More Fun in the Dirt
Remember being a child and playing in the dirt. What fun you had! How would you like to replay those happy hours once again? Well, you CAN. All you need is a small to medium-sized terrier or Dachshund and the desire to prove your dog can do what they were bred to do. Of course you know that Terriers and Dachshunds were all bred to rid the land of pestilence and rodents! They were, in effect, the crowning blow to the Dark Ages. Now all you need is to find an Earthdog test.
(click on photo's to enlarge)
US Earthdog tests were developed in the early ‘70’s by the American Working Terrier Association, based on tests held in Europe and the UK. This was to test the basic instinct of the dogs to “go to ground”. In the early ‘90’s, these tests were adopted and expanded by the AKC – giving us both venues to play. You can see the rules and regulations at http://www.dirt-dog.com/awta/index.htm and www.AKC.org – but this article is about Dandies and Earthdog!
Dandies were named in the early 1800’s, though they were known before then. Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel (Guy Mannering) about a young man seeking his fortune while traveling through the Scotland/England area. He renamed his friend, James Davidson into Dandie Dinmont and his pack of dogs that were “afeared of nuttin’”. His terriers were described so well – they still fit that description today. They were known for years as Dandie Dinmont’s Terriers, till the apostrophe “s” was dropped. They were the 2nd breed accepted into the Kennel Club and were in the 2nd wave of breeds into the American Kennel Club.
The Dandie Dinmont was bred to kill badgers, among other pests. The Dandie has very large, strong, front feet and powerful shoulders so it could dig in the rough terrain. He was sent in to kill the badger and bring it out – so he had to have powerful teeth and jaws. The head is large with a large topknot that would fill the tunnel, making them look very large while also helping to protect their head and face from bites, brambles, and whatever underground. Large eyes are indicative of the breed – probably also to give the appearance of a much larger animal. As they were expected to drag out the carcass – they had to have powerful and strong rear quarters. These feet needed to dig in for traction, so smaller than the front. The ears are large and floppy for more protection against the dirt. Also, they have a double coat for protection against the elements.
What’s an Earthdog weekend like??? Well, the weekend starts either Friday afternoon or early Saturday morning by digging trenches, laying in the tunnel forms, and then covering them. There are 4 levels in AKC while AWTA prefers the first 2 levels and then goes to natural hunting. For observers, it’s like watching submarine races! Most of the action is underground. The tunnels get progressively longer and more difficult as the dog progresses through the classes and earns titles. Intro isn’t a title class, but JE (Junior), SE (Senior) and ME (Master) are and require more intense work and hunting as the dog progresses.
As an observer – Intro is fun as you get to see dogs go in a short (10’) tunnel and discover rats. You can literally see the lights come on! Junior is more intense and less fun to really watch. The dog travels through a 30’-tunnel and “works” the rats. “Works” can mean barking, whining, digging, biting, growling, or any combination. You can frequently hear them from a distance. Master, the top level, involves the dogs being paired up with a hunting partner. In our case – it was ALWAYS another breed as the only other Dandies doing the ME levels were in Connecticut. They start out anywhere about 300’ feet or so out and hunt in. First dog to discover the tunnel site and rats gets to work first – we get to watch the honoring of the other dog. They then switch places.
But – if you want to enjoy watching Earthdog, make sure you’re there for the Senior runs. We all know that terriers and doxies are NOT usually breeds that want to come at your beck and call. This is what endears them to us – but it’s also what makes this level so difficult for the handler and dog to pass, while making it the most entertaining for us in the gallery. After the dogs have worked the quarry for 90 seconds, and are now all worked up and excited, the rats are pulled from the tunnel and hidden. The handler is then to recall their dog – and have them under control in 90 seconds. Yes – this is where the fun is for the observers. I can remember one handler telling the dog his uncle was here – the dog HATES that uncle. Another handler had her head in the tunnel entrance calling her dog, and her dog came out the false. Yes – the dog recalled, but she didn’t know it. She didn’t realize the tapping on her back was her dog – and we couldn’t tell her! I pulled my girl out of the front of the tunnel by her ear for her first leg. Her third leg was long and hard to get. I finally came up with a plan to make her think I had the rats. Tho she was smarter! I was still on my feet, she came out the false tunnel at about 86 seconds – and I slid into home plate, ate dirt, and managed to grab her tail as she flipped around and was headed back down the tunnel. We have actually had 3 dogs – a Cairn boy (Duffy), a smooth black and tan Doxie girl (Lisa), and my Dandie girl (Liberty Belle) who all passed away never finishing their Senior title. Although they were all good at getting to the rats and then working the rats, they all refused to do the recall. The Cairn probably holds the record of tries! We used to call the Doxie the “lunch break dog” – as we always ran her right before lunch and her loving owner/Dad would take his lunch out and sit tunnel side and wait for her. The Cairn delighted in us pulling up the tunnel, piece by piece, till we got to him!
Yes – come play in the dirt! It’s the most fun you can have with your terrier or Doxie. Have a larger terrier? Find out about Strongdog. It’s still in the planning stages and matches are being held around the country to firm up the rules before we apply to make it a real test with real titles. The bigger terriers were frequently asked to go to ground to bring out the dead (or make it dead first) carcass so the hunter could use the meat and pelt.
Carol R Hamilton