Earthdog Dog Sport

A person pointing a Terrier dog to a tunnel while participating in Earthdog sport.

About Earthdog

The sport of Earthdog uniquely and dynamically showcases the inherent instincts and abilities of small terriers and Dachshunds. This activity taps into the ancestral roots of these breeds, which were historically bred for hunting vermin and small game in underground dens. In Earthdog Trials, these innate behaviors are showcased and honed in a safe, controlled environment, offering a fascinating glimpse into the natural world of these spirited dogs.

The appeal of Earthdog lies not only in its competitive aspect but also in its ability to strengthen the bond between dogs and their owners. It provides a structured outlet for the dogs’ natural inclinations to dig, scent, and pursue, turning what might be problematic behaviors in a home setting into a positive and rewarding experience. For owners, Earthdog Trials offer a unique opportunity to understand and appreciate the historical and inherent characteristics of their canine companions.

Earthdog: Historical Evolution

The origins of Earthdog can be traced back to the practical needs of rural living, where small terriers and Dachshunds played a crucial role in controlling populations of vermin and small game. These dogs were prized for their tenacity, courage, and instinctual ability to hunt and navigate underground burrows. Initially, these skills were utilized in day-to-day farm activities, helping to manage pests like rats, rabbits, and foxes, which often took refuge in underground dens.

Over time, as the need for such practical hunting declined due to changes in agriculture and lifestyle, enthusiasts of these breeds sought to preserve and celebrate their unique skills. This led to the conceptualization of Earthdog Trials as we know them today—a sport that replicates the historical hunting tasks of these breeds in a competitive and humane format.

Becoming a Sport

The transformation of these natural hunting practices into a structured sport began in earnest in the late 20th century. Clubs and organizations dedicated to terriers (and related breeds) and Dachshunds started organizing formal events to test and showcase the hunting abilities of these dogs in a controlled environment. The key was to create a situation that was safe for both the dogs and the quarry (typically rats), ensuring no harm came to any animals involved.

These events gradually evolved into the Earthdog Trials, with standardized rules and levels of difficulty. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and similar organizations worldwide began to formalize and regulate these trials, introducing various titles and certifications that dogs could earn. This recognition helped to promote Earthdog as a legitimate and respected canine sport.

The Modern Earthdog Trial

Today, Earthdog Trials are celebrated events within the dog sport community, attracting enthusiasts who are passionate about maintaining and celebrating the heritage of these breeds. The tests have become more sophisticated, with intricate tunnel designs and stringent rules to ensure fairness and safety. Despite these developments, the essence of Earthdog remains true to its roots—it’s a celebration of the natural instincts and abilities of small terriers and Dachshunds.

The sport’s evolution from a practical necessity to a competitive sport has played a significant role in preserving the hunting instincts of these breeds. It serves as a bridge, connecting the past and present, and allows today’s dogs to engage in activities deeply rooted in their historical purpose while providing dog owners with a unique way to bond with and understand their canine companions.

Key Elements of Earthdog

Earthdog Tests are designed to evaluate the natural instincts and abilities of small terriers and Dachshunds in a simulated underground hunting environment. These tests are structured to mimic the real-life scenarios these breeds were originally bred for, such as hunting vermin in burrows. The key elements of these tests focus on assessing the dog’s keenness, agility, and hunting skills under controlled conditions.

The Role of the Tunnels

A central feature of Earthdog Trials is the tunnel system. These man-made tunnels are constructed to replicate the underground dens and burrows that dogs would naturally navigate while hunting. The complexity of these tunnels varies according to the level of the trialt. This typically includes a series of turns, false exits, and obstacles that test the dog’s ability to scent, navigate, and solve problems. The tunnels are designed to be safe for the dogs, with features like wooden linings to prevent collapse.

The Quarry

The quarry in Earthdog Tests, typically rats, plays a crucial role. The rats are securely caged to ensure their safety and the safety of the participating dogs. The objective for the dog is not to catch the quarry but to locate it within the tunnel system and then “work” it. This working is demonstrated by behaviors such as barking, scratching, or digging near the quarry. These actions reflect the dog’s hunting instinct and ability to signal to their handler that they have located their target.

Testing Behaviors & Instincts

Earthdog Trials demonstrate a range of behaviors that are indicative of a dog’s natural hunting instincts. These include the willingness to enter and navigate through dark, narrow spaces, the ability to scent and track the quarry, and the persistence to work the quarry once located. The dogs are judged based on their enthusiasm, efficiency, and how effectively they demonstrate these hunting behaviors.

Levels of Difficulty

The tests are structured into various levels, each with increasing difficulty. Beginners start with simpler tasks, such as entering a short tunnel to find the quarry, and can progress to more advanced levels where they must navigate longer tunnels with more complex layouts and distractions. This progression allows dogs to gradually build their skills and confidence in the sport.

Earthdog Trial Eligibility

Earthdog Trials are specifically designed for small terriers and Dachshunds, acknowledging their historic roles in hunting and vermin control. To participate in these tests, there are certain eligibility criteria that need to be met, which are primarily focused on breed, age, and registration status.

Eligible Breeds for Earthdog Trials

The primary breeds eligible for Earthdog Trials, chosen for their inherent traits and hunting capabilities, include:


The Dachshund is uniquely suited for Earthdog Trials due to its long body and short legs, which aid in tunneling. Originally bred for hunting underground game, the breed exhibits strong instincts and physical traits that make it an excellent participant in these trials.

Small Terriers & Similar Breeds: