“Brighty,” a dachshund, is getting too wise
to play the game well. She knows Judge Schuster of Woodby Island has
just put the rats down into the maze and she’s hoping he’ll give her
a clue. Brighty, like many dogs, went down the “false hole” nearer
to the official rather than the hole that was scented with rat. She
found the rat anyway and didn’t want to come back out when owner
Claire Moncha of Portland called her.
Turner farm hosts annual underground test for enthusiastic
terriers and daschshunds from around the West Coast
BY KATHLEEN ELLYN The Stayton Mail March 15
TURNER – More than 60 dachshunds and another 70 plus small
terriers strained at their leashes Saturday and Sunday at the Belden and Sons
farm outside Turner aquiver with the desire to dive down a hole in the ground.
The event was an Earthdog Trial, and the dogs were there for the American Kennel
Club Earthdog Test Weekend, sponsored by the Greater Portland Area Dachshund
The Beldens host three Earthdog trials a year at the farm; one for the Dachshund
Club and two more for the Oregon Trail’s End Earthdog Club.
Here’s how an Earthdog trial works: The dogs search for rats in an underground
maze the Belden’s have built on their property. Diving in the dirt after a rat
is what these dogs were originally bred to do, and here they get a chance to
enjoy their natural tendencies.
There are four different categories of competition: Introductory, Junior, Senor
and Master, each with slightly more difficult underground mazes to traverse.
In the Senior trial, dogs run from their owner’s starting position toward an
underground maze where they know they will find a rat. They have 90 seconds to
traverse the 30-foot underground tunnel with three 90-degree turns and find the
rats, which are safe inside a cage. The tunnels measure 9 inches by 9 inches and
are made of wood on the sides and top to protect the dog from tunnel collapse,
but the floor is dirt.
Dogs have another 90 seconds to “sound” (bark) to indicate they’ve found
the rat. Once they have done that, an assistant to the judge opens a little door
in the roof of the tunnel and removes the caged rats.
Then, the dogs have 90 seconds to respond to their owner’s recall and come
back out of the maze.
There are some tricks to the test for Senior Earthdogs including a false tunnel
and den. And a false entrance, which does take a dog into the maze but has not
been pre-marked with the scent of rat.
The dog should sniff out the entrance that smells of rat, not the entrance that
smells of the other dogs that may have gone down the “false hole.” Inside
the maze, underground, there is also a time-consuming dead-end to avoid. But the
hardest part for dogs is leaving the underground tunnel.
“They just don’t want to leave the rats,” said Ben Belden, who in addition
to co-owning the farm, served as test chairman.
Many dogs refuse to leave the underground area where the rats were found and
eventually have to be rescued out the rat exit. Some return as far as the entry
hole, but won’t come out, looking up at their owner as if to say, “But you
promised me a rat!”
On this Sunday, they had to dig a dog out, Belden said.
“It’s rare, but it does happen sometimes,” he said. “It makes the
weekend more interesting.”
If a dog is successful at performing three times under two different judges, he
or she becomes a Senior Earthdog.
That means serious bragging rights and official recognition by the AKC.
It’s not easy to become a Senior Earthdog. Less than one third of the dogs
passed the test last weekend, but everyone had fun, Belden said.
The next test is May 13-14 at Belden’s farm. Spectators are welcome, Belden
“It’s a lot of fun and we’re more than happy to have more Earthdogs come
and run,” he said.
Photo by Kathleen Ellyn
Angel emerges from the hole into the arms of
owner Robin Kelley of Port Angeles after finding and “sounding”
(barking at) the rats.