Saturday, October 25, 2014

Undiggable Earths

This groundhog sette ran more than 6 feet deep through broken slates mixed with thick tree roots. This is a diggable earth, but one you do not want to tackle solo, as I was this day in the field. This is when you want a dog that will come out rather than force you to dig down to it.

If you dig very much, your dog will eventually enter a sette that, for one reason or another, is undiggable. Perhaps it is a fine-looking earth that, when shovel is put to soil, turns out to be a heap of roofing tin covered over with dirt -- or worse, a mound of steel-belted radial tires! I have had dogs enter settes that ran under huge pieces of broken iron sewage pipe that had been dumped into a ravine, as well as rock settes and massive hay bale stacks that were not going to be shifted without a backhoe.

Sometimes a sette is theoretically diggable, but you really would prefer not to. A 10-foot solo dig for a groundhog? Not if you can avoid it!

What do you do when your dog enters an earth that could only be dug if you were forced to chainsaw down the tree and prize out the roots?


Stand back, far away, and sit down. Do not smoke, do not talk, and do not stand up. Do not sit near the sette -- you want to be so far back from the hole that the dog cannot hear you breathe or smell you. Do not shift your weight or bang your tools -- just sit and wait and watch the hole.

How long do you wait? That depends. Most dogs will come out between a half hour and an hour after they enter. What happens if they don't? You wait some more. Do not go back to the sette and do not call the dog.

Waiting is hard, especially if it's a green dog, or you are a green digger. There's a natural desire to do something -- to start digging, to call the dog, to shove a mirror and light down the hole, to walk around topside boxing for location, etc.

If you have really ascertained that the earth is undiggable, resist temptation.

Two or three hours may go by with the dog not coming out. The good news is that most dogs will exit on their own before this amount of time has passed. Be patient.

It is in these undiggable earths that small vocal dogs prove their worth, because these dogs are less likely to get stuck, are more likely to be able to turn around underground, and are less likely to shove dirt behind them that might "bottle them up" from behind.

If the dog is vocal, and you are quiet, you should be able to hear it bay when you are close to the sette (provided it does not have a mouth full of fur).

When the dog does appear, do not walk up to it, but instead turn your back, walk slowly away, and quietly call its name -- the dog will most likely follow. If it does not follow, and instead dives back into the hole, simply sit down and wait some more -- the dog will be out again, soon enough. Now you are simply in a waiting and training game.

An experienced dog will understand, in time, that you are a team and that if you are digging it has to hold ground, but if you are not digging for a long period of time it may be a signal to come out.

Dogs learn, provided we are consistent and give them lots of experience. It is on the experience end that most terrier owners fall down.


Kasha said...

That is interesting. I am trying to keep my dog from digging....

Bigshrimp said...

Why not teach the dog to come out of the hole when called as they are asked to do in gtg trials (and I believe you have some training tips on this in your book)?

I understand you may not want to teach this to a green dog as it is just getting its feet wet under the soil for fear of it not being totally concentrated on the work at hand....but after the dog has had some experience and understands its job in this game, why not teach it to recall from the sette? I do know this would be easier said than done with some of the drives these dogs posess, but I think if consistent training started from a gtg tunnel at home then transitioned to the field it should work.

PBurns said...

This is one of those areas where Go-to-ground trials and real digging in the field have nothing to do with each other. In a GTG trial, you have a white rat in a cage which the dog cannot actually reach. The rat makes little or no noise, is not scared, and is not v very stimulating. For this reason, getting a dog to stay and bay for 5 minutes at the end of a GTG pipe is a passing grade. In a real earth, the dog is face-to-face with a much larger animal, it can bite it and be bitten, and ther noise and smell in the pipe -- combined with massive amounts of adrenaline in the dog -- are very hard to overcome. I have had dogs I could "call out" by digging a hole 20 feet away -- they know digging means the game is on over there. But mostly, you have to wait for the adrenaline to back down in the dog to the point that it can hear, think, and even become a little bored. That may take an hour ... or two. Often a dog will come out in a half hour if it does not hear anything above top. Groundhogs, of course, can dig away, which can speed a dog's exit. If it's fox or raccoon, however, you may have to wait a looong time!


smartdogs said...

This is a classic example of what I call the "Keep Calm and Carry On Principle" of dog training. Many times dogs develop bad habits simply because they're willing to outlast their owners. If the owner can instead be the one to *calmly* outlast the dog, especially in early phases of training, it makes a huge difference. The dog learns that resistance is futile and it will decide to go along with the owner's wishes.