Working Conformation

When analyzing a likely prospect for earthwork, certain features are of critical importance. First is size. If it can’t get down the hole, it can’t get the fox or woodchuck. The average diameter of a fox burrow is six inches. The ideal height of a Lakeland male is 14.5 inches. How you fit a dog that tall into an opening that small is the key to breed type.

The good news is that selecting for working ability keeps the breed honest and true to its heritage. If you study the original breed standard in the country of origin you will find that the ideal size is given, plus a recommendation that if they vary, variation on the small side is preferable to variation on the large side. A population of working Lakelands won’t end up as a tribe of midgets, because the foxes will take any dogs out of the gene pool that are not up to sufficient size. Breeders of today — and judges! — need only keep an eye on the ideal, and remember that an individual an inch too tall is farther removed from the ideal than an individual an inch too small. Height is not the only consideration; historically the terrain required dogs that were sufficiently high up on leg to be able to leap to ledges in the rocks. Not at all uncommon in my kennel is the sight of a Lakeland that has leaped flat-footed to the top of a five-foot stockade fence to stand on the 2×4 lining the top. Better breeze? View of the neighborhood? Because she can? Exasperating, sure, but a validation of correct conformation.

Proper height and leg length still won’t guarantee that 14.5 inch dog admission to that six-inch burrow. Two words: SHOULDER ASSEMBLY. A properly made shoulder on the correctly shaped rib cage is required. Prey drive and some trial and error learning enter into the equation, but terriermen look first and foremost at the ability to “span” the chest behind the withers and assess the flexibility of the shoulder assembly. All the hunting desire in the world won’t help a terrier too bulky to squirm into a burrow. The Lakeland needs flat muscle, not bulky. Think marathon runner as opposed to linebacker. The ribcage must be oval, not round. The unique long-legged terrier breed front is essential for the terrier to advance its body in tight quarters.

The shoulder blade should be properly laid back, 30 degrees behind an imaginary line perpendicular to the ground and passing through the point of the shoulder, similar to any other athletic breed. The upper arm is the specialized portion of the shoulder assembly. According to the late Dr. Quentin LaHam, noted canine anatomist, the terrier front owes its shape to the fact that the upper arm is curved inward toward the midline. This structure brings the front legs closer together, resulting in the narrower front desired on a long-legged terrier. A slightly more open angle between shoulder blade and upper arm (humerus) leads to the “fishhook” appearance of the long-legged terrier breed front, so that compared to a sporting breed or hound, the prosternum of a long-legged terrier is barely forward of the point of the shoulder. Because the humerus is not really shorter than on other types of dogs, only curved inward toward the midline, a properly built long-legged terrier is capable of as much reach in front as any other breed, that is, at a cadenced and balanced extended trot the front paw strikes the ground below the dog’s nose. Terrier front is not synonymous with short-strided.

Okay, now that we have the dog in the hole, is it physically capable of subduing or holding quarry? It is if it has the correct headpiece – a backskull that is square (width same as distance from stop to occiput) and a well-filled foreface. The teeth of a correct Lakeland are comparable in size to a Doberman bitch. If the jaws are proper, the nose will be noticeably large. Many of today’s show dogs are lacking this fill and big nose, which is as essential to breed type as any trait you could name, and an absolute necessity for a working earthdog.

Genetically, the headpiece and shoulders are really easy to lose. Keeping the breed doing the work it was meant for ensures that the breeder’s eye will stay focused on the ideal, not on the ribbon or the point standings.

Character As Well As Form Follows Function

Ever since I was a small child I have felt a thrill when watching a dog do the work it was bred to do. There is just something so right about it. It is a privilege to witness dogs using scent, knowing that their olfactory sense is so highly developed compared to ours. Their ability to process information and make judgments about searching likely places is a marvel. Surely these traits impressed early humans and influenced the development of a relationship between canines and people. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the respect for the prowess of the earth terrier. Sure, there is a

thrill in a great retrieve, or a lofty point, or a hound’s music on the air. A terrier at work, though, is like Canine Special Forces– wholly focused on the mission, a team player but capable of acting alone with extraordinary courage and skill without any direction from superiors; if necessary, making up strategy as circumstances dictate. Who wouldn’t admire such a character! Every facet of proper Lakeland character relates to the job they were originally bred for, even some traits that seem far removed from deadly combat.

Courage. A Lakeland must possess courage to go up to the game and engage it, either killing it or holding it in place with its voice and physical presence until the hunters can dig down to it. Courageous does not mean foolhardy, and an overly “hard” Lakeland would not survive to pass its genes forward to subsequent generations. In the absence of the selective force of formidable quarry, many terriers that lack suitable restraint remain in the gene pools, sad to say.

