What are Earthdog Tests?

By Ruthie Bently

The most cited definition of an earth dog is “a dog that will dig in the earth, or enter holes of foxes, etc.” Earth dogs were originally used for hunting food for the table or vermin, and were bred to track badger, otter, weasels and other quarry to their den. At an Earthdog Test or Den Trial, a dog is competing against themselves and their own natural ability to hunt when confronted by an underground hunting location.

Earthdog is a newer sport based on an old practice. There are several dog breeds that have been used for many years for this purpose. It is now a recognized competition by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA). Called both “Earthdog Tests” and “Earthdog Den Trials,” their purpose is the same – to test your dog’s natural instinct and trained ability to work and hunt a quarry after they have “gone to ground.”

The CKC allows eligible dogs to be born both inside and outside Canada, as long as they meet required criteria. The CKC recognizes a Certificate of Gameness earned at an AWTA event and it can be recorded on a dog’s CKC pedigree.

The American Working Terrier Association, founded in 1971, believes that terriers and dachshunds should have the ability to be working dogs and used for their original purpose. Their goal is to encourage breeders to retain certain terrier instincts that each recognized breed is known for. A dog can earn a “Certificate of Gameness” if they score 100% in an open class.

To compete at an American Kennel Club Earthdog Test, a dog must be at least six months old, registered with the AKC, or be a purebred assigned an ILP (Indefinite Listing Privilege) number. A dog entered in an AKC Earthdog Test may be spayed or neutered. While the AKC, AWTA and CKC recognize several breeds eligible to compete in Earthdog Tests, each organization’s rules and regulations are different. You should check with each organization to determine your dog’s eligibility.  

A dog’s performance is timed from when they are released by their handler, and once the dog reaches the quarry they must stay there for a pre-set time. A dog’s time and their performance are rated by a panel of judges, who then award the dog a score.

Earthdog Tests are based on pre-determined criteria, and each certification contains more extensive testing. The AKC has five certifications a dog can earn in Earthdog. They are: Introduction to Quarry, Junior Earthdog, Senior Earthdog and Master Earthdog. The definitions for these certifications and certificates for the CKC and the AWTA are available on their websites.

Each dog is rated on how long it takes them to follow a scent line and find the opening of the tunnel, and how long it takes to make their way into and traverse the tunnel and reach the quarry. A dog must be able to follow the quarry’s scent down a man-made underground tunnel, and must “work” the quarry. Working the quarry can include digging, scratching, pawing, barking and staring. The encounter is controlled and the protected live quarry is not harmed.

Does your dog love to dig holes in your yard for fun and exercise? If you’d like to help them burn off some of that extra energy, you may want to attend an Earthdog Test to see if it’s a sport you would like to compete in with your dog.

Photo by Tup Wanders

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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