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Earthdog: Get Started

The purpose of non-competitive Earthdog tests is to offer breeders and owners of small Terriers and Dachshunds a standardized gauge to measure their dogs’ natural aptitude and trained hunting and working behaviors when exposed to an underground hunting situation. The noncompetitive program begins with a basic introduction to den work and quarry and progresses through gradual steps to require the dog to demonstrate that it is willing to perform the required tasks including seeking its quarry, locating and working it underground.

Earthdog tests are a sport and all participants should be guided by the principles of good sportsmanship both in and outside the test field. (Regulations for Earthdog Tests for Small Terriers and Dachshunds Handbook, Chapter 1, Section 1, page 2)

The first step to getting started in Earthdog tests is to request a rulebook from AKC so that you are familiar with what will be required of you and your dog at these events. You can request a book of regulations be sent to you or you can pick one up at an event or you can copy it from the webpage in the link.

While waiting for your rulebook to arrive you can contact your National breed club or a local terrier/Earthdog club by going to the club search section of the AKC website at Then it is time to start working with your dog.

The initial test is called Introduction to Quarry and it is an instinct test for terriers and dachshunds. The behaviors tested are willingness to follow a scent to the entrance; willingness to enter a dark den; and willingness to work the quarry. The dog may work the caged rats by barking, digging, growling, lunging, biting at the protective bars or any work that the judge feels displays a desire to get to the quarry.

If you have rabbits or squirrels in your area, you can start your dog following the scent by taking him to places where he will have the opportunity to follow these scent trails. When you see a rabbit or squirrel run into the bushes or trees, take your dog over to the spot and quietly encouraging the dog to put his nose to the ground by patting the scent line. Once the dog shows interest in the scent, you can just see what he does. You have just taught him the most important step to qualifying in Earthdog…to recognize that you help him find the scent. Once your dog is easily dropping his nose onto the scent line when you indicate one, it is time to start him following scent into a tunnel.

You can start by building a set of wooden liners and installing them in your yard, but if that is not feasible, you can easily build a simple set with cardboard boxes. At this stage, you just want to introduce your dog to going into a dark place. Once you build a maze of tunnels with boxes you can start the dog by throwing a toy or ball in there for him to retrieve.

Next comes laying a scent trail for him to follow. If you do not want to keep a set of rats for your training, simply go to a local pet shop and ask them for some of their used bedding when they clean the rodent cages. You can soak it in water and use the strained liquid to lay trails in the tunnels for the dog. You can also take a toy he likes and put it in a jar with some used bedding. It will get the scent of the bedding and can be used to lay scent trails.

Of course, the only way to know if he will work the rats in a den is to either have rats yourself or go to an Earthdog test or practice. If you want to attend an event, the Events section will allow you to search for one in your area. Contact the Event Secretary to see if they will be having a practice after the event. Or just enter your dog in the Introduction to Quarry class! Many Earthdog events have day of trial entries for at least Introduction to Quarry. And since this is an instinct test some dogs do quite well their first time in this class.

Even if your dog doesn’t qualify, you will have a fun time and will meet lots of other terrier and Dachshund owners who will offer help in learning more about the wonderful world of Earthdogs!