Earth Dogs (or Earthdog) are competitive trials that grade and rank the working ability and instinct of small (often short-legged) terriers or Dachshunds. Historically these dogs were bred to hunt vermin, such as rodents and other animals that burrow and live in underground dens, such as rabbits.
Earthdog den trials involve man-made underground tunnels that the dogs must negotiate, while scenting a rat, "the quarry." The dog must follow the scent to the quarry and then "work" the quarry. Depending on the sanctioning organization, "working" means an active behavior such as barking, scratching, staring, pawing, or digging.
The quarry is protected at all times by wooden bars across the end of the tunnel. The hunting encounter is controlled, and neither the dog nor the quarry (usually two rats) are endangered by the activity.
An earthdog trial is timed. The earth dog is judged on the speed and aptitude in which a dog navigates the tunnels, locates the prey and then "works" the rat (which must be done continuously for a length of time).
Timing starts from the moment the dog is released by the handler. The dog may enter the tunnel and come out or walk around the tunnel, but he/she must get to the rat within the time allotted. However, once the dog reaches the rat, the dog must remain with it and "work it" for at least 60 seconds.
In Canada, earthdog trials are sanctioned by the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). In the United States, two major organizations sanction earthdog trials: the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA). There are other groups worldwide that have sanctioned events.
There are also non-competitive venues where dog handlers can test their dog's natural hunting aptitude and learn the sport. Usually a dog has to be six months of age or older. In AKC Earthdog tests, there are only certain terrier breeds who are eligible to participate.
The AWTA predates the AKC program, and was founded to promote and test the working abilities of terriers and dachshunds. In AWTA den trials there are certain breeds of terriers who are eligible to participate (some differ from the AKC). There is also a miscellaneous class in which smaller breeds may compete.
As a dog advances in the earthdog tests, the levels get more challenging and the dog advances in skill and prestige.
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