A lot of canine sports are geared for stronger, larger dogs. But, “Earth Dog Trials” are made for the little guys. These trials are geared towards the short legged terriers and dachshunds. These breeds were originally bred to flush out underground vermin. Not truly a competition, these activities show a handler how adept their dog is when faced with an underground hunting scenario.
During these trials the dog is released to run through man-made tunnels to hunt for its prey, usually a rat. The rat is in a cage, protected by wooden bars at the end of the tunnel and is not harmed during the trials. The goal is for the dog to locate the prey and “work” it. “Working” means any activity such as barking, digging, staring, or pawing. The Canadian Kennel Club is the sanctioning organization in Canada. In the United States there are two organizations: the American Kennel Club and the American Working Terrier Association. The AKC has a list of eligible breeds that include most small terriers and dachshunds.
The first test of an Earth Dog is called “Introduction to Quarry.” This test is to determine the instincts of the dog for the hunt. The dog will be tested to see how willing it is to follow a scent to the entrance of the tunnel, how willing the dog is to enter the dark tunnel, and also how willing it is to work the prey. You can prepare your dog for this test by taking it to an area where there might be squirrels or rabbits and allowing the dog to follow the scents. If you see a squirrel or rabbit in the area and it goes into the bushes, encourage your dog to investigate the trail by patting the ground where the animal went. As soon as your dog gets the idea to sniff out the scent trail you can begin training your dog to enter a tunnel to continue the hunt.
Digging a tunnel is not necessary to continue the training. The easiest way to construct a replica “underground tunnel” would be to set up a maze of cardboard boxes taped together. Start simple. Once you have your tunnel constructed, add the prey at the end. If you would rather not use an actual rat, you can go to a local pet store and ask for some of the material that has been used to line a rodent cage. By soaking the material in water, you can dribble the strained liquid throughout the maze to the end. After your dog has mastered this level of trial, add more complex mazes.
By participating in these Earth Dog Trials, you will be encouraging your dog to do what he was bred and love to do. Even if you don’t qualify, your dog will have the opportunity to meet other dogs and socialize. Plus you will meet the other owners of these wonderful Earth Dogs who might be willing to share their knowledge about these breeds.