Earth Dog

By Monique Anthony

History of Glens as Earthdogs
Terriers were originally bred to ‘go to ground’ after earth dwelling animals. Glen of Imaal Terriers hunted badger, fox, otter and rats. In the early to mid 20th century, Glens participated in Irish working tests for larger terriers. During this timeframe, it was necessary for Glens to achieve their Certificate of Dead Gameness at large working terrier trials in addition to a conformation title in order to achieve full Championship status. At these trials, the dogs had to go underground following a badger scent through a long tunnel with multiple turns, and then had 5-6 minutes to spar with or draw out a badger. When badger trials were outlawed in Ireland in the 1960s, the working requirement for a Championship was eliminated.

What is an Earthdog test or den trial?
Attending an Earthdog event is a relaxing way to spend the day enjoying time with your dog. The AKC states that “the purpose of non-competitive Earthdog tests is to offer…a standardized gauge to measure a dog’s natural abilities when exposed to a hunting situation”. Basically, a dog follows a scented trail into an underground tunnel (‘go-to-ground’) which is of various lengths and contains multiple ninety degree turns, traversing it until reaching the caged quarry consisting of two rats. The quarry is fully protected in a secure wire cage, behind wooden bars. The tunnel is actually a trench into which a wooden liner is placed forming a nine by nine inch square. It is covered by dirt or brush to achieve a natural look and is meant to simulate an animal’s den. Once at the end of the tunnel, the dog must show interest by ‘working’ the quarry, which can be performed using vocal or non-vocal methods without ever coming in contact with the quarry.

Getting Started in Earthdog
One of the best ways to understand what is involved in Earthdog events is to attend a trial and observe. Granted, much of the activity is underground, but some of the action can be seen (and heard) from the sidelines. Talk to the handlers if you have a chance. Listen to the judge’s orientations before each class where they explain to the exhibitors what is entailed in the class and what they expect. Consider entering your dog in the entry level class since many clubs offer day of trial entries for this level.

If you are lucky enough to live near an Earthdog club or an all-terrier club that holds den trials, “training” dates might be occasionally available for you to bring your Glen. At training, the dog will be exposed to the caged quarry above ground while you hold on to their leash. If the dog shows interest, then there will be the opportunity to get to the quarry through a short wooden three-sided liner that forms a nine by nine inch box above ground. If your dog successfully navigates through the above ground liner, then the wooden liner will be put into a trench in the ground so it looks like an underground tunnel made by a critter. A scent will be applied on the ground from the entrance of the tunnel to the opposite end where the caged quarry will be placed. You then encourage your dog to enter the earth and follow their nose to the quarry where they should then hopefully show interest in the quarry using non-vocal (digging, biting the bars, lunging, scratching) or vocal (barking, whining, growling) methods. Don’t force the dog to do anything-just expose, encourage and keep it enjoyable for your dog.

To introduce your dog to this program at home, encourage your Glen to go through/under safe narrow spaces. Long slender cardboard boxes approximating nine inches in diameter can be used in lieu of building simple three-sided wooden liners. The hardest part of Earthdog for many Glens is getting used to going in the small tunnels, so early exposure to tight spaces in beneficial. Some families purchase rats as family pets and use them for the occasional training exercise.

Pros, cons, and misnomers of Earthdog trials with Glens

Non-competitive - dogs receive either a pass or fail- there are no points given in AKC Earthdog tests, all qualifiers are equal-which means everyone TRULY roots for every other dog and owner!
Casual attire - participants, judges, stewards (everyone) can wear any type of clothes-jeans, sweatpants, mud-encrusted T-shirts, etc. No ties allowed though.
Any Glen can participate - they can be intact, spayed, or neutered. Dogs do not have to be AKC-registered as long as an AKC PAL/ILP number is obtained.
Glens enjoy themselves immensely - even if they don’t qualify or go-to-ground, they will appreciate being with you. If they are game, it will be a highlight for them and a bonding experience for you both.

Outdoor elements - rain, snow, sleet, 100 degree haze/humidity-Earthdog tests are hardly ever canceled unless the tunnels flood
Limited number of trials/locations per year - there are only about 150 AKC Earthdog test days and about 10 AWTA den trials per year. Not every state has a location or club to sponsor the tests either. As a comparison, there are more than 2000 AKC Agility trial days per year.
Low success rate - not every Glen will have the natural ability to “do” (go-to-ground) Earthdog-some amount of prey drive and gameness is needed. Even if your dog has instinct, the success rate is low due to strict time constraints for each class. Persistence is needed, but if the dog enjoys itself, the fun is in the trying…

