What is the Endurance Test?
The endurance test, or ET is a simple test of stamina and endurance where the dog runs 20kms with their handler either on a bike, or running next to them, in less than 2 hours.
It's run in three stages—8kms in the first stretch and then 6kms in both of the two remaining legs. A pace keeper rides at the front of the pack to make sure that the teams are going at the correct speed and stewards are dotted around the course to make sure that all dogs and handlers are keeping pace properly.
Dogs and handlers are allowed a break between each leg to have a drink and a short rest. Dogs are also checked over by vets before and during the test to make sure that they are well enough to continue, that they are not at risk of overheating and to check that the dog hasn’t done itself an injury while running the test. Any dog that is deemed unfit to go on to the next leg of the test is disqualified from the event.
A willingness test is performed by all dogs at the start and end of the trial to make sure that the dogs are still happy to work with the handler. This is a simple obedience exercise of a small amount of heel work, a sit and a recall on lead.
Though some breeds of dog tend to be more suited to the ET than others, all breeds are eligible and with a bit of fitness work, most dogs can complete the test and earn the ET title.
What equipment do I need?
There is very little equipment needed to run the Endurance Test - if you are going to ride with your dog, obviously you will need a comfortable bike (we recommend a silicone bike seat cushion!) and a helmet, otherwise you will a comfortable pair of shoes for running. The test generally involves different surfaces like grass, gravel and paved roads so this is something to take into consideration. You will also need a lead (6ft leads are the best length in our opinion), a flat collar, poo bags, a water bowl and if you wish to feed your dog during the breaks, treats. We generally also bring something to entice our dogs to drink, like coconut water.
To enter the ET, you will also need a vet certificate obtained within the 2 weeks prior the test.
How much training is needed?
Good conditioning and basic fitness is all that is required to run the test, however, in our experience there have been many dogs who have not had the level of fitness and conditioning that we would prefer to have on our own dogs. These dogs are easy to spot, lagging behind the handler or having their temperatures and heart rates rising significantly during the test.
We recommend beginning a minimum of 6 months out with fitness and endurance work, and then introducing running with dogs in front and behind them so they can get used to how they will be running during the test. If you are going to run the test with your dog, get them used to running on a loose lead, relatively close to you. If you are going to run them next to a bike, you will need to teach them to be in close proximity to the bike while not crossing in front or behind. Running them as often as you can, either with you or free running if you can find a safe place to allow them to run off lead is a good way to build their fitness.
For the willingness test, your dog will just have to know how to walk on a loose lead next to you and may be asked to do a couple of simple commands, like sit next to you and in front of you or drop on cue. The willingness test is only there to show that the dog is happy to work with the handler and isn't going to be an issue on course with other dogs around.
If you have a dog who is not the best with vets, you may also need to do some neutralisation work to get the dog to accept handling by someone else. They will need to be happy to have their paws handled by the vets, their heart rate taken and also to stand while they have their temperature taken rectally.
How the ET works
On the day, you will be checked in and the judges will decide where your dog will run in the order. You will need to stay in this order for the entire test. Often handlers are given a vest to wear (similar to a netball bib) to identify them and their dog. Dogs will first be vetted so they have a baseline heart rate and temperature recorded, before the judge takes groups over to do the first willingness test. Once all checks have been completed, the handlers will be lined up in order to start the test. They will run the first leg of 8kms and then have their dogs vet checked, followed by a 6km leg, another vet check/rest and then the final 6km run, followed by another vet check. If dogs pass this, then they are taken over to do another willingness test. If they pass this, then they earn their ET title!