Earthdog trial

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West Highland White Terriers at Earthdog Trial

An earthdog test tests the working ability and instinct of the small, often short-legged terriers or Dachshunds. These dogs were bred to hunt vermin and other quarry which lived in underground dens. Earthdog den tests involve man-made underground tunnels that the dogs must navigate, 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 barking, scratching, staring, pawing, digging; any active behavior. 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.

In Canada, earthdog tests are sanctioned by the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). In the United States, two major organizations sanction earthdog tests: the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA).

AKC earthdog tests[edit]

AKC earthdog tests are intended as noncompetitive venues in which the handlers may gauge their dog’s natural hunting aptitude when presented with an underground hunting situation. According to the AKC General Regulations for Earthdog Tests, the noncompetitive program begins with a basic introduction to den work and quarry, progressing through gradual steps to the point where the dog can demonstrate that it is willing to perform the required tasks, including seeking its quarry and working it underground.


Dogs that are registered with the AKC and are six months of age or older may participate in AKC earthdog tests. They do not need to be intact, and purebred dogs that have been assigned “Indefinite Listing Privilege” (ILP) numbers, may also participate. In comparison to the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) tests, fewer breeds are permitted in AKC tests, with mixed breeds being excluded altogether. The following breeds are classified as eligible to participate in AKC Earthdog tests:


AKC earthdog tests differ from AWTA trials in that the AKC program is broken down into several more steps of increasing difficulty:

Introduction To Quarry (IQ I and IQ II) 
Dogs that have never competed at an earthdog test will need to be introduced to the quarry. Dogs have different levels of prey drive and some need more encouragement than others. The Introduction to Quarry is simply designed to acquaint a dog with "going to ground", following a scent trail and “working a rat". At this stage, the dog is asked to negotiate a 10-foot (3.0 m) tunnel with a single right-angle turn. At the end of the tunnel is a rat in a cage, which is placed behind dowel bars. The handler may talk to their dog and encourage the dog to “work” the rat. The judge may also move the rat cage about or make noises to “incite the dog's instincts".[1]
Junior Earthdog (JE) 
Junior Earthdog (JE) is the first level of competition in which a title may be earned. In JE the tunnel is 30 ft (9.1 m) long and has three right-angle turns. The dog has only 30 seconds to traverse the tunnel and reach the quarry. The dog must also work the quarry for 60 seconds and then allow the handler to remove it when the time has elapsed. To earn the JE certificate, the dog must successfully pass the JE test twice under two different judges.
Senior Earthdog (SE) 
To earn a Senior Earthdog (SE) title, the dog must receive three qualifying scores from two different judges, achieved by accomplishing the following: follow a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) scent line to a tunnel entrance that the dog cannot see from ground level; track through a pitch black 30 ft (9.1 m) tunnel containing three 90 degree turns to the rats; not be distracted by a false entrance/exit arrangement; not be distracted by a dead end tunnel that is scented with rat bedding; once at the rats, work the rats for 90 seconds (working is defined as barking, digging, scratching, biting the bars); after working the rats, and after the rats are removed from the tunnel, leave the tunnel when called by the handler and return to the handler within 90 seconds.
Master Earthdog (ME) 
Master Earthdog is the ultimate title an earthdog can obtain. To achieve this title, two dogs are drawn at random. As a brace, the dogs hunt for the tunnel entrance from a distance of 100 to 300 yd (91 to 274 m). They must actively indicate where the tunnel entrance is located. Then, one at a time, the dogs move through the tunnel passing obstacles that simulate roots and constrictions in the tunnel. The master tunnel also has a false entrance/exit and a false den. Once at the quarry, dog must work the rats for 90 seconds and not be distracted by the judge scraping or digging alongside the tunnel. The scraping is meant to approximate the hunter digging down to the spot where the dog is holding the quarry at bay. The handler has 15 seconds to remove the dog from the tunnel after their 90 seconds of work is complete. Each dog is also judged on how well they "honor". While one dog is in the tunnel working, the other dog is staked out near the tunnel. The honor dog must show interest but must not make so much noise the judge cannot hear the dog working in the tunnel. Four passes under three different judges is required for a Master Earthdog title.

AWTA earthdog den trials[edit]

The AWTA predates the AKC earthdog program and was founded to promote and test the working abilities of terriers and dachshunds.

The AWTA awards Certificates of Gameness to terriers and Dachshunds who achieve a score of 100% in the AWTA open class. To qualify in the open class, a dog must be released near the trial's 30-foot (9.1 m) earth tunnel opening, find its way into the tunnel and reach the quarry, all within 30 seconds (50% of score) and then “work” the rat continuously for a full 60 seconds (remaining 50% of score). 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 it must get to the rat within the time allotted. However, once it reaches the rat, it must remain with it for the aforementioned 60 seconds.

The following breeds are recognized (and therefore able to compete) in AWTA den trials:

Other small terrier breeds may compete in the miscellaneous class.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ AKC General Regulations for Earthdog Test
  2. ^ American Working Terrier Association

External links[edit]