Any Glen can be “trained” to qualify in Earthdog trials - this is simply not true. In most cases a dog will need a healthy dose of prey drive to convince it to go down such a small tunnel underground. Once the wooden liner is placed underground, it becomes that much harder for the dog to enter and traverse unless there is innate instinct. Many dogs can hunt above ground; the small to medium sized terrier’s specialty is underground. The Certificate of Dead Gameness in Ireland was awarded to Glens that could navigate a 40 foot underground tunnel and hunt badger. At American Earthdog trials, the first couple levels of Earthdog tests are basic instinct tests and only minor “training” can be done. Training is really only introducing the dog and the handler to the Earthdog event itself-it helps to shape the instincts the quarry and the scents awaken in the dog. The dog has to understand what is happening-what is the quarry and it’s scent, what is at the end of the tunnel, how to get to the quarry, etc. In the wild, the parents would demonstrate to the young how to hunt. When “training” your Glen in Earthdog, remember the E’s: expose, encourage and enjoy.
Glens are too large to fit in Earthdog tunnels - most Glens will fit in the tunnels. However, they are at a disadvantage to the other terriers in that they are the largest breed that is allowed to participate and title in Earthdog. They must crawl instead of charging upright full steam to the quarry. Timing limits for the tests are short and Glens have a hard time meeting the deadlines, but it can be done.
Glens can easily get hurt going through the small tunnels - there is always a small risk of injury when participating in any active sport with your dog. There have been cases of Glen’s biting their tongues while trying to destroy the wooden bars protecting the caged quarry, teeth have been chipped, minor scrapes, etc. but these are infrequent occurrences.
Earthdog will make Glens more dog-aggressive - there is no evidence supporting this claim although it sometimes is a popular theory among non-Earthdog people. In contrast, it is generally agreed among experienced Earthdog folks that working trials will bring out a dog’s instincts towards vermin instead of hostility towards other dogs. Gameness and aggression are two different behaviors. Most dogs are so focused on getting their turn “at rat” that they barely notice other dogs. However, if you are squeamish about enhancing your Glen’s prey drive towards vermin and worry about the elimination of critters in your yard, then maybe Earthdog is not for you.

Are Earthdog events an accurate test of gameness in Glen of Imaal Terriers?
Glens were used as all-around farm dogs. It has been speculated that the smaller Glens were used against smaller critters and the larger Glens for larger vermin such as badger. Earthdog trials are simulated tests to gauge whether a dog has prey drive and willingness to go-to-ground (enter and traverse an underground tunnel). That being said, there will always be some dogs that will hunt naturally but not be interested in the artificial setting of a trial. There is no perfect test for natural working ability of Glens, but Earthdog is the best there is at the moment.

Recommended reading:
Earthdog Ins & Outs by Jo Ann Frier-Murza:

Current American working test venues
There are two working ‘go-to-ground’ terrier tests in America that Glens can participate and title in. The American working Terrier Association (AWTA) has been holding den trials since 1971 and Glens became eligible for titles in 2000. There are a handful of den trials per year.

AWTA information:
AWTA events search:

The American Kennel Club (AKC) Earthdog tests commenced in 1994 and Glens became eligible for titles in 2002. AKC Earthdog tests are much more common, with approximately 150 test days annually.

AKC Earthdog information:
AKC Earthdog events search:

Levels of testing
There are multiple classes in each organization’s Earthdog program. The first two levels in each program, AKC’s Intro to Quarry and Junior Earthdog (JE), and AWTA’s Novice and Open classes, are basic instinct tests. AKC has 2 additional higher levels: Senior Earthdog (SE) and Master Earthdog (ME), which test the skills that a dog might need on a natural hunt.

AKC Intro to Quarry or AWTA Novice class: This class is for novice dogs and is a simple instinct test. No titles are earned. Specifications: 10 foot distance from release point to tunnel entrance, 10 foot tunnel, 1 turn, 1-2 minutes to reach quarry, 30 seconds of work.

AKC Junior Earthdog (JE) or AWTA Open class: This class is also an instinct test. In the AWTA, one qualification earns a dog a Certificate of Gameness (CG) while in the AKC, two qualifications are required to earn a JE title. Specifications: 10 foot distance from release point to tunnel entrance, 30 foot tunnel, 3 turns, 30 seconds to reach quarry, 60 seconds of work.

AKC Senior Earthdog (SE) class: This class tests a dog’s tracking abilities and willingness to recall once the quarry is removed (simulating bolting of quarry from the den). Some training is helpful at this level especially due to the recall portion. Three qualifications are needed for a SE title. Specifications: 20 foot distance from release point to tunnel entrance, same tunnel as JE with the addition of a false scented den, an unscented false exit, and a less visible tunnel entrance. 90 seconds to reach quarry, 90 seconds of work, and 90 seconds to recall your dog after quarry removal.

AKC Master Earthdog (ME) class: This class most closely simulates a natural hunt of a dog with its owner. Two dogs, their handlers, and the judge travel on a preset path between 100-300 yards long in which the dogs are expected to work cooperatively with their bracemate to investigate/hunt along the path to locate the den. The dogs must listen to the handler’s directions when asked to check out a false den along the way. Once both dogs locate and mark the occupied den entrance, the dogs take turns quietly ‘honoring’ the other dog as it locates the quarry and works in the den. Four qualifications are needed for a ME title. Specifications: minimum 100 yard walkup demonstrating hunting ability, no working in the empty den along the walkup, locate/mark the occupied den entrance, honor the bracemate working in the den by showing interest but not causing excess noise, navigate the ME tunnel (SE tunnel that contains a roller obstacle (to simulate a tree root) and a six inch constriction). 90 seconds to reach quarry, 90 seconds of work and 15 seconds for handler to retrieve their dog out of the tunnel trap door with the quarry present.