The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest working dogs originating from the Scottish highlands and islands. There isn’t a specific date of the cairn’s origin but there is reference of the cairn terrier by King James I and VI in the 16th century of this scrappy earth dog.
Cairn terriers were used by crofters, shepherds, and foxhunters for pest control – foxes, rats rabbits were their early quarry, but with the advent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of sporting pursuits, the dogs were much favored for use against badgers and otters. Their ”gameness” – the ability to ignore pain and continue to fight on - became legendary.
An earthdog trial tests the working ability and instinct of the small, often short-legged terriers or Dachshunds. These dogs were bred to hunt vermin and other quarry which lived in underground dens. Earthdog den trials involve man-made underground tunnels that the dogs must negotiate, while scenting a rat, “the quarry.” The dog must follow the scent to the quarry and then “work” the quarry. Depending on the sanctioning organization, “working” means barking, scratching, staring, pawing, digging; any active behavior. The quarry is protected at all times by wooden bars across the end of the tunnel. The hunting encounter is controlled, and neither the dog nor the quarry (usually two rats) are endangered by the activity.
AKC earthdog tests are intended as noncompetitive venues in which the handlers may gauge their dog’s natural hunting aptitude when presented with an underground hunting situation. According to the AKC General Regulations for Earthdog Tests, the noncompetitive program begins with a basic introduction to den work and quarry, progressing through gradual steps to the point where the dog can demonstrate that it is willing to perform the required tasks, including seeking its quarry and working it underground.