Earthdog: Complete Guide And How To Get Started

You let your dog out into the yard while on the phone, pacing your patio, not paying attention. A few minutes later she returns with muddy paws and a muddy face, a mouse in her mouth, and pride so bright she is practically sparkling like a vampire from Twilight.

When you scream in shock, she is confused; in her mind she is now an accomplished huntress. The good news is there is a way to support your dog’s natural instinct to dig and find without having to wrestle a mouse from her mouth: Earthdog!

What Is Earthdog?

Earthdog is a non-competitive event which tests the natural instincts and training that dogs have for hunting vermin underground. The test is standardized and there are different levels based upon the experience of the respective dogs participating.

The tests consist of dogs working the den of quarry (habitat of the rodent they are hunting) and the quarry (the actual rodent), with the participating dogs passing or failing the test based upon their willingness and ability to work the den and quarry underground.

While virtually any dog will pursue quarry above ground that they can see, the key to success in Earthdog is the dog’s ability to dig and seek out their quarry underground. This is why Earthdog events are limited to certain breeds; only some breeds were bred to hunt quarry underground.

Are Rats Harmed In Earthdog?

No, Earthdog is a cruelty free sport! According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) Earthdog Test Regulations, event Judges must ensure the care and safety of the participating rats, which are referred to as “quarry” in Earthdog events. Rats must be securely caged in pairs of two, and provided with food and water during events.

Artificial quarry may also be used in place of live quarry, as long as they move and are scented properly.

Why Participate In Earthdog?

Taking your dog somewhere to dig through the dirt after a rodent might sound odd at first, since many dogs have yards or parks to dig in at home, but there are benefits to participating such as:

  • Training for and participating in Earthdog events fulfills your dog’s natural instinct to pursue quarry.
  • Earthdog is an ideal way to bond with your dog; you spend quality time together training for the tests.
  • Most dogs love to participate, making Earthdog a fun way to work on training.
  • Since Earthdog events are non-competitive, being only pass or fail tests that do not rank participating dogs against one another, the atmosphere of Earthdog events is much more warm and encouraging than other competitive canine events. This low pressure event is much more enjoyable for dogs and handlers.
  • Joining an Earthdog club and participating in events is a great way to make human friends and meet canine companions.

Who Is Eligible to Participate In Earthdog?

To participate in Earthdog events, dogs must meet the following requirements:

  • Be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC).
  • Be at least 6 months old.
  • Female dogs must not be in heat.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) only allows the following breeds to participate in official Earthdog events:

How Can I Get My Dog Started In Earthdog?

Training for Earthdog requires access to special den courses, making it not as easy to start at home as some other canine activities. However, it is not difficult to get started in by following the below steps:

  • If your dog has not mastered basic obedience skills, start here. This is the sturdy foundation you and your dog need to succeed in Earthdog.
  • The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers tips for beginners to perform very basic training for Earthdog in their own yards here.
  • Next, review the American Kennel Club (AKC) Earthdog Test Regulations to understand the events and determine if they are a good fit for you and your dog.
  • You should also plan to observe an Earthdog event to see if it is something your dog would enjoy. Find an Earthdog event near you using the American Kennel Club (AKC) Events Calendar.
  • Lastly, find an Earthdog Club near you using the American Kennel Club (AKC) Club Directory. These clubs will have the resources you need to get started such as trainers and fellow pet parents who are experienced in Earthdog.

Earthdog Test Titles

Earthdog tests are simply passed or failed; participants are not ranked against each other. When a dog passes a test, he or she is awarded a title. There are several levels of test titles based upon the participating dog’s levels of experience listed in the American Kennel Club (AKC) Earthdog Regulations:

  • Introduction to Quarry is the very first level, the purpose of which is to test a dog’s instincts. It offers no credit toward the advanced titles. This test helps owners determine if their dog has the necessary instincts to participate in Earthdog.
  • Junior Earthdog is earned by dogs who have qualified for this title after being evaluated by two different individual judges.
  • Senior Earthdog is earned by dogs who have qualified for this title after being evaluated by three different individual judges, and who have earned the Junior Earthdog title.
  • Master Earthdog is earned by dogs who have qualified for this title after being evaluated by four different individual judges, and who have earned the Junior Earthdog title and the Senior Earthdog title.
  • Endurance Earthdog is earned by dogs who have qualified for this title after passing both the Senior and Master tests at the same event five times.

Are There Options For Ineligible Breeds?

Yes! If your dog is not one of the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s eligible breeds for Earthdog, there is another competitive canine activity called Barn Hunt. Organized by the Barn Hunt Association, any dog who can fit into their course’s hay bale tunnels may participate. To learn more about the eligibility requirements, review the Barn Hunt Rulebooks here.

Barn Hunt was started by the owner of a miniature pinscher who wanted to participate in Earthdog but could not because the breed had not been added to the AKC’s eligible breeds list at the time. Though they are eligible now, many of these dogs still enjoy participating in Barn Hunt rather than Earthdog.


Dogs love participating in Earthdog because of their naturally inherited prey drive for rodents. Earthdog is an excellent way to bond with your dog and make training fun. Rats are not harmed in Earthdog events. To get started, find an Earthdog club near you using the American Kennel Club (AKC) Club Directory.