Most terriers were originally developed and bred to hunt vermin and when necessary to enter their quarry's underground lair to kill them. However, over the years, terriers have been used less and less for their original purpose and are more often seen solely as pampered house pets and companions.
The American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) was founded in 1971 by Patricia Adams Lent. She started the Association to help promote the working of terriers as she was worried that if not worked, terriers would eventually lose their natural hunting instincts and simply become docile companion dogs. Unlike many other dog associations, the AWTA does not require dogs to be purebred to be part of the club or participate in the events. They simply require dogs to have small working terrier in them or Dachshund. The main objective of the AWTA is to encourage small terrier owners to work their dogs and to help bring out their natural instincts, much the way lure coursing competitions help to bring out the natural instincts in Sighthounds. Although there are now many other dog clubs that promote the working of terriers, the AWTA was the first working terrier club and Ms. Lent was responsible for developing den trials.
Earthdog, den trials or go-to-ground trials are a canine sport for short-legged terriers that test their working ability and instincts. Den trials take place in man-made underground tunnels that are usually 30-35 feet long. The tunnel usually has several right-angle turns, exits and false dens to try to fool and confuse the dog. The dog must negotiate the tunnel in thirty seconds or less and "work" the quarry for at least 60 seconds. It varies per Club, but most den trails use two rats as quarry that are safely protected in a cage from the dogs. Dogs are expected to not only find the rats at the end of the tunnel, but to "work" the quarry by barking, digging and scratching the ground. In most clubs, den trails are a non-competitive sport, but titles are given out to dogs who accomplish the trial in a pre-specified amount of time. Most clubs have different levels that dogs can earn titles in, from beginners to advanced.
For a dog to participate in den trials, they should be in good health, have basic obedience training and be well behaved around other dogs and people. Most clubs only allow dogs six months and over to participate. Seniors dogs are welcome to participate as long as their health is good and they are having fun. Different clubs allow for different breeds to participate, but the majority allow Australian Terriers, Bedlington Terriers, Border Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Cesky Terriers, Dachshunds, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, Glen of Imaal Terriers, Parson Russell Terriers, Lakeland Terriers, Mini Bull Terriers, Manchester Terrier, Mini Schnauzer, Norfolk and Norwich Terriers, Rat Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Scottish Terriers, Sealyham Terriers, Silky Terriers, Fox Terriers, Welsh Terriers, Skye Terriers and West Highland Terrier. The AWTA and a few other clubs allows terrier crosses.
Terriers, like many dogs were bred to work and happiest when doing so. Earthdog trials allows a terrier to be a terrier. Den trials are excellent exercise, great socialization and lots of fun for both the dog and owner.