Tenacity. There are documented instances of Lakelands trapped underground for days, still holding their quarry at bay. This is one trait that seems undiluted in modern stock, even though it may now be re-directed toward a garden hose spray or wiggly-giggly ball in the absence of foxes in the garden.

Endurance. The Lake District terrain and climate are unforgiving. It has been said that the trip home from the hunt determines which terriers have what it takes. No riding in saddle bags for this breed.

Problem-Solving Ability. When faced with a situation where the quarry is not directly accessible, the terrier working the fells and rocky crevasses of the Lake District was required, for instance, to figure out how to reach an underground ledge, or negotiate a narrow opening.

Scenting Ability. Given the harsh climate and the many hiding places for the fox, superior olfactory powers were necessary for the Lakeland to avoid wasting time in unproductive hunting.

Optimism. Hardly any character trait could be more important to the Lakeland than to be totally certain that life is good. It doesn’t see the glass as Half Full or Half Empty; it is trying to figure out a way of tipping the glass over to see how big a splash it can make! A Lakeland’s “What’s new?” attitude keeps it trying out new behaviors to see which ones are rewarding, and often it must try numerous similar behaviors, each of which have negative consequences (read that: injury) before hitting upon the technique that will allow it to subdue the quarry. The traditional fox may, through lack of access, become symbolically represented in the dog’s mind by a gate or door or toy.

Adrenaline Addiction. For a terrier to develop combat skills it must be willing to perform acts that reward and punish at the same time. Its prey drive must be stronger than its avoidance of pain. In short, it must be what is known as an adrenaline junkie.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality. Earth terriers must have some of the genes that contribute to obsessive-compulsive disorder or they would never get their job done. If there is a root in the way when digging to quarry, the terrier must stay there and dig as long as it takes to get past the obstruction. No sane dog would work at an obstacle for hours! Too many of those OCD genes or inappropriate reinforcement during development (or both) and you have a dog with behavior problems, not The Great Hunter.

Friendliness. A Lakeland of correct character is amiable toward people AND OTHER DOGS. It should defend itself if attacked, but must not be quarrelsome. Going up into the hills to reduce the fox population was serious business to the Lake District farmers. Their sheep were their income. They would band together, each bringing his terriers. No way would a dog-aggressive terrier be allowed to disrupt the hunt.

Truly form follows function in character as well as structure. It isn’t difficult to use selection to create a wild, aggressive show terrier that looks like a million bucks challenging another dog in the ring. Nor is it difficult by selection to create a population of calmer, placid individuals who are not at risk of developing behavior problems when raised in pet homes by inexperienced owners. But when you travel down one of these two roads, you have seen your last Lakeland Terrier.

Earthdog Tests – — Fun in the Sun … and Mud

The American Working Terrier Association was formed in 1971 to provide a gateway for Terrier and Dachshund fanciers to enter the world of work with their dogs. Trials in artificially constructed earths to earn Certificates of Gameness are offered, as well as the coveted Working Certificate, earned on wild quarry in a natural earth. Working with advisors from this group, AKC developed its Earthdog program several decades later. One of the finest aspects of the AKC Earthdog Test is that they are non-competitive. Dogs are judged against a standard of performance, not against each other. The different breeds tend to work differently, with different hunting patterns and speed. In Earthdog Tests there are qualifiers and non-qualifiers, not winners and losers. As a consequence, the atmosphere at ED tests is very different from conformation or obedience; your win doesn’t take anything away from anyone else, and you don’t have to keep your clothes clean! ED events are humane, too. The “quarry” consists of two laboratory rats in a cage. They are always separated from the dogs by dual barriers. Having judged a lot of these events over a period of 30 years, I can truly say that the rats pretty much ignore the dogs’ sometimes frantic efforts to destroy the barriers. The rats sit there grooming themselves, apparently unconcerned about the nutty dogs barking and biting at the wooden bars in front of their cage.

The Introduction of Quarry Class is offered for terriers and Dachshunds 6 months of age or older that are inexperienced. The area is customarily fenced, the artificial earth is short (10 feet with only one turn) and mild encouragement by the handler is allowed. No titles are won from this class, but a qualifying ribbon can be earned if the dog scores 100% on the test, entering the den and working up to the quarry within 2 minutes and working the quarry continuously for 30 seconds. “Work” may be biting the bars, whining, barking, digging, or lunging at the quarry. The dog is allowed to change from one type of work to another.

The regular classes are Junior, Senior, and Master. At each level different aptitudes and skills are being assessed. A terrier or Dachshund that has earned titles through the Master level has demonstrated many of the traits necessary for success as a working earth dog. There are three notable exceptions which may someday be incorporated into the Earthdog program as they are in European tests. Those three are size, courage and endurance. The artificial earths used for ED tests are enormous compared to actual wild animal burrows. To in some way mimic the natural setting there is a 45 degree sloped entrance used in Senior, and a constriction and artificial root used in Master. The quarry is standardized so the tests are the same everywhere in the country that an ED test is held.

