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What is a trial?
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What is a trial?
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Terrier trials are nothing like dog shows you see on TV. Spayed and neutered "just pets" have gone to the JRTCA Nationals and come home champions. Requirements are must own a Jack Russell Terrier, you must be a member of JRTCA (available at the trial site), and you must want to have fun with your terrier.
Terrier trials are about fun.
Classes offered at this trial will be Conformation, Racing, and Go To Ground. If you've attended a fun day, you've participated in Racing and Go To Ground already. If your dog can walk on a leash, you can enter conformation. If you would like to enter but are unsure what classes you can/should enter, email or call me or ask at the registration table at the trial. We'll gladly help you figure out which classes to enter and get you ready to enjoy your first terrier trial!
Each day is a new trial. We invite you to come watch the events on Saturday and see what terrier trials are about and then you can enter for Sunday. A brief description of the events offered follow.


Conformation classes are judged much like any other dog show. The winner is the terrier that most closely matches the breed standard. In addition to conformation and movement, the terrier is judged on temperament; as in all things having to do with Jack Russells, the best working terrier is being sought. JRTCA sanctioned conformation judges are required to have an in-depth, first-hand knowledge of terrier work, and understand the importance of the physical characteristics necessary for a terrier to be useful for the work he was bred to do.

There has been a great increase in the conformation showing of Jack Russells in recent years. Conformation exhibiting has been very effective in the U.S. in promoting correct conformation according to the breed standard, thereby improving the quality of the breeding stock in this country. However, while showing is beneficial to the breed in that respect, the JRTCA designs its trials to keep the working aspects of the terrier in the forefront.

Tips on Conformation Showing

  • Make your terrier comfortable on a leash and with strangers
  • The condition of your terrier plays an important role in how well your terrier will do in the conformation ring
  • When you are asked to walk your terrier across the ring, walk him. Set your sights on where you want to go and walk there, briskly. Don't have the leash strung up tightly.
  • Keep your attention on what the judge is doing. When the judge is busy, relax your terrier. When the judge is at the end of the individual examination, get your dog's attention and make sure he's standing alertly.
  • No matter what your terrier does when you are showing him, do not reprimand - this will get his tail down.
  • Make sure there is adequate space between your terrier and the ones on either side.
  • Be a good sport and congratulate those who beat you. If you're a winner, win with dignity.

Go To Ground:
Everything about the Jack Russell has fox hunting in mind....coloring, conformation, character, and intelligence. The body is compact, of totally balanced proportions, the shoulders clean, the legs straight, and most importantly, a small chest (easily spannable by average size hands at the widest part behind the shoulders). The Jack Russell must also be totally flexible, allowing him to maneuver underground. This conformation allows the terrier to follow his quarry down narrow earths. The fox is a good model for the Jack Russell-where the fox can go, so must the terrier. Although originally bred for fox hunting, the Jack Russell is a versatile working terrier to a variety of quarry including red and grey fox, raccoon and woodchuck.

The Go-To-Ground (GTG) trial event was designed to simulate and test a Jack Russell's ability to hunt and work underground. It is a matter of opinion as to whether a good Go-to-Ground terrier will make a good hunting terrier (or visa versa). It is the closest some terriers may ever get to any type of "work". Although it really is more or less a game for the terriers, it is a good training step towards the day your terrier may do real earthwork. It stimulates the natural instinct to do what they were bred for, to hunt!
General Rules

The terrier is placed in front of an artificial hole (the tunnel is usually made of wood and appears to be an opening to the earth). All four of the terrier's feet must be touching the ground. The GTG judge will instruct the  handler to release the terrier when the handler and terrier are ready. The terrier will move through the tunnel as fast as it can. The end of the tunnel has a grate over the opening to keep the terrier from attacking the quarry - a rat in a cage. The GTG judge times the terrier from the moment it is released until it begins to "mark" the quarry (i.e., bark, whine, scratch, etc). Depending upon the class entered (novice, open, championship), the terrier must mark the quarry for a predetermined period of time (usually 30 seconds or a minute). If the terrier successfully marks the quarry, the time is recorded and the terrier is eligible for a ribbon. If the terrier is unsuccessful in marking the quarry, the time does not count and the terrier is disqualified. 

