Earth Dogs

Terriers take on the dirty, frenzied job of dispatching critters to help working farms and ranches.

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He’s not used to hunting with strangers,” said John Vesterburg, when I commented on the way his 3-year-old Jack Russell Terrier quizzically eyed me. “Midas is still learning field manners.”

Unlike many of his brethren, Midas isn’t a yapper. He’s uncharacteristically mum when we’re introduced. I can sense the dog isn’t sure what to make of me, evidenced by a stare that would burn a hole through steel. Maybe Midas thinks I’m on equal footing with the groundhogs and opossums he and Vesterburg hunt.

Although Midas’ bloodlines run deep, the 13-inch-tall block of sinewy muscle and fur isn’t your typical hunting dog. The JRT and other “earth dogs” do their work below ground, entering holes and tunnels to locate pesky varmints that cause cattlemen and farmers so many headaches and sleepless nights. When a JRT finds the hole’s occupant, it barks its head off to let its human companion know it’s time to dig. A locator collar around the dog’s neck tells the digger where the dog is. It’s up to the digger to shovel away dirt and rocks to reveal the ferocious dog and the critter the dog has found.

Owners use their earth dogs to hunt varmints below ground for a variety of reasons. They do it for sport or as a free service to farmers who want to remove damage-causing animals like groundhogs and opossums from their property. Mostly, they do it because their dogs love to hunt, and it gives them the opportunity to use their instincts.

Let’s tag along with Vesterburg and his dog Midas as they help a farmer control varmints. However, before embarking on a hunt, we’ll examine the history of earth dogs to better understand that hunting below ground isn’t just something they will do, but something they were born to do.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the December 2011 issue of DOG WORLD today, or  subscribe  to receive the best dog articles, dog news, and dog information every month!


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