You’ve read about the beginnings of Border Terriers. Hard to believe the generations of old timers still live on in your little brown bundle of joy, isn’t it? Well, believe it!! Borders are the most natural, unaltered terrier in the line-up, and their hunting instincts are keen. Underneath that unassuming exterior beats the heart of a working terrier of a century ago. Along with a new devotion to dogs in the United States has come an event made for Border Terriers; The Earthdog Test or Den Trial. These events are held all over the country and are sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the American Working Terrier Association, and various working terrier clubs. No experience is necessary and a friendly, helpful atmosphere is the name of the game. Don’t worry, your Border will quickly figure out what to do!!!!

These tests range from a simple artificial wooden tunnel, 10 feet in length and a generous 9 inches square, to fabulously complex super earths just for fun. At the end of the tunnel is the Border’s modern adversary. No longer does the Border have to risk his life head-on with a fox as his ancestors did—he can bark and carry on in complete safety facing a couple of tame laboratory rats in a secure cage. Most come to see the Earthdog trials as the highlight of their lives.

The American Kennel Club has developed a complex program of testing consisting of four classes. The Introduction to Quarry class is for beginners. Your dog can be entered in this class and, with the help of a knowledgeable judge, begin to awaken his instincts in a 10 foot long tunnel. He might get a nice ribbon and soon be ready for the next class where he can begin working toward a title. The Junior Earthdog tunnel is 30 feet long with three turns. Your dog needs to leave your arms, find the tunnel (it is obvious), and go the length. Once he finds the rats, he needs to bark, dig, bite, or otherwise actively try to get them. Being domestic rats, they will nonchalantly watch his efforts and maybe even take a nap when things are boring.

After attaining the Junior Earthdog title, your dog can graduate to the Senior Earthdog test and then to the Master Earthdog test. These advanced tests begin to test the skills a dog needs to hunt wild quarry. For Senior, he needs to find an entrance that is scented, but not easily visible, follow the tunnel correctly even with side tunnels. After working the rats, they will bolt (be removed by the judge), and your dog needs to come back to you when you call him. Later, the Master class adds a few more skills. Two dogs search for the den over a large area, starting at least 300 feet from the entrance. They take turns, one quietly honoring as the other works. The tunnel is complex and has obstacles inside. At the end of this class, you have to take your dog out. Dogs normally need some practice in these tunnels to figure out how to do the test, so some training or natural hunting is helpful.

The American Working Terrier Association has similar instinct tests, called den trials. The AKC Introduction to Quarry and Junior Earthdog tests are modeled after the AWTA tests. A terrier can earn a Certificate of Gameness at the den trials.

It is possible to go one step further–into the field with natural hunting. The American Working Terrier Association has offered natural hunting certificates since 1974 and the BTCA began issuing similar certificates in 2001. A terrier which hunts wild game underground can earn a Working Certificate. Usually the quarry is pesky woodchuck, but fox and raccoon are also suitable quarry. A Border who confronts formidable quarry in company with smaller “hole dogs” can earn a Field Game Certificate (BTCA). Dogs can earn a Hunting Certificate (AWTA) or Field Sporting Certificate (BTCA) for above ground game, including working as a vermin destroyer (rats, armadillos, mice, etc.) or flushing and retrieving birds for a hunter. Some dogs help their owners hunt squirrels and rabbits, too. You can access more information about the AWTA from their Website and about the BTCA’s hunting certificate program on this site.

Border Terriers are a versatile bunch and love anything that has to do with hunting. Give them the chance to discover their inner selves in Earthdog tests. You won’t be sorry.