ I and II levels feature a ten foot tunnel with a single right angle turn. The rat is at the end of the tunnel (in a cage for protection) and the dog is expected to find and work the rat. At this level, the handler is allowed to encourage the dog’s effort, and the judges might even help by rattling the rat’s cage or make noises to encourage the dog’s instincts. The introductory level is noncompetitive.
- Junior Earthdog (JE): Junior earthdog is the first level of AKC competition that offers a title. At this level, the tunnel is 30 feet long and includes three right angle turns. The competing dogs have 30 second to traverse the tunnel and reach the quarry, then must work the rat for 60 seconds and allow the handler to remove the dog when the time is up. To earn a JE title, the dog must qualify twice under two different judges.
- Senior Earthdog (SE): The Senior Earthdog level is significantly more complicated. The dog must first follow a 20 foot scent line (above ground) to the tunnel entrance, then traverse a 30 foot tunnel with three 90 degree turns to reach the rats. There is also usually a decoy, dead end tunnel that contains a rat nest, and the dog must not be fooled or distracted by this on his or her hunt. Once the rats are found, the dog must work the rats for 90 seconds. Once that 90 seconds are up, the rats will be removed, the handler will recall the dog, and he or she has 90 seconds to return to the handler.
- Master Earthing (ME): The top AKC title for Earthdogs is the Master Earthdog. The most complicated trial includes working together with a second dog to find the tunnel entrance from a distance of 100 to 300 yards. The tunnel is designed with obstacles intended to simulate roots and other contrictions, and the dog must find the quarry and work the rats for 90 seconds. Additional distractions include a false tunnel entrance, a false den, and a judge scraping or digging alongside the tunnel. Once the working portion of the trial is complete, the handler has 15 seconds to remove the dog from the tunnel. A portion of the scoring at the Master level is on how well the dog honors the other dog. That is, while one dog is completing his work in the tunnel, the second dog is expected to wait quietly and patiently outside the tunnel. Four qualifying scores are required to achieve the AKC’s Master Earthdog title.
The American Working Terriers Association has been testing earthdog skills longer than the AKC with the intention of promoting and testing the working abilities of terriers and dachsunds. The AWTA awards Certificates of Gameness to terriers and dachsunds who achieve a score of 100% in the Open class.
The Open class trial requires the dog to be released near the 30 foot tunnel opening. The dog has 30 seconds to find his or her way in and reach the protected quarry, then must work the quarry for a full 60 seconds.