Earth Dogs are Having Too Much Fun!

Earth Dogs are Having Too Much Fun!

By: Patti Webb  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

Dogs having fun with their human buddies? It's an automatic red flag to animal rights groups that means there must be something to complain about. This time it is the American Kennel Club earth dog trials, sometimes called "go to ground" events, that prove the dog's inherent ability to track rodents and also create a lot of fun.

Although in evidence since 55 BC, little is known about the sport by those not directly involved, so it's easy fodder for rumor mills and conjecture. There are strict rules to protect the safety of the animals involved, nothing is killed or maimed, there's no blood, just a demonstration of the instinct-driven behavior that tenacious terriers and pint-sized hounds have maintained for hundreds of years.

Recently, animal rights demonstrators have attended these sporting events in their quest to prevent any kind of interaction between animals and people. They have demanded that the live rats be replaced with mechanical replicas, inflaming the general public with claims and accusations that alrm the misinformed, attract publicity, and create a fund raising platform.


Earth dog events

In reality, these strictly controlled events simply revolve around the age-old instincts of some breeds to chase and captureunderground prey with unbounded enthusiasm. The games involve different types of nine-inch by nine-inch reinforced tunnels, leading to a den and meant to mimic an underground lair for badger, fox, opossum, rodent, any kind of predator or vermin. There are rats at the end of the tunnel in wire cages, behind bars, so they cannot be harmed or inflict harm. As the dogs move up in qualification, the tunnel route increases in complexity with man-made tree roots, twists and turns for the dog to navigate. In the master earth dog class, dogs are worked in randomly selected pairs. The first dog will find and enter the appropriate tunnel, the second dog must 'honor' the other dog's find and quietly guard the outside of the tunnel while waiting its turn to enter. In a natural setting, this would protect the first dog from attack by a varmit returning to the den while the dog is still underground. The tunnel is considered worked after the first dog has alerted its owner to the quarry by sustained barking for at least 90 seconds.

Only dachshunds and certain terriers are allowed to qualify. The Romans called them "workers in the earth." The Latin root for the word terrier is terrarii or terra, the word for earth. The terrier group's breed standards describe physical attributes needed to perform these tasks: the Australian Terrier is "spirited, alert, courageous, and self-confident, with the true natural aggressiveness of a ratter and hedge hunter"; or a Jack Russell's back is "laterally flexible so he can turn around in an earth,"; and the Scottish Terrier has a "varminty expression." The Border Terrier is defined as "a working terrier of a size to go to ground and able, within reason, to follow a horse; his conformation should be ideally built to do his job."

Those unfamiliar with the games may not realize that the participatory rats are not chosen at random. There are actually carefully planned families of rodents sought after for their spirit and willingness to take part in this sparring. They often exhibit excitement at the game and challenge the dogs. The rats' handlers are careful to protect them and the dogs as well from an actual physical encounter that could cause injury. AKC regulations state "The quarry to be used shall be adult rats. Two rats are required and shall be caged at all times. Water and food must be provided for the rats during the trial. The judge shall be responsible for the care and safety of the quarry during the test." Dogs are judged on their ability to alert their owners to the presence of prey, not to kill it.

The abilities demonstrated in these trials are illustrations of the attributes that first brought dogs and humans together, out of mutual need. It should be the goal of every true dog enthusiast to preserve and maintain this symbiotic relationship. Even if not directly involved, we should follow the examples set by our canine friends and 'honor' our fellow dog fanciers who wish to participate. We all need to show support for sporting events such as agility, obedience trials, lure coursing, and field trials so we can keep these wonderful partnerships alive and well.

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