Because of laws governing the keeping of game species in many states it is not possible to mandate a Courage Test, such as baying or working at the cage of a formidable quarry such as fox or badger or raccoon because the test could not be held in every state.

The third trait, endurance, is not measured, only inferred from performance in the Master Test. It is not feasible to secure enough land or use enough time to measure a dog’s endurance in the hunt field. The “walk up” in the Master Test is only 100-300 yards and it is left to the judge to infer from the dog’s hunting pattern and intensity whether or not the dog would continue hunting for hours.

Junior Earthdog is the lowest level of regular class. Dogs earning qualifying scores at two tests under different judges are awarded the JE title. JE is strictly an instinct test and requires no input from the handler. A command may be given at the time of release, but the handler must remain quietly at the release point until the test is concluded. The Junior den is the standard 9 inch square tunnel, totally buried, 30 feet in length with two 90 degree turns. The judge has a viewing hole at the quarry end of the tunnel and there is a trap door for removing the dog at the end of the test. A qualifying score requires the dog to work up to the quarry within 30 seconds of release from 10 feet back from the entrance. The dog must either follow the scent line that has been laid or know that he is expected to negotiate a tunnel when released; there is no time allowed for leisurely investigation as in IQ. Once the quarry end of the tunnel is reached the Junior dog must begin work within 30 seconds, remain within one foot of the quarry, and work without break for a full minute. Once the test is completed the handler removes the dog from the trapdoor.

Senior Earthdog is more than an instinct test. In addition to more complexity in den design – an entrance more like a natural earth with a steep entry that is not readily visible from the release point, unscented false entrance, and an empty false den with rat bedding but no rats – the Senior dog must be recalled from the den after the rat cage has been removed. The dog has 90 seconds to reach the quarry, must work it for 90 seconds, and then must be recalled within 90 seconds. This test is the most fun for spectators. Recall must be from the main entrance. All too often the handler has his or her head in the entrance, posterior raised skyward, and the dog pops up out of the false entrance and is running around behind them. Only voice or whistle may be used for the recall, no toys or squeakers, but verbal promises or threats are colorful and varied. … “Mommy will give you a cookieeee!” … “Come! Now! Or you’re dead meat!”

Three qualifying scores under two different judges are necessary for the SE title.

Master Earthdog (ME) is the capstone title. The traits measured in the lower two levels are to pursue quarry to ground, hold the quarry, alert the hunter where to dig or bolt the quarry, demonstrate willingness to enter a scented tunnel and proceed through darkness, desire to work strongly and persistently, to negotiate a steeply sloping tunnel, to use the nose to identify if the quarry is present or absent, and willingness to cooperate with the handler. The Master Test adds even more.

Master dogs must show intelligent use of scent and hinting pattern through field and woods. They must tolerate and cooperate with a brace mate selected by random drawing. They must be under the control of the handler and willingly investigate an empty den when directed to do so. They must negotiate underground obstacles, a simulated root and a narrowing of the tunnel to 6 inches wide. They must honor a bracemate’s work by remaining quiet while the bracemate is working.

What a thrill to walk behind a pair of terriers that have never met and see them with their heads in the same hole trying together to get the quarry. THAT is proper terrier temperament. Even without all the other benefits to the breeds, and the fun to be had, the entire Earthdog program would be worth it just to get across the point that correct terrier temperament in Lakelands or any other of the earth terriers is NOT an animal snapping, snarling and lunging at the end of a lead in the show ring!

The Master title is earned with four qualifying scores under three different judges. More Lakeland owners are turning up at the Earthdog Tests every year as they realize that their beloved breed is one of the terrier breeds closest to its heritage and the dogs love doing what comes naturally.

Endurance Earthdog (added June 2013)

While the MASTER EARTHDOG title is the capstone of the AKC Earthdog Tests many owners wanted to continue competing after their dogs earned their title. Earthdogs adore attending these tests; who can resist the pleading look on that little fuzzy face? So just for fun an additional title was created and dubbed ENDURANCE EARTHDOG. There are a couple of tricky objectives in the SENIOR and MASTER tests that often trip dogs up. So it was decided that a MASTER titled dog could continue to compete and for every “double-Q” (a qualifying score in both SENIOR and MASTER at the same trial) a dog could earn a leg toward another title. Five double-Q’s make the dog eligible for an additional title, EE. It would be more accurately called “Consistent Earthdog.” In an actual field situation a hunting terrier would hunt and sometimes work underground for hours, not minutes. But the EE title is deservedly popular because it keeps owners coming out to get their dogs into the field.

At some of the venues, informal hunts are held if there are vermin that the farmers need controlled, and these provide an opportunity for terrier owners to learn about actual hunting by watching experienced dogs.

— Pat Rock