This is a repost from July 2007.
While hunting with terriers is an ever-changing, always dynamic day in the field, Kennel Club go-to-ground earthdog trials are normally about as interesting as watching submarine racing.
Hours are spent on the sidelines looking at absolutely nothing, as everything takes place underground and there is no real quarry or actual digging. Bring a chair and a book, and maybe an iPod. It's going to be a long day.
In the video clip, above, we see a valiant attempt to make the slow-moving earthdog trial a visual sport, with an up-and-down earthdog setup, built above-ground, and coupled with a clear plastic side so that the dogs can actually be seen by spectators. I think this rig may have been created for an Animal Planet TV show.
The object of the endeavor is a fox mask at the end of the run.
What is missing here, of course, is even a close approximation of real work; the dog does not have to find the quarry, nor can it get lost underground as there are no side pipes.
The wooden walls are smooth and spacious and present little obstacle to even an over-large dog.
Though there is a constriction point at one point in the pipe, the dog can see what it is up against, and since the barrier is exactly the same as the one it has faced in training, it is not much of a novelty. Even then the dog has to be coaxed to "dig through" the blocking material, which is not real dirt, root and rock but paper excelsior.
Finally, of course, the thing at the end of the pipe is taxidermy and not a live fox, groundhog or raccoon that will lunge, bite, rip a muzzle, snarl, or even bolt.
This is a habit-trail for dogs, same as pet stores sell for hamsters.
I used to think go-to-ground trials did no harm and might even do some good if they drew people into the real world of terrier work, but I am no longer sure. This "see through" trial is even easier than a regular go-to-ground set up, and is pretty far from real terrier work.
There is really no way to "fix" these earthdog trials with better design. The reason for this is simple: the dog has to get through the trial in a few minutes so that the next pay-to-play contestant can step up in an orderly matter. Nor can the test be too hard, or folks won't drive hours to collect their ribbon. Nor can people be asked to carry tools or do any actual digging as many of the human contestants seeking ribbons are in such poor physical shape that crossing a gravel parking lot is considered a journey.
How many people think these earthdog trials are a close approximation of real hunting? Most think that, I can tell you!
That said, if they get even a few people out in the world of digging ... well, there is some small hope of that, I suppose.