Dogs have always been a farmer’s best friend. Aside from herding the flock and protecting the farm from predators and thieves, they often were relied on to keep the barn clear of rats. Today, the dogs’ natural skill at being “verminators” has evolved into an actual sport: The Barn Hunt.
What is Barn Hunt?
Rats are placed in aerated tubes and hidden in bales of hay or straw. These bales are then arranged in an elaborate pattern, along with “false leads” like their favorite treats or strong scents. The dogs have to identify the scent of the rat, and ignore the other scents—no matter how tempting! And don’t worry: no rats are ever harmed since they’re kept in sealed tubes. The tubes are also large enough so the rats can move comfortably, and are often filled with soft bedding.
During a barn hunt, three kinds of tubes (with a rat, with rat bedding, and empty) are hidden in the ring. They can be partially hidden under the bales, but are positioned in a way that they can be uncovered without intervention from the handler. During the hunt, the dog is released into the ring and has to find as many tubes as possible within the time limit. The courses have varying degrees of difficulty and incorporate tunnels, ramps, boards, and bridges.
What breeds can join a Barn Hunt?
The Barn Hunt tests the dog’s scenting ability, speed, drive, obedience, and responsiveness to the handler. All breeds, even mixed breeds, can join a Barn Hunt. The only qualification is that the dog can fit into the bale tunnel (about 18″ tall). However, the dogs will be divided into different height classes.
What are the different kinds of Barn Hunt Competitions?
Barn hunts are not under the American Kennel Club, but an independent Barn Hunt Association. However, the AKC supports the sport and recognizes the titles.
Like other sports, there are Novice to Championship levels, Dogs can attain different levels that qualify them for different kinds of competition. They start at Barn Hunt Instinct (RATI) which is open to all dogs, then advance to Novice Barn Hunt (RATN), Open Barn Hunt (RATO), Senior Barn Hunt (RATS), Master Barn Hunt (RATM), and Barn Hunt Championship (RATC).
You can also find local barn hunts and barn hunting clubs. These places also provide training and classes, and regular competitions that will hone your dog’s confidence and skill.
What are the best breeds for barn hunt?
One of the best things about Barn Hunt is that the competition allows any dog to participate – it’s an equal opportunity sport! However, some breeds may have an advantage because of their innate hunting and scenting traits. These include the Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collies, American Foxhound, Welsh Corgi, and other pointer breeds.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re automatically better than other dogs. With enough training and experience, even mixed breeds can shine at barn hunt competitions.
How do I train my dog for a barn hunt?
Taking an introductory Barn Hunt class is a great way to be introduced to the sport. Barn Hunt classes can help teach your dog the skills and commands to do well in formal competitions. Like all sports though, practice makes perfect, so be sure to reinforce those lessons at home.
Recreate the Barn Hunt setting in a large room or enclosed field. Sharpen your dog’s “nose scent” by hiding boxes with different scents and then immediately giving a reward when the box is found. Also, curb any aggression by practicing with a toy rat. The competition is all about finding the rats and moving onto the next so you don’t want your dog fixating on the first one that it finds.
Participate in local Barn Hunt events, and join groups and clubs that can help you find out more about the community. Barn hunting is a relatively new sport, so finding like-minded enthusiasts will help give you the support and information you need—and develop your own “nose” for finding the right opportunities. Good luck!