A Very Brief History of Earthdogs
I say very brief because
this is a most interesting topic and would qualify as a newsletter article
Over two hundred years ago, terriers and dachshunds were bred to hunt
vermin in their native lands. They were commonly used to bolt fox, otter,
weasel, and badger from their dens in the earth, the rocks, and the rock
cairns. The dachshund was widely used in Germany on badger; the name means
"badger hound." Although their histories are long, varied, and
quite colorful, I will not address the "evolution" of the dachshund
and various terrier breeds.
In the mid-1800s, most terrier breed standards were originally established
at the first British dog show in Newcastle, England, These descriptions
or standards were developed by dedicated hunters/terriermen. They were
somewhat specific by defining the working roles and characteristics of
each particular breed. When these "recognized" terriers and
the dachshund breeds were brought to to the United States, it was primarily
for the sport of showing, with little attention given to the dogs’
working abilities. Thus, for many years, working terriers and dachshunds
were not used or tested as they had been in their country of origin. Instead
they became common sights in the show ring.
Working Terrier/Dachshund Clubs
Terrier clubs in the United States began appearing in the early 1900s
with the American Sealyham Terrier Club sponsoring its first group hunts
in 1913. A working certificate was awarded to any Sealyham that completed
the requirements of the hunt. These hunts did not involve use of artificial
earths or dens.
In 1935, the United States Dachshund Field Trial Club made an effort to
provide controlled training for their breed. The system they used was
patterned after the artificial den trials once held in Germany. It was
a complicated set of tunnels, about fifty yards in length. A fox ran freely
within the tunnels and a dog would be released to locate and interact
with the fox. This system (preparing the dens, locating a “friendly”
fox, training of the dogs and the fox, and conducting the trials) was
so labor intensive that it was discontinued shortly after it began.
In 1971, Patricia Lent, with a little help from several New Yorkers, organized
the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA). The first artificial
trial was held in Geneses, New York on June 5, 1971. A Certificate of
Gameness (CG) was awarded for any qualified working terrier or dachshund
that successfully completed the Open Class (traversed a thirty-foot tunnel
with three ninety-degree angles and worked the quarry, which were rats).
Rules specified a time limit for both approaching and working the quarry.
The AWTA also offered a Working Certificate (WC) for qualifying work below
ground in natural earth and a Hunting Certificate (HC) for qualifying
work above ground.
In 1976, the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America den trials began. They
adopted the AWTA’s rules for den preparation and testing. Later
their dens and rules were customized to fit the specialized instincts
and abilities of the Jack Russell Terrier.
In 1994, the American Kennel Club (AKC) established the Earthdog performance
event for specified terrier breeds and dachshunds. This was a big breakthrough
for AKC terrier and dachshund owners who had long lobbied for some form
of testing and titled recognition of their dogs’ natural instincts.
It is important to note that the performance clubs mentioned above do
not include every club formed prior to 1994. Those mentioned were significant
in that they pioneered some trends that led to the tests or trials as
we know them today, the AWTA being the greatest influence on the current
AKC testing system.
When to Start:
Some people believe a dog must begin as a puppy to become a good earthdog.
This is not so. Even an older dog, whose instincts have never been challenged
but lie beneath the surface waiting for that special moment to arrive,
may prove to be the finest working terrier or dachshund in the kennel.
Therefore, the time to start is as soon as you get the first opportunity
to introduce your dog or puppy to the activity. The success of the dog
depends almost entirely upon his instincts; it is up to you to offer your
dog the challenges and opportunities to awaken his natural instincts and
start him (and you) on a road to many hours of fun and enjoyment.
Earthdogs are very intelligent and become bored with any rote process.
When it becomes dull, the risk arises that the dog may completely lose
interest. Spending too much time working a dog with the caged rat or through
an artificial earth or den can be the kiss of death to what might otherwise
be a promising earthdog “career.”
Rat Cage Training:
The word “dog” is used to refer to both dogs and puppies.
When there are exceptions, they are qualified..
Start the dog by getting him used to a rat in a cage. Place a laboratory
rat (available at many pet stores) into a wire cage, whose size should
be approximately 8” X 8” X 6”. Place the cage containing
the rat on the ground. The dog should be on a long leash. He may show
interest without any encouragement, but if he’s never seen a rat
or mouse, he may ignore it or pay little attention. If necessary, tap
on the cage or jiggle it to arouse his interest. Do not talk to him constantly;
simply use your chosen command, “Get the rats” (or whatever
you might prefer), and let him investigate. If your dog appears timid
or very cautious, allow him time to check out the cage without any interference.
He may, after surveying the situation on his own for a time, slowly begin
to work as his instincts surface. Don’t overwhelm him with your
excitement at any time during his training. If and when he begins to work,
try to curtail your praise, but continue to repeat the chosen command.
Once the dog shows interest in the quarry, attempt to increase his attention
span. Increased movement by shifting of the cage may do this, moving the
cage behind you and, finally, when he’s showing some aggression
towards the rat, bring the cage towards him. Be careful not to use too
much force in directing the cage at him, since this could frighten him.
Take it slowly and carefully watch his reaction. This maneuver, when performed
properly, will likely encourage a more aggressive interest in the prey
that will eventually result in his barking, biting, or attacking the cage.
This training is not something you should expect to accomplish in a short
period of time. NEVER push or force any of the training on your dog! Remember
to let him go at his own pace; this will give him confidence as he progresses.
