Training Tips


Left alone with it’s pack, your dog would learn about Earthdog as a part of natural training by its parents and pack elders.  You are your dog’s Pack Leader.  You have to take the lead.  Most of us live in an urban environment and do not have the space or place to dig holes in our lawns for Earthdog tunnels.  What to do?

Having some basic puppy obedience training is a good start for both of you.  You will learn a bit about training and your dog will learn you are the Pack Leader.  It is not required but it can be very helpful.

There are points in progressing through the levels of Earthdog that you will have to demonstrate that you are in control of your dog.  Obedience training will give you a leg up on this.   

If there is one bit of training that I recommend most it has to be “recall.”   You need to be able to call your dog off something (in this case, rats) that it wants intensely.  If you get your dog to recall (come) at an early stage it will make your life infinitely better when the dog is running in the Senior and Master classes.   Believe me, I know all about “no recall.”  Really, I do.

Back to the beginning.  Although your dog has the instinct to do Earthdog, that does not mean he knows how or wants to.  If you have been crawling  down varmint holes with him in tow and giving him tasty varmint morsels, then he might understand but this rarely happens.

Even with just that little bit, you are actually ready for Intro to Quarry.  IQ will tell you what other training you might want to pursue.  In IQ you will find out that if you dog doesn’t want to go in a tunnel, doesn’t want to stay in the tunnels because rats aren’t interesting, or if you dog wants to make friends with the rats or is actually a natural born earthdog. 

When you go to your first test try to watch some of the dogs running in Intro To Quarry ahead of you.   Most of these dogs will never have seen a tunnel or sniffed a rat.  They are clueless which is natural for urban dogs.  Watch them walk around and see if they make eye contact with the tunnel mouth.  If they do not, they will not be entering the tunnel this day, which should be expected.  The dog has seen the tunnel opening but has not let you know that detail.  That tunnel mouth is large, 9”x9”, and was probably made by something with a very large head that wants to eat him.  He is not going in there unless there is a very good reason.

Many dogs do not go into the tunnel on their own until they are two years old.  That is quite normal since you have not been leading the dog in yourself.  You can over come part of this at home without building big tunnel liners and digging up your yard.

You can start with cardboard boxes flattened out and the re-shaped to a three sided “tunnel.”    Start with a short box and get Muffy used to going into it by tossing a treat or favorite toy through and encouraging her to go after it.  NEVER FORCE a dog into a tunnel.  The dog’s instinct is to keep out.  Force will only make it fearful.  Gradually lengthen the tunnel and eventually add a corner.  If you have the right boxes, start to make it close to the regulation size opening.  You do not need 30 ft or even 10 ft of tunnel.  Once Muffy is used to going in, Muffy will figure out the rest on her own.  Let her do it, just encourage her to go inside.

As you are doing this you may want to sharpen her other sense – smell.  If you do not have a rat living close by, go to a pet store with rats and ask the clerk for some used bedding.  The clerk is going to look at you funny but most will be happy to get rid of it.  Take the bedding home and leave it outside or in the garage.  You do not want this stuff in your house.  Put it in a bucket of water for a couple days and then filter the “rat tea” into a spray bottle.  Wear rubber gloves, this is nasty stuff.  

Take your “box tunnel” outside and spray a little tea on the inside.  Do not over do it, you just want to get Muffy to associate the rat smell and tunnel together.  Once Muffy does that, the link to real rats will be very natural.   At the next test  Muffy is very likely to pick up the scent line the Test Judge has sprayed on the ground leading to the tunnel and go in.   Your job is done.

If Muffy does track to the tunnel, the rest is up to Muffy.  Your are an artifact to the test.  Muffy is on her own the rest of the way.

At some point you may elect to use live prey at home.  That is your choice and some never do it.   Whether or not Muffy is allowed to actually dispatch live prey is your choice also.  If you decide to follow either path, ask for “feeder rats” at your pet store.   They are breed to be snake food and are much cheaper than fancy rats.  You can keep them as pets if you wish but they do not have the same life span as the fancy rats.  These are all people choices.  Most dogs will dispatch the rats at the first opportunity.

Some dogs respond better to live prey and they can definitely tell the difference between rat-tea or the scent of a live rat.   There are Master Dogs who have never touched a rat or any other live prey.  These are all decisions you will have to make.

As you learn more about the upper levels of Earthdog, you can make full tunnels and pieces or you can train your dog by going to tests.

You can adapt large PVC pipe, concrete forms, anything that will enclose the dog, to make a tunnel.  Once they are in the dark (underground) the dog will not care once it is used to seeking prey.  There pipes will have a noise, slippery footing issues but can be used if needed.

Aside from building pieces for the obstruction and constriction used in Master, any tunnel will do.  Once underground the dogs learn to figure things on their own which is what they do in the wild.

If you have to opportunity to attend tracking classes, that will be extremely beneficial but they are hard to find. 

The other item was mentioned earlier, Recall, is the bane of many wannabe Senior Earthdog handlers (the dogs don’t care about titles.)

Start the recall training of Muffy at an early age and work in difficult situations.  It will make SE more attainable and might even save your dog’s life when it is headed into danger and needs to be stopped. 

I have had good luck with dogs that did not see real training tunnels until they were well along in the process.  Most of the training was entering tests and letting them run.  Some times it is a matter of luck getting the right dog.  There are some that will never go into a tunnel.  Most dogs enjoy doing Earthdog even if they do not earn any of those titles.  Those that do not like often start at an advanced age or have had a very passive lifestyle, .  You will find how much Muffy likes it when your return to the same Earthdog site several times and Muffy starts that “are we there yet” bark as you pull into the parking lot. 

The point is to give the dog something else to do that it can do and may enjoy.  A weekend outside with friends will always do you and your dogs good.

These tips have been about training the dog.  You can use some training too.  Watch for notices at Tests for an Earthdog Judge Seminar.   They do not occur often but I highly recommend them for anyone doing Earthdog.  The Seminar is aimed at judges but it has a multitude of information for anyone interested in becoming a Test Secretary or Chair.  It is also a great learning experience for handlers. 

Another much easier thing you can do at every test you attend.  Once you and your dog are checked in and settled go ask the Test Secretary if there is anything you can do.  There is always something to do that will help the test run smoother.  Gate Stewards and Rat Wranglers (they will explain it to you) are always needed.  None of them take huge amounts of time and do not require any special skills.  The Test Secretary will love for it and when you do some jobs you will get to see many dogs run and watch what the judge does.  These are great learning opportunities.

If you really want to make friends, contact the sponsoring club ahead of time for the dig-in time and come help put the liners in the ground (usually a couple days ahead of time but it varies).   Do that and you do not need to volunteer for anything else and you will be well loved.   Most of these events are actually put on by a very small number of the total club members and any extra help is greatly appreciated.

Often, after the Test is done, you will be allowed to practice in the empty tunnels.  Take advantage of this but be sure to help dig-up the liners when practice is done.

There are lots of other advice you can get by talking to other entrants, no one has all the answers.  There are other approaches and not all dogs respond to the same one.

You can find some on-line advise by signing up for Pacific Coast Earthdogs and Earthdog Fanciers lists under Yahoo Groups.  There will be plenty of self ordained experts out there who can answer most of you questions and the advice is generally good.  All West Coast test announcements are listed on this site (Earthe Dogges page) and also on the Pacific Earthdog calendar and many get posted to the above two lists.

Remember this always:  Earthdog is about the dog, not about you. 
Remember that and you and your little buddy will have a whole lot more fun.

This page was last updated on 07/12/10.

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