To close out 2017 we decided to give another new dog sport a try: Barn Hunt! In barn hunt the objective is for a dog to use its nose to find a rat concealed in hay bales in a barn. Fortunately the rat is held in a protective tube to keep the event family friendly. Hay bales are placed strategically to form obstacles and tunnels for dogs to navigate as they search for the rat. At higher levels of competition it is also required that dogs run through a tunnel and climb a bale as they search, but this is not required at the introductory level, Instinct.
We had heard that barn hunt was a fun competition to try with your dog, so we thought we would go ahead and give it a shot. In preparation for the trial we enrolled in an introductory clinic at Cloud Nine Training School for Dogs. This one-hour clinic introduced our dogs to the rats, and allowed them to practice searching for the rat in an actual barn hunt course.
The first step in the clinic was to introduce the dogs to a caged rat. Raleigh was very enthusiastic and eager to interact with the rat. Iggy was intrigued by the rat as well, but didn’t show quite the same level of enthusiasm that Raleigh did. This surprised us, because usually Iggy tends to be able to focus on one thing for longer periods of time than Raleigh. Some dogs were hesitant and unsure of the rat, so those dogs were given a little more time to get really excited about it.
The second step was to introduce the rats in the tubes that would be on an actual barn hunt course. Our dogs pawed at the tube and gnawed lightly at it. Both of our dogs remained interested and playful with the tubes, so we moved on to working in the course with the hay bales. There were three tubes in the course, one empty, one with litter, and one with the rat. Both dogs remained interested with the rat tube on the course, so we thought we’d go ahead and give a barn hunt trial a go at the Instinct level.
The barn hunt trial took place in the same venue as the clinic, Cloud Nine, and was hosted by Bales and Tails Barn Hunt Club. Prior to the start of the trial there was a general briefing to review the flow from the blind to the barn hunt course, and then to briefly review the rules of barn hunt.
The blind is the staging area where handlers and their dogs wait while the course is set. This is done so that the location of the rat is unknown to both dog and handler. Iggy was in the first group, so we proceeded to the blind where we were to wait with four other dogs for our turn. When it was our turn, Iggy’s name was called and we proceeded to the course and the starting box. I removed Iggy’s leash and collar and passed them to the attendant – in barn hunt dogs run naked. When the judge gave me the command to release my dog, I commanded Iggy to “Go get the rat.” Iggy ran around the hay bales to where the three tubes were positioned, and sniffed each before returning to one and beginning to gnaw on it. I called “Rat” to the judge, and she confirmed that was indeed the correct tube. Iggy had passed!
Once I had finished handling Iggy I quickly hustled over to get Raleigh and head to the blind. Raleigh was the second dog to go in the second group of Instinct level dogs. I followed the same process with Raleigh, and when I released Raleigh in the starting box she dove straight through a tunnel and climbed a hay bale before making her way to the three tubes. She sniffed each quickly, and then ran off to explore the rest of the course. Unfortunately she did not come back in time to give a more obvious indication, so time was called, and Raleigh did not pass. After time was called the judge asked if I had any idea which tube it would be, so I guessed the one that Raleigh had sniffed most excitedly, and the judge confirmed that was the correct one. Even though Raleigh didn’t pass this time around it was still a blast to participate in barn hunt with her!
Our experience showed us that barn hunt is a wonderful sport to compete in with your dog! Dogs of any age and any ability can come out and give the Instinct level a try, just for something fun to do! Furthermore, all of the people we met at the trial were so nice and willing to help us out – something we always appreciate as newcomers. We are already anxiously awaiting our next trial, and can’t wait to see what kind of barn hunt adventures await us in 2018!