What is a Barn Hunt?

Barn Hunt is a fun sport that you and your dog can enjoy together. Most people living in urban areas will ask what is a barn hunt when exposed to this sport. However, people living in rural areas on ranches and farms will most likely be very familiar with this sport. They most likely have one or more vermin-catching dogs, also known as “rat catchers”.

what is Barn Hunt? Dog in a Barn Hunt
A dog participating in a Barn Hunt

Some of the breeds that are bred to catch vermin include Rat Terriers, Dachshunds, Cairn Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, German Pinschers, and more (mostly terriers). However, any dog may participate in Barn Hunt, including mixed breeds.

Barn Hunt Rules

Barn Hunt is a fun sport for all dogs of any breed or mix that can fit through an 18″ wide by the height of a bale of hay. Dogs search for rats that are safely contained in aerated tubes on a course made of straw bales. The dog has to find a specified number of rats within a specific time limit.

The judge does not tell the handler when a rat is found; instead, the handler must tell the judge. Each dog hunts and indicates that a rat was found in a different manner. It is very important that the handler is able to understand the dog’s signal that a rat was found. When a rat is found, the handler calls “RAT!” and, if the dog really did find the tube with the rat, the judge will say “Congratulations!” If the handler calls “RAT!” and it’s not the tube with the rat, the judge will say, “No, I’m sorry,” and you’re done for that round.

Within the specified time the dog must climb on a bale with all four feet, go through a tunnel, and find all of the tubes with rats in them. Some of the hidden tubes will only have rat litter in them and no rats.

There are several levels of difficulty from Instinct on up through Master with increasing challenges.

Starting Your Dog in Barn Hunt

Training your dog to search for rats can be easy, especially for those who have terriers or other Earthdog breeds. These breeds were bred to catch vermin. To start the training, you will need access to bales of hay. These will be used to create a fenced-in search area. The hay bales can also be used to create tunnels and other obstacles that your dog will have to solve in order to find the rat.

You’ll also need some rats and some aerated tubes. First, you should introduce your dog to the rats while they’re in their cages. Allow them to smell and see the rat inside of its cage. Then place the rat inside of a ventilated tube that is used during a competitive Barn Hunt.

Rat tubes for Barn Hunt
Rat tubes for Barn Hunt

It is important to treat the rats humanely and more like pets. You will need them if you want to continue with this sport. So be sure to take good care of them

You should start off easily. Hide the tube somewhere that isn’t too out of sight and doesn’t require completing obstacles in order to find it. Once your dog finds the tube, you can reward her. Increase the difficulty by placing the tube under or over obstacles for your dog to solve. In no time, you’ll have a dog ready to try out an official Barn Hunt competition.

Ready for Competition?

Barn Hunt competitions are very relaxed as long as you follow the rules. It is advisable to learn the rules so Barn Hunt will remain relaxing even for you.

Instinct Test

As Instinct is actually considered the first level of the Barn Hunt your dog must pass an instinct test before continuing on to any further Barn Hunt levels. The instinct test consists of three tubes placed in front of your dog. One tube has a rat in it, another has a rat nest in it, and the third tube has nothing in it. All your dog must do to pass this test is to show interest in the tube with the rat in it.

Onto the Next Levels

Leashes are not used during the actual hunt. Though your dog does need to be leashed outside of the competition. A starting area is where you and your dog wait for the judge to begin the time. Your dog begins by going through a tunnel made of hay bales. You are not allowed to touch the hay or direct your dog in any capacity in terms of finding the rat. You are, however, able to direct them into the starting tunnel. While your dog is hunting around the search area, you are unable to touch your dog. Nor can you bring treats or cameras with you into the search area. Your time starts once the Judge tells you to begin and runs until your dog finds the rats.

Dog Hunt Ring
Dog Hunt Ring

Once your dog finds the rat, she should signal to you that she found a rat, then you are to announce, “Rat.” This informs the rat handler that your dog found the rat. The level at which you’re competing will determine just how many rats are on the course.

Outside of the competition, you are expected to stay at least 10′ away from the search area ring. Typically, there is a crated area where you can wait with your dog.

Final Thoughts

If you decide you would like to really compete in Barn Dog I would advise you to look for events and local clubs that are local to you. You should probably hire an experienced Barn Hunt trainer to prepare yourself and your dog for the actual competition. If you just want to have fun in Barn Dog then just do your best to train your dog and look for Barn Dog Fun events instead of competitive events.

Whichever way you choose to go, just have fun with your dog and enjoy the experience.

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