Earthdog Action with Borders
By Jo Ann Frier-Murza
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
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 www.awta.org 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.