I suggest you not try all of the above in one day with a puppy. These
exercises should be attempted over a period of time with any dog; otherwise,
he may be overwhelmed and it may set him back rather than move him forward.
An adult dog, depending on the strength of his instincts, may easily accomplish
the cage training in one or two sessions. However, if he needs more time,
do not push him.
It is good to have a partner working with you from here on. At this point
in training, you will be taking steps to get your dog to show more aggressiveness
towards the rats by performing those acts of “work” (barking,
scratching, digging, biting, etc.) that he must demonstrate in order to
pass an actual test. Keep the dog on a leash and have your working partner
maintain the dog’s interest in the caged rat.
is showing intense interest towards the rat, introduce a “chase”
as part of the training. To do this, take the rat from the original cage
(out of sight of the dog); place him in a second cage, and use the original
cage with a furry scented toy inside. Tie a light line to the cage and
have your partner drag it along the ground. Encourage the dog to chase
and catch it. Once he does this and begins to bite and pounce on it, restrict
his contact with the cage by holding the base of his tail (on a terrier)
or his chest (in the case of a dachshund). Praise him gently, but never
let him quite get to it. This frustration should cause him to start barking,
which is what you’re striving for. When he does bark, praise him
again. Then practice with him once more to make sure he has the idea.
When he has reached this level, you will have prepared your dog for “working
the quarry” once he arrives through the tunnel at the rats’
In cage training, use the word “rat” (or another chosen word)
repeatedly, so that the dog connects this word to the function.
eight-week-old StoneMark puppy,
"Little John," exiting the backyard tunnel (1999)
Basic Tunnel Training:
You may observe throughout the training different responses from pups
as opposed to mature dogs. Pups tend to be more tentative and less aggressive,
while, most of the time, mature dogs will display interest as long as
the quarry is present.
For basic training equipment, start with a straight piece of PVC pipe,
cardboard rolls (obtained, usually free of charge, from carpet stores,
hardware stores or any type of business that carries large products delivered
to them in rolls). Any kind of tube that allows the dog to move through
without constriction will serve the purpose. Place this on level ground
and try different things to entice the dog through the tunnel or den.
Use the rat cage at one end while you or your partner enters the dog from
the opposite end. Tap the tunnel and use the same phrase you have been
using when working with the caged rat, e.g., “. . . get the rats.”
If he does not come through on his own, tie some twine to the cage and
take it through the tunnel so that it rests at his end (just inside the
entrance). Have your partner pull the cage through and the pup should
follow. Do not become discouraged, and don’t EVER force your dog
into the tunnel. This is a sure-fire way to cause him to lose interest
and balk at any effort to get him to enter. When the dog does go through
and gets to the rats, praise him softly. Continue to slowly pull the cage
out from the tunnel while he is working. Repeat this exercise several
times but not to the point of tedium for the dog.
Once he is confidently moving through the single piece of tunnel (not
necessarily on the same day), place an elbow (available at any store that
sells plumbing supplies) on the straight pipe or roll, and add a second
length of pipe. This will introduce him to a ninety-degree angle. Repeat
the same process you used in the straight den (without dragging the rat
cage through). If he balks or refuses to make the turn, place the rat
cage at the juncture (so he can see it) and drag it through from there.
After he has mastered this, introduce him to the below ground tunnel.
Your dog should always be started in a ten-foot tunnel with one ninety-degree
turn. The tunnel should be identical to the regulation tunnel used in
the Introduction to Quarry class at AKC Earthdog Tests. Wooden bars should
be installed at the end of the tunnel. Scent the ground (with a "tea"
distilled from rat cage shavings) all the way through the ten feet of
tunnel. Carefully attempt to enter him, with your partner acting as “judge”
and holding the rat cage at the end of the tunnel. Be very patient, without
forcing; because going down into an underground tunnel is a very different
experience from entering an above-ground one, and it can be intimidating
to some dogs. If none of your coaxing persuades him to enter, try the
same tactics you used in the above ground training. When he goes through
and works actively for twenty to thirty seconds, remove him and immediately
take him back to the entrance. Repeat the process two or three more times
to reinforce it. By this time, he should be ready for his first official
AKC Earthdog Test.
There are several things you may do to keep him interested. Get together
with friends (at the home of someone with buried tunnels) and have a fun
day. This is a great way to get in some informal practice and give your
dog training in a simulated test environment.
Then look for the next AKC Earthdog test in your area. At his first official
test, and perhaps at subsequent ones, enter your dog in the Introduction
to Quarry class. When he can complete this class with confidence, he may
move up to the Junior Earthdog (JE) class and begin to compete for his
first official AKC Earthdog title. It is important that you do not advance
him to the JE class until he has shown enough confidence and aggression
toward the quarry to move to that higher level of testing.
An excellent book on anything and everything to do with earthdogs is Earthdog
Ins and Outs, and it is included below in my bibliography. This is
by far the best book on this subject on the market today. More information
is available about the book at www.earthdog.info.
I believe it has enough good information to answer most questions or address
any interest you may have concerning this sport.
Frier-Murza, JoAnn, Earthdog Ins and Outs, OTR Publications,
Lent, Patricia Adams, Sport with Terriers, Arner Publications,
Plummer, Brian D., The Complete Jack Russell Terrier, Howell
Book House, The Boydell Press, 1980.
Copyright Joyce y. Moore 2003