Pet Connection: Earthdog exercises fun for terriers

If you live with a terrier, you know that these dogs love to dig and live to hunt. Those behaviors are strongly developed instincts in these little dogs who were developed to find, dig out and kill rats, moles, gophers and other vermin.

Their name comes from the Latin word “terra,” meaning earth. A terrier’s love of digging can be frustrating to lawn- and garden-proud owners, but you can channel your dog’s natural desire to carry out underground search-and-destroy missions with a sport called Earthdog, offered by the American Kennel Club, which allows him to exercise his instincts in a fun and constructive way.

To get started in Earthdog tests, you can practice at home in your own backyard or a nearby park. Help your dog find the scent of a rabbit or squirrel by showing him where one has just run into the bushes and let him do some sniffing and following. This gives him the idea that his job is to scent out quarry and that the two of you are a team.

Use cardboard boxes to make a tunnel. Throw a favorite toy or ball inside to encourage your dog to enter it. Once he has the hang of that, lay a trail through it for him to follow. Make the scent with used bedding from the rat or rodent cages at a local pet store. (Ask them to save some for you when they clean the cages.) Soak the bedding in water, strain the liquid and use it to lay the trail.

A simpler route, if available in your area, is to sign up for the Introduction to Quarry class at the next AKC Earthdog event. This basic instinct test is enough to get many dogs started. If you want to see if your dog can earn a title, sign him up for an Earthdog test. The tests, held at different levels, measure a dog’s natural aptitude at hunting underground as well as hunting skills or behaviors he has learned.

They are noncompetitive, meaning your dog isn’t out to beat any other terriers, but simply to show his skills. All small terriers and any varieties of dachshund can compete. Dogs must be six months or older to participate in a test, but they can begin training earlier.

The beginner level, called Introduction to Quarry, has a 10-foot tunnel with one right-angle turn. At the end is a cage of rats. (Never fear: The rats are kept safely away from the dogs and are not harmed.) The dog is encouraged to follow a scent trail to the rats and to “work” them by barking or scratching at the area where they’re located. This basic introduction to “den work and quarry” requires the dog to show that he’s willing and able to seek and find his quarry (the rats) underground.

Once he passes the Introduction to Quarry test, a dog can begin earning titles, starting with Junior Earthdog and moving on to Senior and Master levels. As he works his way up the title ladder, the tests become more difficult, with longer distances, distractions and obstacles such as PVC pipes or narrower tunnels, and work alongside another dog. Depending on the level, the dog must pass the test two or more times under different judges before a title is awarded.

Overachieving terriers can go for an Endurance Earthdog title, awarded to terriers who pass both the Senior and Master classes at the same event on five different occasions. For more information on getting started, visit and search for Earthdog clubs in your area.

The buzz

The total cat population in the United States at the end of 2013 was approximately 74 million, down from 81.7 million in 2006. Spayed cats live an average of 3.1 years longer than unspayed cats, a difference of almost 40 percent. Most cat owners, 41 percent, acquired their cats from family, friends or neighbors, while 22 percent found them as strays and 18 percent adopted them from shelters. In 2011, 42 recognized breeds of cats were being bred in the United States. Persians are the most popular pedigreed kittens, followed by exotics, Maine coons, ragdolls and British shorthairs.

▪  Take your dog to work day? One Scottish collie mix apparently thought so. Paddy, who lives in Croy, North Lanarkshire, with his owner Thomas McCormack, bounced over a fence with the aid of a trampoline, tracked McCormack to the train station, boarded the train and plopped down in the seat next to his astonished owner. No word on whether he had to pay for a ticket.

▪  The presence of pets may help reduce anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders, according to a new study published online in Developmental Psychobiology. Dogs, cats and guinea pigs may help children with ASDs improve their social skills. “This study provides physiological evidence that the proximity of animals eases the stress that children with autism may experience in social situations,” said James Griffin, Ph.D. Researchers speculate that because companion animals offer unqualified acceptance, their presence makes children feel more secure.

The findings do not mean that parents of children with ASDs should rush to buy an animal for their children, cautioned Marguerite O’Haire, Ph.D., at the College of Veterinary Medicine of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who conducted the study in conjunction with colleagues in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. She says further research is needed to determine how programs aimed at developing social skills might include animals.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Dr. Becker can also be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.