Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just Another Agility Course

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.



Anonymous said...

Where is the wheel and the "space lounge"?

Retrieverman said...

A lot of circus trickery goes on in working trials. It doesn't matter what the breed is.

Viatecio said...

That video was blase.

The dog actually looks unsure when it hits the soft "dirt," and looks back in a way that says it needs encouragement.

Ever since I've started reading about real terrier work, the "earth-dog" fakeries just seem more and more artificial and contrived (not to mention other tests, like fake herding!). Even working retrievers are given the dignity of being trained in the fields and woods and waters, albeit with a fake duck.

Retrieverman said...

In America, working retriever are required to retrieve real (albeit dead) ducks or pheasants for their trials and tests.

My problem is they aren't really the real thing. The dog doesn't get a mixture of difficult marks and easy ones.

And it's much more about the trainer's ability than the dog's natural abilities.

And the trials are competitions, which lead to all the most-used sire complaints we all have about show dogs.

It should be a test of ability to select breeding stock and prevent kennel blindness. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Seahorse said...

I don't know what it's like anymore, but many years ago when we had two wonderful "field bred" Irish Setters the trials and training sessions were all done using live birds. I handled the dogs myself, both walking and on horseback, and yes, they were really good, birdy dogs (carry on with your chuckling about Irishes, I can take it!). Yes, the guns fired blanks, and the fields were seeded with birds, but I saw a TON of dogs completely miss what my boys held point on. I don't hunt; we just participated because the dogs liked it. Of course, the dogs like hunting our farm every day of their lives, too. But, we took them out to trials several times and blew the doors in of the professional handlers. Trust me, it was ALL the dogs and not me, as I'd just say, "Go get a bird!", and they did the rest. The second one was a stunningly gorgeous dog and had won on the bench in some local shows and was working obedience, too. He could run all day, was smart and obedient and was beautiful to look at. Though ample, he didn't have the coat of a show dog (thank god!). His conformation and movement was lovely, though, and he had a great temperament and fine mind. I'm tempted to try and find another Irish of his type...if they exist anymore.