GTG Trial Certificate

To obtain a Trial Certificate after scoring 100% in an Open class at a JRTCA sanctioned trial, the owner of the adult terrier shall submit a copy of the qualifying score sheet, along with a $20 filing fee, to the JRTCA office. The score sheet is good for the life of the dog and may be submitted with the registration application if the terrier is not already registered with the JRTCA.

Racing is perhaps the most exciting of all the terrier trial events. There are two types of races: flat and hurdles (also known as Steeplechase). A JRTCA sanctioned track must be minimum of 150 feet long (200+ feet is recommended), and is a straight course with a starting box at one end and a stack of straw or hay bales with a hole in the middle (the finish line) at the other. A lure (usually a piece of scented fur) is attached to a piece of string that is pulled along by a Lure machine. The dogs are muzzled for safety (theirs and the catchers). The first dog to cross the finish line (behind the bales at the entry to the catch pen) is the winner. That is not always the dog that was first as they entered the hole in the hay bales! Each race may be a series of heats, semis, and finals. A championship race is run in each division and is a competition between the winners of the flat and hurdle races. To qualify for the championships those dogs MUST have run in BOTH their flat and hurdle races.

How to Train Your Terrier to Race

You can start race training of your terrier in your own back yard. The idea is to get them used to chasing a lure so that when they are in a real race, they will know what to do. You can use the following items to perform the training:

  • String and Lure - Tie a piece of fur (a sock will work also) to a 20 foot piece of string
  • Racing Muzzle - to get your terrier used to wearing one
  • Tease the terrier with the fur (to get its attention)
  • Run away from your terrier with the lure trailing behind you
  • Let your terrier catch the fur so that it will be a satisfying experience for it. Repeat these steps several times.
  • Hurdles - Build simple hurdles from inexpensive PVC piping. Drag the lure over the hurdle to get your terrier to jump. It works!
  • The best practice for racing is to actually run your terrier in a real race (i.e., with other terriers, muzzles, spectators, etc). Attend a fun day for good practice.
  • Start your terrier racing at a young age (4 months). Don't let them race over large hurdles since their joints are still growing!
  • Don't let your terrier overheat.

Racing Tips

  • Use a "softie" muzzle or a basket muzzle; mickey and figure-eight muzzles are illegal as the terriers are unable to breathe properly
  • Practice makes perfect - rarely does a first time racing terrier do well. Normally they either sit in the starting box, play with their muzzle, or run the wrong direction. Don't quit after the first failure. Jack Russells are smart and catch on quickly.
  • Remember that you are there to have fun - not to argue. Let's make sure racing doesn't get a bad name. It's an exciting event and tempers can flare. Remember to thank the catchers and the racing staff. They've got a tough job.
  • Allow your terrier to watch some of the races to get excited. After awhile, you probably won't have to do this since your terrier will know when it's race time.
  • If your terrier starts a fight, work to stop this behavior immediately. Fighting terriers are dismissed since they can disrupt the outcome of the race and are a danger to the other terriers and the catchers.
  • If you think your terrier is close to moving up to the next height division (i.e., over 12 1/2 inches), get a JRTCA height card. It'll save you a lot of hassles at trials. To get a height card, you need to have two sanctioned American Conformation Judges measure your terrier.
  • Cool down your terrier after each race (some owners will "dunk" their terriers in a large barrel of water after each race). You can use a mist spray bottle and offer your terrier plenty of water.
  • Be sure to remove the terrier's leash and regular collar before you put it in the starting box.
  • Have a friend or family member help you when you race your terrier (i.e., help with muzzle, pick up terrier after the race).

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