Saturday, October 15, 2011

Our First Earth Dog Trial, Hinds County Penal Farm, Raymond, MS

Today was Pete's first big outing to a dog event.  Pete and I joined Tracey and Sprigs at an Earth Dog Sanctioned Match in Raymond, MS.  The match was located on the grounds of the penal farm, home of Bernie's Second Chance Pet Partner Rescue Program, where Bern was adopted.

To practice for the trial without digging up the backyard at MR, Pete learned to traverse a chute of cardboard boxes for his dinner.  By Friday of last week his crate had several feet of chute extending out front with his supper bowl at the exit.  Pete was very scared of even a short chute at first so I"m glad we did this bit of skills work before heading to the match.

Earth Dog Chute Extension on Pete's Crate

Cheryl pops Pete's crate door open, Pete exits chute to find dinner 

So I'm feeling a bit more confident on Saturday because at least Pete will traverse the cardboard crate chute which he would not do when we started this game.  As you can see from the photo Pete's chute is "big" whereas the Earth Dog den tunnels are only 9"X9" making them much more cramped.  AKC regulations specify that the dens will be lined with U-shaped den liners with sides and tops that are buried under the ground - making them pitch black inside if done correctly.

So how does one play earth dog?  The handler releases the dog at the designated start flag.  The judge has scented the den tunnel from the quarry location at the further end all the way out to the yellow flag with a spray derived from soaking rat pen litter in water so it smells like rat urine.  The dog follows the scent to the den entrance and proceeds to follow the scent in the dark through the den until it reaches the quarry area.  The quarry area consists of 2 rats in a very secure cage that is further separated from the dogs by heavy wooden dowels inside the den tunnel at the quarry end. The judge sits on top of the quarry area so she/he can hear and time the dog in the den tunnel reach the quarry area and begin working the quarry (scratching, barking, etc).

Pete at the start line - between the yellow flags
The very dark (and it seems very scary) rectangle in front of Pete is the entrance to the tunnel

Pete investigates the tunnel to the quarry, Cheryl just out of shot on right
I was proud of Pete he immediately tracked the line the judge had scented from the start gate to the entrance of the underground den tunnel.  Pete was curious about going in but too scared to commit himself.  So instead he was carried around to the end of the tunnel to meet the penned rats in the quarry.  He was interested in the rats.  If I was to buy some rodents for the house and let Pete work with them using the secure wire cages and rolling hamster balls he would probably learn to love earth dog work.  Since he is already 10, I don't think I'm committing to this training.

Judge Stephanie introduces Pete to the caged rates in the quarry area
Neither Pete nor Sprigs was driven enough today to commit to the dark den tunnels.  After everyone had a turn at the easiest (shorted) den tunnel, the tunnel was reconfigured to be longer and contain three 90-degree turns.  Pete was now wise to where the rats had been the previous time and he took the aboveground short cut to the former quarry area showing some obvious interest in the rats at least.

Sprigs meets the quarry rats
Take aways from today:
  • Pete traveled like a champ today and was good about unloading/reloading into his assigned crate in either vehicle..  He was equally good about going potty on his leash.
  • Pete let me carry him several times today and never snarfed at me... I did get the concerned face and laid back ears a few times but no growls or nips.
  • Pete came when I called him (which is good since he was loose with no collar or leash at this point however he was inside a large fenced area) after he left the entrance to the den tunnel looking for another route to reach the scent he had tracked to the den tunnel entrance
  • Tracey and I had a good time.  It was lovely weather and the folks at the site were very nice.  Ms. Teresa was glad to get an update on Bern - I had enclosed a collage of performance photos when I sent in Pete's entry form.
  • The judge was super good with the green handlers and even greener dogs.
  • If I end up with a younger earth dog in my future I think I would definite train the dog for this sport.
  • Recommended Reading is Earthdog Ins and Outs
So tomorrow I shift gear and attend an agility seminar with Grace.  The tuna brownies are baking in the oven ...