The master test is the highest in the AKC earthdog scheme and it's meant to emulate an actual hunt as much as is possible in an artificial test. I've discussed this with people who really do hunt their dogs, and they say it's as different from real hunting as night from day--and I believe them. However, as I don't ever plan to hunt Moe, for my purposes his master title is the big enchilada.
In the master test, you're paired with another dog by random draw. The dogs are then released off-leash at least 100 yards away from the tunnels. A scent line is laid between the starting point and the tunnels and the dogs are expected to work together and use their noses to find the rats. Along the way to the tunnels the dogs have to show they're paying attention to their owner, and working well together. They're also distracted by a false (unscented) den, which they have to examine but can't show too much interest in.
Once the dogs get to the real tunnels, they have to indicate (show you they know there are rats there). For this part of the test, the rats are moved to just inside the tunnel entrance. Ideally one dog gets there first, indicates, and is pulled out of the way. Then the other dog indicates. Then both dogs are led away, and the rats are moved to the end of the tunnel. The first dog that indicated is then released at the tunnel entrance.
In the master tunnel there are two obstacles, a small pipe that the dog has to go over (meant to simulate a tree root) and a place where the tunnel narrows (meant to simulate a real, uneven tunnel). Once the dog gets to the rats it has to work for 90 seconds, and then is pulled out by it's owner.
While the first dog is in the tunnel, the second dog is staked to a post near the tunnel entrance "honoring" the first dog. An honoring dog is supposed to be interested in what's going on, but not be barking loudly or otherwise going crazy. When the first dog is done the dogs trade places, and the first dog honors while the second dog negotiates the tunnel.
It's pretty involved, it can be really subjective, but it's also supposed to be a whole lot of fun. Today, it was a little bit of all of those.
(Disclaimer: Moe is my dog and in telling this story I'm obviously going to be a little biased in his favor.)
As I said, we drew the first slot and were paired with a Parson Russell Terrier who had already gotten his master title and was just running for fun. The Parson's Human and I released our dogs, and they were working really well together at first. I was so proud of Moe--I was a little afraid he might head for the hills, but he really paid attention to me and where I was trying to direct him. Both dogs got to the false den at the same time and the Parson's Human was worried they might fight; both pups stayed friendly though, came out as they were supposed to, and kept sniffing.
Then came the drama. Moe got to the real tunnel first and was indicating, but before the judge told me to grab him the Parson came in behind him. The Parson tried to squeeze into the tunnel with Moe, but Moe squeezed him right back out. Then (again, remember my disclaimer) the Parson either bit or really, really goosed Moe's butt. Moe, of course, was having none of that and turned on the Parson--clip boards flew, people ran--it only lasted a few seconds, but it was definitely enough to get hearts pumping. The Parson's human and I got control again, and we went on with the test.
Moe did everything else textbook. The Parson went into the tunnel well, but then decided it would rather continue arguing with Moe than work the rats. Needless to say, he ended up failing the test.
The judge decided the Parson instigated the fight, so she passed Moe. She was nice about it because she knew it was my first test, but she said that next time I need to get to Moe quicker and pull him out even if the judge doesn't tell me to right away. Message received.
Part of the reason I thought it would be fun to do a test with Moe in California was because I wanted to see what the differences were. You would think that an earthdog test is an earthdog test, but there were small differences.
The first difference we noticed was that the judges here let spectators get a lot closer. At the test we go to in Iowa, the judges require everyone to stay at least a few hundred yards back; at this test Sweet Husband and Nice Dad were allowed to stand within fifty feet. It was sooo nice, and the dogs didn't seem to be distracted by it at all.
The second difference was the judging in general. I think Moe would have passed his senior in the Midwest, no problem. But I have to wonder if he would have gotten the master leg. I don't know--as I said, it's pretty subjective, so it's hard to say. I think he deserved it, so we'll take it; other than the little squabble Moe was awesome, and I honestly feel like he was just defending himself which I can't fault him for.
Overall though, I thought it was a good test. Nice set-up. Friendly people. Helpful judges. More pictures are here.