Building Your Dens
by Karla Deithorn, Executive Field Representative
Before gathering the supplies to build your dens you need to consider a number of things. One of the first things to consider is whether you will be building permanent or temporary dens. If the dens are to be left in the ground for any length of time you will need to use treated wood for the tops, such as marine plywood, or you can plan on replacing the dens every 2-3 years. Dens left in the ground that are made of untreated wood may look in good shape but they can split easily if someone steps on them to retrieve their dog. The side boards should be thick so that when constructing the dens you can use screws and the wood will not split. When dealing with permanent dens you need to consider that judges need to be able to see in ALL parts of the den to check for any protruding nails or screws and to make sure no animal has taken up residence in the dens. If you arrange your top openings on the corners it allows the judge to see both directions in the den and makes for easier scenting as well.
If the dens are to be removed after each use you will want to consider making them in sections that are easier to handle. By making smaller sections you can make your corner sections separately and the straight sections can be made to nest in each other so that they do not require a large truck to transport them. They can be made small enough to transport in a station wagon or SUV. You can also make the smaller sections with a 'collar' of wood or rubber so that the joints will be covered and prevent dirt or light from entering the den from above.
No matter if you are using permanent or temporary dens, if you will be using one den for all three regular classes or even for both Senior and Master, you will need to have interchangeable sections so you can change from the Master obstacles to the Senior den. And if you intend to use it for all three classes, you will also need solid dividers to slip in front of the false den and false exit tunnels for Junior. If you are using permanent dens and will need to use one den for more than one class, it is recommended that you mark where the changes are to be made so that you can find it from test to test and year to year.
Once you have decided on the number of dens and the type of wood to use, it is time to consider what type of bars you will use. Most clubs are now using wooden dowels for bars although there are a few clubs that are using metal bars. Metal bars do not have to be replaced but many exhibitors will not enter their dogs with metal bars in the dens as they vigorously chew on the bars. Exhibitors are afraid of their dogs will break teeth, so most clubs have gone to wooden dowels.
When using wooden dowels first decide on what size dowels you want to use. You can use four bars or three bars. No matter what number of bars you use, be sure to allow for the wood to swell. An easy set up on the quarry end is a board at the bottom that has indentations that the dowels fit in. Then a solid board across the top that has round holes to slip the dowel through. Over that goes a wood or metal plate that latches down tightly to keep the dowels in place. It is in the top and bottom board that you need to allow for the swelling of the dowels. If you use the three bars across there is sometimes enough room for dogs to get their canines on the far side of the bars and they can get stuck. By using the four bars, it is harder for the dogs to get a grip on the bars and chew. The wider the spacing and the softer the wood, the more often the bars must be replaced. Be sure to use hardwood dowels and they will last longer.
You will need to have bars in Master at the entrance and the false exit so that the dogs coming up to mark the den entrance do not get in. At this spot there are a variety of options. The rules clearly state "Both openings to the den...shall be blocked by a removable grate obstruction." I have seen everything from regular bars such as that used at the quarry end; to a section of wire shelving; to a set of metal bars attached to a large block of wood with the bars pushed into the ground; to an actual metal grate with holes in it. You can also use metal bars covered by PVC tubes or aquarium tubing to protect dogs' teeth. Since the dogs will not be attacking the bars at the entrances for any extended length of time, these protective coverings on the metal bars will hold up well. Remember that if you use an obstacle that is pushed into the ground, you should also have a way to fasten it down as the dogs will be trying to get into the den at the rats. If you do not fasten down the obstruction, the dog may be able to dig under and lift it up and this can cause serious problems. ALWAYS make entrance obstructions for Master that can be fastened down for safety sake.
It is a good idea to number the sections of your den if you will be removing them after each test. If you are using one den for a variety of classes that requires removable blockers, be sure to number the blockers as well. This will prevent improper placement of the blocker in the various classes. It is also a good idea to have a graphic layout of the den available to various club members and judges. This enables the workers and judges of each class to have a clear idea of what is necessary to set up the den for that particular class. Your graphic layout should include the numbered sections and how they fit together; where the Master obstacles fit into the layout; where any blockers go and their numbers and the variety of layouts available to the judge.
Before building your dens be sure to attend trials and look at various clubs' dens before they are buried. If you are building permanent dens, consider the type of soil you will be putting the dens into and the weather in your area. And don't be afraid to ask questions of club members regarding the building of the dens and how easy they are to handle and transport. You will be using the dens for a few years and want to have a set that you will find easy to work with so that your tests go smoothly and you aren't exhausted before the test starts!
When building the dens, make it a club outing and enlist all club members' help. And when the dens are done, break them in with a practice session for all the workers' dogs!
Below is a link to the zip file of den design images. You will need an unzipping program like Winzip to open them. Right click and choose "save target as."