Give Earthdog Tests a Try!

If you haven’t attended an AKC Earthdog Test with your Lakeland, you may be missing an excellent opportunity to foster a partnership relationship with your dog and have a lot of fun in the process. Earthdog is a sport that pits a terrier against a set of objectives; earning qualifying scores does not require your dog to beat another dog to win. Because earthdog tests are structured this way, the atmosphere at tests is miles apart from that of conformation or even obedience or agility competitions. If your dog qualifies at ED, everyone is so happy for you! And the smile on your dog’s face as a result of just participating is priceless.

Since most of the action is underground, ED is not high on the list of spectator sports. At some venues, however, there are places where you can observe what goes on above ground.

Introduction to Quarry and Junior Earthdog tests are instinct tests and require little in the way of preparation, except it is helpful if your dog has had the experience of going into a dark tunnel.

It is fairly easy to construct a wooden tunnel-liner, such as those used in the tests, from 10-inch shelving boards (which are really only 9½ inches wide). Use screws to make a three-sided tunnel liner, then put it in the backyard and let the dogs play in it. You can even teach a command for going into the tunnel using treats or a toy tossed into it.

At the beginning of each class, the judge will give an orientation, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions. However, you should obtain a copy of the rules available at akc.org/rules and become familiar with them before your first event. Especially note the requirement to remove the dog’s collar before releasing during the test — you’d really feel badly if your dog performed beautifully and was disqualified due to handler error!

Many test-sponsoring clubs also sponsor training days a week or two before their test dates. Attending one of these sessions is very helpful but not always necessary. The lowest-level test is Introduction to Quarry. There are ribbons given for qualifying scores, but there is no title at this level. The dens throughout the tests are 9 inches by 9 inches. The Intro den is approximately 10 feet in length, with one right-angle turn (the turn may be to the left or right). The quarry, always lab rats, are caged, and they are also protected by one-inch diameter wooden dowels. The rats are usually pretty ho-hum about the dogs, seeming to know they are in no danger from the growling, barking, frenzied canine.

The Introduction to Quarry Test requires the dog to enter the den and reach the quarry, and begin work within two minutes. The dog can run around the entrance, go in and out numerous times, and even be encouraged verbally by the owner (not allowed in any of the titling tests), who is also allowed to walk to the entrance of the den. The handler must not touch the dog after the release in order to score 100 percent. A scent-line is laid from the release point 10 feet from the den entrance to the den and along its length, consisting of a water solution of some of the rat bedding, known among earthdoggers as “rat tea.”

“Work” is defined as any activity that demonstrates that the dog would dispatch the rat if he could reach it, such as barking, biting the dowels, digging, whining, growling, or lunging. The dog may change from one form of work to another at will. A dog who reaches the quarry and begins working within two minutes of entering the den and works for 30 seconds without stopping scores 100 percent.

Even if your dog doesn’t earn a ribbon, participating in an IQ test can turn the two of you on to the Earthdog experience, and afterward you may find your dog pays more attention to you in other facets of your life together. There’s not much that trumps prey drive in a terrier’s mind, and competing in Earthdog together makes it much more likely that she will choose to obey you in other situations, since you have introduced her to “the good stuff.”

— Pat Rock, AKC Gazette Breed Columnist · hollybriar@widomaker.com

© AKC Gazette, August 2014 · Lakeland Terrier Breed Column · Reprinted with permission