By now you have probably heard rumors of a
“new” dog sport sweeping the nation, involving barns, straw, rats and PVC tubes. With THAT combination most people
are immediately intrigued. Does Barn Hunt use wild rats? Are the rats scared? Do the dogs hurt the rats? In this article I’ll
explain what Barn Hunt is and is not, how it came to be and why you should give it a try with your dog! Barn Hunt is the fastest
growing dog sport to hit North America and is growing in leaps and bounds- daily. It is really no wonder- it is great fun
for people and dogs! It takes a dog’s natural instinct to find quarry, builds in a requirement of teamwork and offers
plenty of challenge and strategy for both dog and human!
“Barn Hunts” are not new in concept.
Built on the age old canine job of vermin hunting… barn hunts were developed to showcase ratting instinct without risk
to people, dogs or rats. Barn Hunts were often a side event to some Earthdog and Terrier trials and were purely for fun or
as a special attraction. Enter Robin Nuttall- the founder of Barn Hunt Association or BHA, Inc. Robin has Doberman Pinschers
and Miniature Pinschers and hastried for years to have her Min Pins allowed in AKC Earthdog events. The parent club denied
the requests so Robin took the sport she had seen at terrier trials (Barn Hunt) and created the venue “formally”
so her Min Pins could employ their instincts. Robin left the event open to all breeds regardless of size and so begins the
Barn Hunt is open to all breeds and
mixes, age 6 months and up as long as they can safely navigate a course and fit through an 18” wide tunnel that is about
22” tall. Deaf and three legged dogs can participate. The venue is excellent for retired older dogs, people and dogs
that have physical limitations and for anyone looking to enjoy a mock hunt in a fun environment. While overall the sport can
be less demanding on teams, upper levels can be a very active and demanding sport. Runs are timed and can be QUITE challenging
and competitive for human and dog alike.
that enjoy a good healthy competition… Barn Hunt offers titles from the instinct certificate (RATI) all the way up
to a Championship (RATCH) with lots of titles in between.
The rats used are domesticated pet rats and are fully contained in a 4” diameter PVC tube with lots and lots of ventilation
holes. Rat safety is of primary concern and rats are swapped out and given breaks periodically. There is a person in the ring
called a “rat wrangler”, who is the rats’ advocate and assists in moving tubes out of play once found. Rat
safety rules include prevention of rolling, skittering and picking up tubes. Dogs NEVER come in direct contact with the rats.
Often these rats are household pets, as mine are, and have been doing this for most of their life. People laugh when they
hear that my rats are clicker trained to go into the tubes but ensuring the rats are not stressed is a priority to BHA as
a sport and the people that embrace the sport. Rats are incredibly intelligent creatures and they know they are safe in the
tubes often to the point of challenging the dogs through the tube or stealing treats from the owners that set them on the
tube during training.
In addition to the ever important
“RAT TUBE”- there are two additional and identical PVC tubes out there on each course to add to the challenge.
One tube contains nothing “EMPTY TUBE” and the other contains a cup of bedding/litter which the rat slept on the
night before “LITTER TUBE”. Often dogs that are looking for rat scent in general will indicate on these tubes-
especially the litter tube. One of the great misconceptions is that this sport requires no training, and perhaps at the lower
levels it may not. However upper levels require a very keen dog and lots of time and training to find ONLY live rat tubes
in the time frame required. The difference between finding a general scent and differentiating between a hot scent and cold
scent is vastly different for a dog. Many feel this sport has more in common with nose work than with terrier events because
the dog has to differentiate to be successful. As dogs graduate into the next level they are challenged with an increasing
number of tubes and a change in the ratio of empty:litter:rat tubes. So with all these tubes and up to 120 runs/day/judge.
How do we make things more efficient yet still challenging? At a trial, dogs are grouped together in things called “blinds”.
Blinds are five teams of dogs and their handlers and they DO actually sit in a “blind”. This blinding area prevents
handlers from knowing where the tubes are hidden on the course. The same tube locations will be used for all dogs in that
blind group. Once everyone has run out, a new blind is assembled and new tube hiding spots are planted.
Judging is based on the handler calling the rat tube(s) to the judge
based on observing their dog’s behavior. That canine behavior is called “the indication”. The indications
are irrelevant to the judge but are the key signal the handler uses to know the dog found a rat and not a litter tube. Indications
most commonly are barking, scratching and biting but I have seen pointing, staring and even dogs backing up with a disgusted
look on their face. As long as the handler can read the dog, the team can be successful. Once the rat is confirmed by the
judge the tube can be left in play or removed, it’s the handlers call. If the call was incorrect, the run ends as a
NQ. Other NQ’s include overtime, touching bales/tubes or dogs, elimination in the ring, inability to get a climb or
So what classes do you enter at your first Fun Test
or Trial? Most dogs generally start at the INSTINCT level, which is the ONLY specified BH course layout. The “Instinct
Fork”, as it is sometimes called, is laid out with the three tube types (empty, litter, rat) sitting out in the open.
