Earlier this year the Ottawa Kennel
Club asked Sandi Anderson, Chess Scottish Terriers, to host a “Barn Hunt for
Fun” at the Spring Dog Show at Richmond. The event would be an introduction
for dogs and their handlers so they could find out more about barn hunting and
see if it was for them.
Sandi agreed and set about ordering straw bales and scrounging enough tall x-pens from friends to create a realistic practice environment. The actual list of essentials is too long for this article but Sandi would be pleased to share the list with any person or club interested in hosting a similar event. She loaded it all into her utility trailer and with the help of several volunteers transformed the Heavy Horse Barn #2 on the grounds into a dogs’ paradise by the start of the first show on Friday. The Barn Hunt was originally scheduled for only Friday and Saturday, but due to popular demand Sandi brought the quarry, Phyllis and Florus, back again for another day of action on Sunday.
Every dog hunts and indicates “there’s a rat here” differently. The handler’s ability to understand the dog’s signal is important. Figuring out how your dog “alerts” you to the rat is half the fun. It could be as subtle as a flick of his ears. The judge does not tell the handler when a rat is found; instead, the handler must tell the judge by saying decisively “Rat!” and not “Rat?”
are levels of difficulty from Instinct on up through Master with increasing
challenges at each level. At the introductory or Instinct level, a cradle
holds three rat tubes. A photo accompanies this article. The first tube is
called the empty tube and is essentially a tube with no litter or rat. The
second tube contains one cup of loose used rat litter where at least two rats
have been housed on the bedding to for a minimum of eight hours immediately
prior to the event. The third tube is the rat tube containing one rat and one
cup of bedding/litter. The rat’s bedding is checked and replaced and/or
replenished through the day for the rat’s safety. To pass Instinct the dog
must find the tube with the rat in it and the handler must indicate “Rat!”
to the judge.
At the Novice level the dog is free to
explore the whole course and must climb onto a bale, go through a tunnel and
find a rat in two minutes. The handler’s job is to encourage the dog to
explore and hunt in all areas of the course through voice commands and
The safety of the rats is paramount at
a Barn Hunt and at a bigger hunt there are one or more persons who are
dedicated to rat wrangling to ensure the rats are safe, protected from weather
and interlopers while at rest. And speaking of rest, the rats work short
shifts with frequent coffee breaks. While at work they are protected in heavy,
plumbing grade tubing with secure fasteners designed to withstand bites and
Almost anyone can play including all
breeds or mixed breeds six months of age or older that can fit through an
18” wide tall tunnel one bale high. Deaf dogs are eligible to compete. Blind
dogs are not eligible for their own safety, but dogs with limited or partial
vision are eligible to compete. That includes dogs missing one eye and dogs
blind in one eye as well as dogs with partial vision in one or both eyes.
Some handlers will need special
accommodation due to a disability and the sport allows for accommodations
tailored to a handler’s specific needs.
Dogs need a Barn Hunt registration number to compete in a trial. Registration numbers are easy to get from the website and are issued immediately. Want to know more or register your dog? Find all the rules and online applications at barnhunt.com.