Winter Fun for Earthdoghs
by Karla Deithorn, Executive Field Representative

Don't let winter keep you from training your Earthdogs, even in the cold climes. Now is a good time to work on trailing to the den. If you are lucky enough to live where you get a dusting of snow periodically, watch for mouse, squirrel and rabbit tracks to encourage your dog on. If you are in an area where snow is a rarity, then look for tunnels under the grass and encourage the dog to follow that trail. All this can be done in your backyard! Other good places to take your dog are the edges of fields and industrial parks. The latter often support a good population of rabbits.

Why work on trailing to the den? Even if your dog is working on Senior or Master, getting to the den is the first step to passing. If you reinforce the trailing regularly as the dog progresses up the ranks, then you will run less risk of your dog overshooting the entrance and entering at the wrong hole. For dogs who haven't been to a test yet, teaching the trailing can mean success at your first test. If you dog learns to follow a scent, and you praise him for it (quietly, since you don't want to distract him), then he could just walk into that den full of confidence the first time!

Trailing isn't the only training you can do. If you have puppies in the house, a piece of PVC pipe can be a play tunnel. You can even use small cardboard boxes for tunnels. Throwing a toy through the tunnels or dragging a toy on a line through a tunnel with turns can build confidence in puppies and adults. Plus the toy gives them something to 'rag' once they get to the end....a super reward!

And don't forget to start early training for Master. Many times I hear handlers comment that they haven't a clue what their dog will do on the walk-up since they never get off leash in a big field. START EARLY! This is basic obedience training. Just walk around the yard with the dog and have a toy or food to reward him when he comes. Lots of short, rewarding recalls in the yard can progress to longer recalls in a field on a long line. Don't use the long line to reel the dog in as you are trying to build confidence in a working relationship between dog and handler. If you progress slowly, then the long line can be just a safety line when you work near roads or livestock. Speaking of livestock, at one event the Master den was next to a field of cattle. Although none of the dogs had been exposed to livestock, they all stayed focused on the scent and den area. So regularly training the dog on trailing and control in the field can pay off big time when circumstances arise that are unusual.

Another project for clubs to consider is holding an Earthdog Test seminar. Contact the AKC Performance Dept. for information on how to schedule one. This seminar is required for those who wish to judge and is a definite plus for those who wish to compete.

Last but not least, those of you in the south and west, where the weather is more benign, check out the upcoming Earthdog Tests in Texas and California!