Written by Trisha Johnson, Correspondent | 29 October 2013

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Nov 11, 2013 in Rat News | Subscribe

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Written by Trisha Johnson, Correspondent


29 October 2013

Terriers and dachshunds have been bred for centuries to pursue their prey into tunnels and dens and confront their quarry below the ground. On Nov. 9 and 10, these dogs will have the chance to show off their abilities and earn titles at the Earthdog Trials at Two Springs Farm in Palmyra hosted by the Rivanna River Earthdog Club (RREC).
This non-profit group, dedicated to the promotion and training of the sport of earthdog, holds trials twice each year in April and November. In earthdog trials, the dogs are tested on their ability to locate their quarry in an underground tunnel and “work” the quarry for a set period of time. As many as 150 participants are expected at this upcoming event.

Earthdog trials were initially held in 1971 under the auspices of the American Working Terrier Association. By 1994, the American Kennel Club was on board, and established rules governing the exercises which are held today. Dogs can participate in “Introduction to Quarry”, which serves to acclimate the dogs to the trial environment and give them experience with the process. Then they can try to earn their “Junior Earth Dog”, “Senior Earth Dog,” or “Master Earth Dog” titles.
Following AKC guidelines, artificial tunnels called liners are constructed of pressure treated wood and then buried about a foot underground. Pet rats are placed in a sturdy metal cage in the end of the tunnel, behind stout wooden dowels for extra security. Some tunnels can be fairly simple, with two 90 degree turns for the dogs to navigate before they locate their quarry – or they can be much more complicated, including several turns and partially obstructed tunnels through which the dogs must pass. In every instance the dog must demonstrate that he recognizes that his prey is in the tunnel, and must enter the tunnel and “work” his prey for a set period of time by barking and digging at the dowels.
Safety is a primary concern for RREC members. No dogs or rats have been injured in RREC trials. The rats, in fact, are the pets of a club member. “The rats live in ‘rat condos’ in their home,” Gail Warnick, board member of the Rivanna River
Earthdog Club and show chair said. “They live with dogs, so they are acclimated to the barking, and don’t seem to be upset by it during the trials.” Ed Bear, member of the RREC and host of the event, added that “the judges are very careful to protect the rats,” noting that for a while he kept rats as pets in his home, and, just like his other pets, they all had names.
When asked what attracted her to earthdog trials, Warnick said “I really enjoy watching the dogs that I have do what they are bred to do – and the dogs just love it!” The event that Warnick oversees is more than just an AKC field trial – it is a social event which includes a potluck dinner and bonfire; some participants actually camp on the property during the trials. The club appreciates that Bear hosts the event at Two Springs Farm. “His farm is just gorgeous,” Warnick said.
“We are very happy he allows us to use his beautiful place.”
Most of the dogs that participate in these trials are border terriers – handsome little wire-coated dogs, mostly brown in color, with alert expressions and outgoing personalities. A small but powerful little dog, they can easily fit into the nine inch tunnels and are very determined to reach their quarry. Bear commented that “when you are training the dogs it is pretty easy…border terriers are very good at this.” Other breeds which commonly participate are dachshunds, west highland white terriers and Jack Russell terriers. The AKC just recently approved Yorkshire terriers for competition as well.
The RREC does more than just hold trials; they also raise funds in excess of their operating expenses, and then donate that money to local non-profits, typically humane organizations. Bear explained that the club prefers to give their proceeds to local charities rather than national ones, because “the local charities seem to need the money more.”
Warnick says anyone interested in learning more about the Rivanna River Earthdog Club and the earthdog trials is welcome to come and observe. “Any club member,” she added, “will be happy to speak with you.” People can also visit their blog, http://rivannariverearthdog.blogspot.com/ for more information on RREC and the upcoming trials.


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