For as long as people have been keeping dogs as pets, there have been dog sports. Ranging from athleticism to agility and even to nose work, all of these sports seek to enhance a dog’s natural abilities and skills. Not all dogs are suited for every sport. There are many that are breed-specific. For example, huskies and larger dogs typically tend to do better in sports that require weight-pulling. Smaller dogs shouldn’t feel left out, however. For terriers and other small breeds that have a tendency to dig and follow scents, they may have a proficiency for Earthdog tests and competitions.
What is Earthdog test? The Earthdog test places your dog in an environment that’s similar to a maze. The goal is to find a rat or other quarry. By winding through tunnels and digging underground, the dog locates the quarry and is rewarded based on how quickly they find their target and how well they perform.
Not all dogs have the skills to make them pass the Earthdog test and competitions. It can be difficult, too, to know if your dog is ready for the test. Read on to find out more about the Earthdog test and how to prepare your dog for the competition.
Earthdog Tests Explained
Back before farmers had other options, terriers and other breeds of dog were used to rid their barns of rats. Even urban dwellings sometimes had terriers in order to keep rats out of their basements. By ridding their homes and barns of rats, their livestock, as well as their own health, were no longer threatened. Terriers are the primary dog used for hunting rats. Their smaller stature allows them to creep through tunnels or rat dens in order to scare the rats away from the area.
Those dogs that served this purpose are largely known as Earthdogs. They dig into the ground when they smell something down there. Sometimes it’s a rat, but other times it might be a squirrel or groundhog. Their sense of smell was strong and trained to key in on these invasive rodents.
While rats do remain a problem for some people, by and large, Earthdogs are no longer quite so used for this sole purpose. However, a sport was invented to test terrier and Dachshund abilities to determine how proficient their natural instincts were. This became known as the Earthdog test. It’s restricted to a few breeds, so not every dog can try their hand at the Earthdog test.
What Breeds Are Allowed
Historically, the Earthdog test is reserved for Earthdogs. This is because the Earthdogs are the breed that essentially made the sport. They’re the ones who are most naturally proficient for this form of nose work. The American Kennel Club recognizes and accepts the following breeds into Earthdog test competitions:
American Hairless Terrier, Bedlington Terrier, Australian Terrier, Cesky Terrier, Border Terrier, Dachshund, Cairn Terrier, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Lakeland Terrier, Jagdterrier, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Pinschers, Miniature Bull Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Norwich Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Russell Terrier, Rat Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Silky Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, Skye Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Welsh Terrier, Wire Fox Terrier, and the Yorkshire Terrier.
Furthermore, dogs who are spayed and neutered can participate in the competition. Those who are monorchid or cryptorchid can also participate. However, dogs are who are in heat cannot participate and neither can dogs who are deaf or blind.
Clearly, if you have a terrier, then you’re likely going to do well in the competition provided you start training your dog.
Getting Started with Earthdog
A good way to introduce your dog to the Earthdog test is to determine whether they have an interest in nose work. If you don’t want rats on your property, then you can always go to your local pet shop. Acquire used bedding from their rats and make a trail in the backyard. Let loose your dog and see if they take an interest in the scent. If they do, then you have the beginnings of an Earthdog champion on your hands.
You should continue to use the bedding (or real rats) to create scent trails for them to follow. Begin by placing it simply on the ground. This allows the dog to hone their skills of following a scent. You can make it gradually more difficult by placing some space between the piles of bedding to teach them to follow their nose over longer distances.
Once they’ve become proficient with that, you can go onto the next step. The next biggest challenge that they’ll face is going underground. You can help your dog become used to dark and small spaces by creating Earthdog tunnels for them to train through. This tunnel can be constructed out of wood or even just cardboard boxes. The scent trail should be placed through the tunnel, so they can follow it to its source.
Each time the dog finds the source, they should be rewarded well. However, it’s also important that you train your dog not to damage the source if possible. During Earthdog tests, a caged rat is usually used as the source of the scent. Your dog should be made comfortable around rats. Otherwise, they might be too nervous or excited to do their job properly.
Are There Earthdog Competitions?
There are Earthdog competitions held throughout the country and typically run by the American Kennel Club. There are four different tests to complete. All dogs begin with the Introduction to Quarry test. This is a simple test to determine whether or not your dog has the basic instincts and skills to locate a scent and follow it. The test involves a 10-foot tunnel. The dog has to pass through the tunnel, make a right-angle turn, and then locate a group of rats which are kept behind some bars. Your dog passes the test by locating the rats.
After this introductory test, the real competition tests begin. The first is known as the Junior Earthdog Test. This is the first level in which your dog can win a title. In this test, a 30-foot den is used. Dogs have 30 seconds to find the rats, then a minute to move the rats to the other side of the tunnel. This must be completed twice to win the title.
The next title to win is the Senior Earthdog title. Dogs must travel through a 30-foot den that has many turns and a few misleading offshoots. They must find the rats in 90 seconds, and then they have to start working the rats towards the end of the tunnel within 15 seconds of finding them. The rats must be worked for 90 seconds. This test must be completed three times.
Finally, they can try for the Master Earthdog title. This test is the most difficult. First, the dog has to locate the den or tunnel. This is an area that is anywhere from 100 to 300 yards. They also must investigate an unscented tunnel. Once the actual den is found, the dog must mark it. The same time restrictions from the Senior test is used.
What is nose work?
Nose work describes an event or activity in which a dog utilizes their sense of smell to locate a target. There are many different variations of nose work. Each has its own rules and expectations. Many Earthdog tests fall under the category of nose work. A dog has to follow a scent or locate a scent to its target for points or placing in the competition.
We talk all about nose work in this article.
What is the best age for a dog to start with Earthdog?
The American Kennel Club requires that dogs are at least six months old before they can be entered into Earthdog test competitions. Training, however, depends roughly on when the dog’s sense of smell has matured. This may take nine months or even a full year. You might consider introducing scent games to your dog at six months old to see if they’re interested.