Kerry Blue Terriers . . . Earth Dogs!

By Susan Dunivant

Three Kerry Blue Terriers joined the usual collection of Parson Russell, Border Terrier Caim, Dachshund and other go to ground types in an earth dog training clinic in North Carolina, October 2003. The trainers and their dogs ran the gamut from raw recruit beginners all the way through Master Earth Dog training. Although there were some odd looks along with comments like, “They don’t go to ground, do they?” or “That dog will never fit in the tunnel!” Kerry Blues Ceili, Misty and Daphne surprised them all. Like the proverbial bumble bee who isn’t built to fly but doesn’t know that so flies anyway, the Kerry girls squeezed through the regulation 9 inch by 9 inch square tunnels bringing appreciative smiles to all doubters. As the girls became more comfortable with the tunnels, realizing they couldn’t take an “over-land” short cut to the rat, their speed at entering and traversing the tunnels increased.

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Misty seeks the reward at the end of the tunnel! The American Kennel Club offers titles to many of the short legged terriers, and to Dachshunds, but Kerry Blue Terriers and some of the other long legged terriers, who are capable of gaining such working/hunting titles but are not eligible for AKC competition, must wait until such time as they will be. In the meantime, the American Working Terrier Association established in 1971 has recognized the working ability of the “non-traditional” go to ground dogs with a test in which such dogs may earn a Working Certificate(WC) and/or Hunting Certificate(HC). Dogs earning these certificates are still ineligible to compete in AWTA trials, but there is a process whereby a breed may be recognized for competition in trials. An ability to do the work, a history of participating in the work along with an expressed interest by the breed parent club to pursue recognition in order to compete in trials is presented to the AWTA for consideration. If the AWTA determines the requisite requirements are fullfilled, the breed is on its way to recognition for competition in trials.

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Ceili successfully navigates the intro tunnel.
Those who participated with their Kerries observed a few things. First, being that most dogs generally believe there is a more “efficient” way to get at the rat, take a short cut overground to where they know the rat is. But after all three bitches understood that they had to “tunnel” to reach the object of their obsession, they quickly made the trip taking the proper route.

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Trap door Up . . . Ceili says, “There it is!”
One of the more challenging tasks was to persuade the Kerries to drop down, so they could be “fed” into the tunnel, or so they could peek into the tunnel, in order to see the prize on the other side. All dogs go into a straight tunnel above ground first, followed by a straight with a blind opening, where they can not see the rat. The object is to teach the dog to follow its nose and forget sight seeing.

In competition, tunnels are treated with scent; however the above ground practice tunnels used at this clinic were not. There are several training methods to encourage a dog to readily work in the tunnel and to persevere instead of turning around or backing out of the tunnel. Most of the instructors advised taking time to introduce a dog to new challenges, succeeding completely at each stage rather than rushing a dog. As in most training, failure at the next level is remedied by dropping back to the prior level.

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A particular challenge peculiar to our breed, the Kerry Blue Terrier, is that typically they are silent workers. Indeed this was valued and bred for by the earlier fanciers as the quality was prized in a good poacher’s dog. So it came as no surprise that our Kerry girls’ method of working involved aggressive pawing and biting at the caged rat, without a lot of useless noise. However, we were told that some judges would consider the lack of vocalizing as a minus, and that it would be wise to teach the dog to bark or vocalize in some audible manner when reaching the rat. Others told us that before allowing the dog to enter the earth, inform the judge that your dog is a silent worker as this is a breed characteristic. The instructor shown above with Misty put WC/HCs on her Dobermans and taught her dogs to vocalize. She suggested this would be wise in the event that the breed become eligible to compete in trials.

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Shot out of a cannon! Misty exits as instructor removes cage.
So with a bit of encouragement and praise while allowing each of the girls to confront the caged rat for a bit, all began to vocalize from barks to a sort of growling banshee wail. Although Daphne needed little cause to be any noisier than she usually is! The breed is so intelligent; the finer points of the game shouldn’t be too difficult to teach. All three moved on to Intro (below ground) level.

As time was short and terriers waiting in line were many, only Ceili actually trained in the Intro tunnel, which is longer than the above ground with one turn. When she determined this was a continuation of the above ground fun, she was up to the challenge. After being introduced to the opening and an initial struggle to get her to peek in, followed by moving forward, Ceili decided the only way she was going to get to that rat was through that tunnel; so off she went. At the end of the tunnel, she confronted the rat with a steely stare, as if she was waiting for one false move. The rat is double caged. Plus, there are bars in the earth opening, which only allowed her to push her nose through, while pawing with one foot. When the trap door was opened to remove her, she was glued in. Except when she tried to go over the top a few times, as seen in one of the photos. Frustrated at not getting to actually seize her prize, she began growling and wailing while scratching at the opening, which we praised before bodily removing her from the earth.

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Just to prove that the fun isn’t confined to any particular type of terrier, witness wild man Mini Bull Terrier Beau, owned by G. and L. Hains blasting after that rat! So get out there and have fun!

(Misty is owned by Carl and Jamie Ashby. Ceili and Daphne are owned by Edie Brown and Susan Dunivant.

Last Updated: 12/30/2003, 2:50 pm