By Joyce Moore - StoneMark Kennels - "Show Cairns with a Working Purpose"

This is Ch. Joywoods Geordie for Magadog, ME

Doing what comes naturally!



This is Riley and I at his first AKC Earthdog Test.

No he didn't pass his Junior ED test…



But we had a great time anyway!

Before discussing the AKC Earthdog (ED) Tests, I want to provide you with some commentary that will hopefully explain why this performance test is an all-important step in developing a well-rounded terrier, whose instincts are piqued as he practices the very functions he was bred to perform.


The Cairn Terrier breed was originated over two hundred years ago in the Highlands of Scotland and on the Isle of Skye. They were bred to hunt vermin which infested the rural areas, killing off crofters livestock, and they were commonly used to bolt the fox, the otter, the weasel and other vermin from their dens in the earth, the rocks and rock cairns.

Certain basic attributes had to be present for the Cairn to carry out his designated purpose. In many instances, less common today, his very existence depended on the presence of these attributes.


It is important we remember that the original design of the Cairn stemmed from ability. Certain breeds recognized by the AKC have, over the years, been rendered useless for their intended job by breeders who are over-zealous in the direction of "beauty" points for the show ring. To discourage this myopic sense of breeding, some dog experts have suggested that perhaps our working terriers should be required to earn earthdog certification in the artificial earth before being eligible to compete for an AKC Championship. Both breeders and judges would then evaluate the points with clearer understanding and with the knowledge that the terrier being "put up" is well fit to carry out those functions so strongly supported by our standard. The likelihood of this happening is absurd; yet, this does not prohibit us, as breeders, from exercising the natural instincts of our Cairns. This type of activity is valuable in identifying those dogs, within our kennels, whose breed characteristics are strong or weal in accordance with the standard.


What He's All About: In addition to showing their aptitude for hunting, trials give insights into the development of the dog's personality. The age at which the hunting instinct awakens may vary within the dog; however, it should have surfaced naturally before the dog reaches eighteen months of age. The keenness of the instinct indicates the integrity of the dog's personality and gives clues to its stability as a pet and how well equipped it is to handle other instinctive tasks such as puppy whelping and rearing. The sporting Cairn, having the opportunity to use his nose, courage and be both mentally and physically challenged, is a happy terrier!

 Basic Training: As more Cairn owners and people in our regional clubs begin to work their dogs, you will clearly observe a difference, even in the show ring, between those used for sporting and those that are not.

There has been much written about how to groom a puppy's attitude for the show ring. From my own experience I can tell you that the single, most effective exercise you can give your puppy to create terrier spirit and superb attitude, is to work him. I introduce my puppies to the den by three months of age. The purpose of that age is to acquaint the puppy with the dark hold and make his experience in there a fun and rewarding one. His favorite toy should await him at the other end as you tease him into a sense of achievement over finding the "quarry" and putting up a good old terrier tug to shake its timbers. He will begin to revel in this "game", displaying his natural instincts and the heart and soul of why he was bred to be here.


On the topic of shows, it is worthwhile to mention the display of temperament that working terrier breeds should exhibit both in the show and at the test site. These small dogs should be self-contained, well mannered and not fight for the sake of fighting. They should get along well with other dogs, even strange dogs. They are extremely gentle, sensitive and affectionate with people. Why then would a judge expect them to show with "fire?" "Fire" towards other dogs - his friends and pack partners in the hunting field? "Fire" towards people - his beloved companions with whom he shares his life? What then is there to create this "fire?" The answer is NOTHING. Judges should be educated to this fact, recognizing the difference between sparring (standing firm with courage to defend) and attacking (lunging and attacking other dogs without provocation) and discontinue promoting a display of bad ring temperament.


The specific working ability originally b red in t Cairn enabled him to outlast vermin of all kinds and under all conditions. Our thought, as we go over the Cairn and relate his structure and physical attributes to the standard, should be that FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION. This is an oft-used phrase, but its application if not always tested as we assess the conformation of the Cairn:

  • Temperament. Must be of a fearless nature, not quarrelsome, but unafraid of man or beast.
  • Must be armed with large, strong teeth set in powerful jaws so that he can defend himself in a fight to the death.
  • Must have a hard and weather-resistant coat, double coated with profuse harsh outer coat and short soft, close furry undercoat. This armor protects him from the cold, rain or snow, briars and the teeth and claws of his quarry.
  • Must have a strong, active body with well-sprung, deep ribs, couple to strong hindquarters, with a level back of medium length, creating an impression of strength and activity without heaviness. This construction indicates a combination of proper placement of the bone structure as well as corrects angulation, providing him the agility to corner and hold his quarry.
  • Must have a sloping shoulder and medium length of leg that terminates in feet carrying thick, strong pads. The Cairn is an earthdog and without this device he is useless for his purpose.


The Introduction to Quarry test is a very simple instinct test requiring no training or previous exposure to earthwork. No titles are earned and it is not a prerequisite for advanced test. The judge is allowed to use discretion in encouraging the dog by scratching or moving the cage or by some other means of getting the dogs attention. The den is two single liners, 9 inches by 9 inches, set to provide a tunnel about 10 feet in length with one 90 degree turn.

There are three titles that may be earned through earthdog testing. The Junior Earthdog (JE) Test is strictly meant to measure the dog's pursuit of quarry; it is solely a test for instinct. The JE Test uses a 30-foot den with three 90-degree angles. The dog must quality in two AKC licensed or member club tests under two different judges to earn his JE title. Footnote: After a dog develops the correct response it is better not to practice at all. The frenzy that seems to right for JE is so wrong for Senior Earthdog and Master Earthdog.

The intermediate level test is the Senior Earthdog (SE). Again, a 30-foot den with three 90-degree angles is used. This test is more complex than the JE because the d0 foot den contains a scented false den and a false exit within the 30-foot den length. To earn the SE title, a dog must qualify in the SE Test at three AKC licensed or member club tests under two different judges. Footnote: It's in SE and ME where there are zillions of ways the dog can not qualify.

The Master Earthdog (ME) title is the most difficult to earn. The den is still 30 feet long with three 90-degree angles but it contains an obstacle and a constriction, which cause some special maneuvering by the dog as it moves toward the quarry. Dogs running the ME Test are worked two at a time; one dog (the "bye" dog" is staked approximately 10 feet from the den entrance while the other dog works the quarry. Once the first dog completes work, he becomes the "bye" dog and the second dog takes his turn. To qualify for the ME title, a dog must qualify in the ME Test at four AKC licensed or member club tests under two different judges. Footnote: The dog definitely has to be thinking on its own to work out the difference variations in ME. You can't teach them to do it, you can only help them understand the choices through exposure . . . IMHO, and it is always better to work with the dog's natural instincts rather than obedience training it to do something that should be instinctive.


You may access the AKC Web Page at This tells you all the rules and regulations for putting on an ED Test, setting up den designs, qualifying performances, etc.

FOOTNOTES: The footnotes annotated above in AKC EARTHDOG TESTS were taken from an e-mail from Jo Ann Frier-Murza, dated Oct 21, 1996, subject: Re (long) Adventures & training noisy workers. Jo Ann is one of the top working AKC and American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) judges. She was a part of the Committee that worked with AKC in designing the AKC Earthdog Performance Test Program. She has traveled abroad extensively and has hunted with well know terriermen in both England and the Scandinavian countries.

MY NOTE: Should anyone like more into on training or any other aspect of Earthdog work, I would be happy to provide it or to answer your individual questions.

Joyce Moore

(Joyce is an AKC licensed Earthdog Judge and a member of the CTCA and CTC of Denver.)

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