Dogs ‘go to ground’ for Earthdog competition

PHOTO SUBMITTED / Brian Owen (left) of Silver Creek, with Dachshund Champion Dixieland's Silver Springs' "Sterling," receives a ribbon from AKC Earthdog Judge Cindi Todd of North Richland Hills, Texas, during the qualifying leg in the "Introduction to Quarry" category of the Earthdog Test at Thistlerose Farm recently. A "Dachshund Champion" designation means a dog has earned the distinction of champion in conformation and in field trials.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / Brian Owen (left) of Silver Creek, with Dachshund Champion Dixieland’s Silver Springs’ “Sterling,” receives a ribbon from AKC Earthdog Judge Cindi Todd of North Richland Hills, Texas, during the qualifying leg in the “Introduction to Quarry” category of the Earthdog Test at Thistlerose Farm recently. A “Dachshund Champion” designation means a dog has earned the distinction of champion in conformation and in field trials.

Mention the words, “dog show,” and the show ring of the Westminster Kennel Club at Madison Square Garden in New York City immediately comes to most people’s mind.

But a dog show of a much different sort took to the grounds of Thistlerose Farm in Copiah County last month as farm owner Shelia Sanders and the Mississippi Dachshund Club partnered to present the first American Kennel Club-sanctioned Earthdog Tests held in Mississippi in 20 years.

A diverse of group of exhibitors represented the states of Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Delaware with approved Earthdog breeds including all six Dachshund varieties (standard and miniature, longhaired, smooth and wirehaired varieties), as well as Border, Norfolk, Norwich, Dandie Dinmont and Parsons Russell Terriers, plus the latest terrier breed approved by AKC to the test, the Jack Russell Terrier.

The event, held during the weekend of April 26-27, was “a communal of sorts, a forging of the human-dog bond and those long-term relationships with one another in the most relaxed of atmospheres,” said Leah Harris, secretary of the Mississippi Dachshund Club.

“It was also a day of reckoning, with hounds and terriers hot on the scent of their opponent – the quarry,” she added. The atmosphere is like no other sport, where everyone cheers each participant’s successes and encourages one another, as it is not a competition but a pass or fail test, explained Harris.

Earthdog is a simulated test designed for “go-to-ground” dogs that were bred to enter tunnels and flush out game such as the badger and rabbit.

The tests consist of four levels of competition in categories ranging from introduction to master Earthdog, which includes many obstacles that the dog must overcome, including a walk-up with a brace-mate, off lead, honoring of the first dog on the scent line, an abandoned den on the walk-up and a simulated tree root, just to name a few, Harris said.

Trenches are dug to accept nine-by-nine-inch tunnel liners laid beneath the ground in various configurations. A scent line is laid on the freshly turned soil, which the dogs are also attracted to; the liners are laid and covered with earth; and the dogs are then judged on their natural scenting abilities, Harris explained.

“To achieve success, each dog must track within a given time, show interest and actively hunt (tongue-make voice, dig, scratch and bark) for a specified time,” she said. Dogs are awarded AKC titles after completing a specified number of successful “legs” in the competition.

“Driving through the countryside to Thistlerose Farm in Copiah County, one would never fathom the rich history of the land and the generations of families who have made it their life’s work to preserve that history – a history of healing and of bringing people and families together,” Harris said.

Today, Thistlerose is not the typical sort of destination you would plan to spend time, despite the special occasion, although this has not always been the case, Harris explained.

Brown’s Wells Hotel and Resort Spa, which was once located on the property, and then a part of adjoining “Kaywood Plantation,” was a popular travel destination near Hazlehurst around the turn of the century, complete with hotels and spas, casinos, tennis, golfing and more, Harris said. “On the plantations of old, everything had a purpose, and the farm dog was especially important and had varied uses,” she continued.

Sanders has returned to Thistlerose, where her father, a cotton miller, moved his family when she was a child. She has accomplished much toward the preservation of the property and has devoted a lifetime to the sport of dogs and horses in dressage.

“Mississippi Dachshund Club Earthdog at Thistlerose simply extends that legacy, and for that we are grateful,” Harris said. “Today, Thistlerose remains a refuge to all who enter.”

For more information on Mississippi Dachshund Club, please visit the club’s website at msdachshund.org.

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