Thursday, September 17, 2015

Barn Hunt

I entered Koira in an official Barn Hunt trial for the first time this past weekend. We did Instinct and Novice in the morning trial, and just Novice in the afternoon trial on Saturday. Unfortunately since I was the one taking pictures at the trial, I don't have any pictures of Koira's runs. But I did toss in a few pictures of other dogs at the trial.

You can see the PVC tubes used in Barn Hunt here. They have plenty of air holes in them, are large enough for the rats to turn around and get comfy, but small enough that the rats don't get rattled around too much if the tube gets knocked off of a bale of straw. This is a mini schnauzer who was running Instinct in the morning.

In Barn Hunt, dogs are supposed to find rats and ignore bedding, and the handler has to tell the judge when the dog has found a rat. The rats are safe and secure inside of a heavy duty PVC tube, and they actually seem to like it, as they will happily hop into the tube if it is placed into their cage. The lowest level in Barn Hunt is Instinct. In Instinct, there are three tubes. One tube it totally empty and has never had anything in it. One tube has rat bedding but no rat. And then the third tube has a rat and some bedding. The goal is for the dog to indicate to the handler which tube has the rat.
Koira mauled all three tubes in Instinct and I called the wrong one as the rat (even though I called the only one she hit twice). She really goes to town on the tubes, biting and hitting them around. I can't let her do that for too long to a tube because if there is a rat in there, we have to make sure the rat isn't being injured by the tube being thrown around. So if the dog hits a tube hard, and you can't call them away to search the other tubes, you pretty much have to call it as a rat or get a DQ. Safety for the rats is very important- most of the rats used are household pets. 
In Novice, which you can run in the same trial as Instinct, there are the same three tubes, empty, bedding, and rat, but instead of the tubes being laid out on the ground, they are hidden in the straw around the course. The dog has to sniff the tubes out. They are also required in Novice to go through a tunnel made by the straw, and to get all four feet up on a bale, called a climb. These events are timed, so you have to do all of it quickly.
Koira hit a tube hard in Novice so I called it, but again, not the rat. I don't know if it was the bedding tube or the totally empty one. She was really into it though, which is why I called it. She did do both her tunnel and her climb before hitting the tube, and was up and excited and eager to search.

Dogs of any size and any age over 6 months can compete, regardless of breed, as long as they can fit through the tunnel. I've even seen Great Danes do Barn Hunt, though they have to belly crawl through the tunnel. This is a young Malinois who was in heat at the trial. Bitches in season can compete, but have to run at the end of their class and have to wear panties.

Our afternoon Novice run, I tried staying totally quiet. People told me I was talking a lot during our morning runs, which can distract the dog. The result was that Koira didn't take the tunnel and didn't get a climb. She hit one tube hard, I called her away to keep searching, she hit another tube hard, I called that one as the rat (because why not?), but no. Neither of those tubes held rats (and since both of them were buried in straw and she had to find and dig them out, and one had to be totally empty, I can't help but assume she is actually scenting for the PVC the tubes are made out of, or the paint on them, rather than for rats or rat bedding). Staying quiet on my part seemed to result in a very flat dog in the ring, who attempted to leave twice, so I don't think we'll be doing that again. The goal after all is for us to have fun, and Koira has always worked better and happier and more "up" in training with verbal feedback from me. So no Qs for our day. 

Koira had fun for the most part, and if we get a chance to do some practice, we may enter another trial in the future. Without practice, though, I think entering trials would be pointless because Koira needs to learn what the goal of the game is. Right now she thinks she is just supposed to find PVC tubes. She needs to learn that she is supposed to find rats in tubes and ignore the other tubes. For that I need some rats and some tubes though, so we'll see if I'm able to do any practice or training. 

This smooth Fox Terrier was an awesome dog. I've never met a smooth fox before, and I kind of fell in love with the breed, all three of the ones at the trial were just adorable, amazing, friendly dogs. You can also see in this picture the grating at the end of the tube, which gives the rat plenty of airflow.

I also did photos for the morning trial, and for a small part of the afternoon trial, but Koira decided to be a Bad Dog and dig madly and chew on the bars of her crate. Since it was too hot to put her in the car even with shades up, we headed home early. I headed back on Sunday, minus the dog, to take photos for the morning trial and part of the afternoon trial. I left Koira at home, since it was supposed to be hot again and we weren't entered in the trial. I knew she'd have fun if we did enter, but like I said before, I think she really needs to do some practice before we blow money entering trials.

I have been photographing Barn Hunt for a year and a half at this point, and I have to say, it is a fun, enjoyable sport. The dogs seem to love it, and there is a big amount of teamwork needed. And, unlike pretty much every other sport, where the handler is the head of the team, in Barn Hunt, the dog is the head of the team, and the handler has to take cues from the dog. I think it gives the dogs a unique experience different from a lot of the other stuff we do with them on a regular basis.

Has anyone else tried Barn Hunt? How did your dogs do?


  1. I wonder if once Koira learns what she is hunting for you won't need to get her excited and can be quiet on the hunt. We have not done barn hunting but when we take a young dog out pheasant or grouse hunting we do encourage the dog. Once they understand their job then we can be quiet because the dog is excited by the hunt.

  2. We have our first trial in a few weeks (on Sophie's 8th birthday :-) )We have been taking classes and so far so good. It took Sophie a few weeks to figure out that there was something in the tubes and that hitting all tubes was not the goal (at first we rewarded for finding tubes or interest in tubes. Then we upped the ante. She seems to get it now, though sometimes she needs a reminder that she is searching for her rat and not for a cookie. You can see the switch when she realizes she is searching for rats. Swyatt on the other hand....he gets the game but his signal is very light. It is literally a short nose bump and then run off to see what else he can find. If I don't manage to see the nose bump as he flies off to something else then I can't call it. So we are working on making his indication longer and clearer. Its a fun sport and is really forcing me to learn to read their signals and body language.