Goodwood Standard Smooth Dachshunds

Training for Earthdog

Here are some of my training techniques.  


Training your Earthdog 

Lucky is the owner whose dogs are naturals in the dens.  However, the truth is that there are way more dogs who need training and practice than not.  Fortunately, this is easily done and the results are correlated with how much effort you put into it! 

The most effective way is to start early.  Of course, not all of us raise our own dogs.  But, you can certainly talk to your breeder and you can start as soon as you get your pup.

 I train for 3 different aspects of earthdog: the tunnels, the rats and the release.


Julie Couch and her Helen Hound.

Training for tunnels

My own puppies run through cardboard boxes made into tunnels as early as they can walk.  I usually start them between 3 to 4 weeks.  I start with straights then add L turns and zigzags.  They love it and they learn as they play.   

The next step is to take it outside!  Make or buy yourself some wooden liners.  Make them the right size, 9 x 9 inches.  3 foot sections are the easiest to lug around.  I start my dogs with an open-ended tunnel.  I have someone they like at the other end so they want to run through the tunnel.  I do this a bunch of times.   I start with all liners above ground.  Some people also use hay bales.  This is a good sturdy method. 

Next, I add a corner.  This immediately changes the whole doggy outlook.  It's dark and it's unknown!  But, you can call the dog though the tunnel, you can run a toy on a string through it, you can scent it, use your imagination.  

Above all:  PATIENCE.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and the brain needs a lot of repetition so learning and retention can occur.  We are familiarizing the dogs with the tunnels first.  On top of everything, you are dealing with some instinctual knowledge about holes and the size of the animal that lives in there.  9 inches equals a huge animal!  Your reluctant dog is just being smart and safe.

 Once your dog is comfy running straights, Ls, and zigzags, keep adding twists to your tunnels.  Bury the entrance, or all of it!  Make some false exits, some dead ends, just so they get used to playing in the dark and encountering different scenarios underground.  I put cement blocks on my tunnels as I have a 32-pound boy who can really do some damage to my layout!  I cover the seams with burlap bags (free from coffee roasters) then I cover the whole mess with loads of brush, grass etc.


Scoutie at 10 weeks.

 Now, what about those rats?

You should introduce most dogs to rats above ground (i.e. in the light).  You have to make sure they are interested.  Make sure the rat can't bite the dog and the dog can't hurt the rat.  Both need to want to play this game.  You can shake, rattle and roll that rat and run around madly with it if the dog is into it.  If not… there are a lot of possibilities.  Your dog may be too young to have much prey drive, or, it just needs more training.   

I've had some dogs who were rat mad right off the bat.  I've also trained dogs that could care less about rats.  Here is something I have done that has worked for me on non-rat interested dogs…  I let a dog that is mad for rats down the tunnel and I let the other one follow.   Now, these have been my dogs or friends' dogs, and they get along fine.  I think this might be dangerous for dogs that don't know each other.  So, be advised about that.  You must determine if this will work for you.  The point is that a dog may teach another dog.  You can play it by ear on how you'd like to do this.


Nicole Cooper and her Lily.

 If / when the dog is interested in the rat, you can start placing it at the end of the tunnel.  You can make it light at the end of the tunnel, and progress to darkness.  You can encourage out loud and slowly reduce your words.  You reward successive approximations, which means reward small steps in the right direction.  Again, patience! 

If your dog runs down the tunnel and finds his way to the ratty, then you are 1/2 way there.  If your dog barks at the rat on top of running the tunnels, you ARE there! 

 If your dog runs to the end of the tunnel and settles in and stares at the rat… he is hunting rats.  Unfortunately, we must use rats for the tests.  You can get creative and use other animals for your training.  I have heard of people using squirrels as they have massive prey behavior that would be sure to trigger any animal.  Our lab rats are bred for docility and they usually could care less about the commotion going on.  Too bad for those dogs who are smart enough to know that you sit very still and wait for the animal to make its move before you pounce. 

 You'll have to use frustration training to make the animal ask for the rat.  You can have them bark for cookies, their dinner etc, and use the command for that to the rat.  Again, this takes time.  The double dog routine mentioned above works well for this behavior. 



Nicole and Lily.

The release

Lastly, you'll want to train your dog to go to the tunnel entrance (what I call the release.)   I use the one word command "tunnel."  Here's why…  When you are in the senior class, your dog will need to come back to you.  I train by having my rats at the entrance and calling my dog back to "get the rats."  I like "tunnel" because it is short and sweet and means get in the tunnel, which is what you want.   The dogs are supposed to use their noses, but frankly, mine have pretty much guessed the game by the time we get to the fields.  They look for the entrance, but later when the entrance is a long way away, they may want to use their noses.  Either way, once you send your dogs off, be QUIET!  No use getting your dog disqualified! 

The release distance for Jrs is 10 feet, for seniors, the distance is 20 feet.   Practice releasing your dogs from further and further away until it's easy money for them.


Reis' Maude.


Here are things you can adjust to help motivate and/or train your dog: amount of light allowed in tunnel, length of tunnel, number of corners, type of prey animal, number of practice sessions, strangers watching, different tunnel configurations, the list is endless.  Again, use your imagination.  Remember the goal and train toward that goal and reward, reward, reward! 

Two things NEVER to do:  a) block the entrance after your dog has entered the tunnel and b) drop your inexperienced dog at the end of the tunnel in front of the rats.  Both of these are highly likely to destroy any trust your dog has in you.  Don't do it and don't let anyone else do it to your dog.  If others do it to their dogs, that is their perogative, but take it from me and some much smarter trainers than I am, you can't rush these things. 

Above all, remember that YOU are competing for legs, ribbons, whatever.  Your DOG is just having a good time and trying to please you.  Be fair and be kind to your dog no matter what he does on test day.

 Best of luck to you all! 

Claire Mancha

Goodwood Dachshunds



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