Teams leave a start box and head to the tubes. If they call the correct rat tube within 1 minute- they get a RATI title! Instinct
is NOT a prerequisite for Novice, so you can enter Instinct AND Novice at any trial. Once you finish the RATN title- you can’t
go back to Instinct.
The first “titling”
level is the NOVICE level and is a course developed by the judge -- just like an agility course. Teams need to identify the
correct rat tube of the three (1 litter, 1 empty and 1 rat) as in Instinct except NOW the three tubes are hidden amongst up
to 30 bales of straw. In addition to the handler calling ONLY the rat tube, the dog must complete a tunnel and climb on the
bales in 2 minutes. Three passes at Novice earns the RATN title.
Levels such as OPEN (2 rats), SENIOR (4 rats) have multiple numbers of all the different tube types. The
quantity of bales on course gets bigger, the courses gets taller and the tunnels get deeper! The highest level is MASTERS
and 5 passes earns the RATM. Continued passes in masters beyond the RATM can earn the coveted Barn Hunt Championship or RATCH.
A master’s course has 10 tubes on a course of more than 50 bales
and piled up to 3 high. In other words its BIG! The tunnel is BIG too, with numerous turns making it dark and VERY intimidating!
A master’s team has 4 min 30 sec to find an unknown number of rat tubes between 1 and 5 and yes, there are a bunch of
litter tubes out there to confuse the dog as well. The team has to “clear the course” and determine when they
have found them all in the time limit! One wrong call and you NQ! A RATCH takes an additional 10 passes beyond the RATM at
under 4 minutes. It is a title that should be esteemed, as 80% of teams won’t ever make it past the senior level. The
difficulty and level of precision needed makes getting a RATCH a great honor. It makes it all the more exciting that one of
the first RATCHs was a Curly-Coated Retriever! Marian Morris and Selkie were the 14th RATCH in the nation!
AKC also has partnered with BHA to allow for Barn Hunt titles to be reflected on AKC registrations, so you may be seeing
a RAT title on the pedigrees of some curlies! Since teaching and judging barn hunt, I have found it to be an extremely rewarding
venue for people and dogs of all types. I find it a challenge to teams because it contains strategy as well as an instinctual
element. Barn Hunt fits nicely with a breed that can be used on fur as well as feather and I hope to see more Curlies out
there with their people enjoying a sport that is as addictive as it is fun!
Questions about getting into Barn Hunt? Go to barnhunt.com for rules and events. Want to see
what it looks like? Search youtube.com for Barn Hunt videos. There are plenty of examples out there! Still curious or want
to come to my facility? I can always be reached at email@example.com
Eva Raczka has been involved in dog sports since 8 years of age. She has trained and titled
dogs in Obedience, Rally, Agility, Herding, Retriever Hunt Tests and more and utilizes her diverse training in teaching barn
hunt and developing drills to proof and develop teams. Barn Hunt is her passion and she has introduced over 500 dogs and their
owners to Barn Hunt through seminars, classes, lessons and more. Eva has won high scoring awards at every class level of Barn
Hunt as well as being an A level Barn Hunt Judge. Eva and her Belgian Tervuren “Pi” (in addition to being the
first RATCH X Terv) were Gold Medalists in Versatility and Bronze Medalists in Games at the 2015 BHA National earning the
coveted Grand National Champion status. Eva is available for questions, club/event consultation and judging via info@central
Barn Hunt is the new and quickly growing dog sport catching fire across the country! Barn Hunt is based on the traditional
roles of many breeds in ridding farms, barns, crop storage areas, and homes of destructive vermin. Some breeds were specifically
created to fill this role, and for many of those breeds, Barn Hunt provides their first true opportunity for responsible breeders
to test proper working traits in their dogs. Barn Hunt is also open to any dog of any breed or mix who wishes to play the
game and can fit through an 18" wide by bale-height tall tunnel. Barn Hunt has titles, levels of increasing difficulty,
and championships. Barn Hunt is an independent sport, but titles are recognized by both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and
United Kennel Club (UKC).
Barn Hunt is committed
to creating a safe and fun sport for dogs, that also holds rat care at the highest level of consideration. The rats used in
Barn Hunt are often beloved family pets. They jump eagerly into their safe, comfortable aerated tubes and truly enjoy interacting
with the dogs.